Inhalants are common products found right in the home and are among the most
popular and deadly substances kids abuse. Inhalant abuse can result in death
from the very first use. About one in five kids report having used inhalants by
the eighth grade. Teens use inhalants by sniffing or snorting fumes from
containers; spraying aerosols directly into the mouth or nose; bagging, by
inhaling a substance inside a paper or plastic bag; huffing from an
inhalant-soaked rag; or inhaling from balloons filled with nitrous oxide.
Inhalants are breathable chemical vapors that produce psychoactive
(mind-altering) effects. Although people are exposed to volatile solvents and
other inhalants in the home and in the workplace, many do not think of
"inhalable" substances as drugs because most of them were never meant
to be used in that way.
Young people are likely to abuse inhalants, in part, because inhalants are
readily available and inexpensive. Parents should see that these substances are
monitored closely so that children do not abuse them.
Inhalants fall into the following categories:
industrial or household
solvents or solvent-containing products, including paint thinners or
solvents, degreasers (dry-cleaning fluids), gasoline, and glues
art or office supply solvents,
including correction fluids, felt-tip-marker fluid, and electronic contact
gases used in household or
commercial products, including butane lighters and propane tanks, whipping
cream aerosols or dispensers (whippets), and refrigerant gases
household aerosol propellants
and associated solvents in items such as spray paints, hair or deodorant
sprays, and fabric protector sprays
medical anesthetic gases, such
as ether, chloroform, halothane, and nitrous oxide (laughing gas)
aliphatic nitrites, including
cyclohexyl nitrite, which is available to the general public; amyl
nitrite, which is available only by prescription; and butyl nitrite, which
is now an illegal substance
Short Term Effects. Nearly all abused
inhalants produce effects similar to anesthetics, which act to slow down the
body's functions. When inhaled in sufficient concentrations, inhalants can
cause intoxicating effects that can last only a few minutes or several hours if
inhalants are taken repeatedly. Initially, users may feel slightly stimulated;
with successive inhalations, they may feel less inhibited and less in control;
finally, a user can lose consciousness.
Irreversible hazards. Inhalants are toxic.
Chronic exposure can lead to brain damage or nerve damage similar to multiple
sclerosis; damage to the heart, lungs, liver and kidneys; and prolonged abuse
can affect thinking, movement, vision and hearing.
Sniffing highly concentrated amounts of the chemicals in solvents or aerosol
sprays can directly induce heart failure and death. Heart failure results from
the chemicals interfering with the heart's rhythm regulating system, causing
the heart to stop beating. This is especially common from the abuse of
fluorocarbons and butane-type gases. High concentrations of inhalants also
cause death from asphyxiation, suffocation, convulsions or seizures, coma,
choking or fatal injury from accidents while intoxicated. Other irreversible
effects caused by inhaling specific solvents are:
Hearing loss - toluene (paint
sprays, glues, dewaxers) and trichloroethylene (cleaning fluids,
Peripheral neuropathies or limb
spasms - hexane (glues, gasoline) and nitrous oxide (whipping cream, gas
Central nervous system or brain
damage - toluene (paint sprays, glues, dewaxers)
Bone marrow damage - benzene
Liver and kidney damage -
toluene- containing substances and chlorinated hydrocarbons (correction
fluids, dry- cleaning fluids)
Blood oxygen depletion - organic
nitrites ("poppers," "bold," and "rush") and
methylene chloride (varnish removers, paint thinners)
Prevention. Parents can keep their teens away from
inhalants by talking to them and letting them know the dangers of inhalants.
Most young users dont realize how dangerous inhalants can be. Inhalants are
widely available and inexpensive, and parents should be mindful about how and
where they store common household products.
provided by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.