Inhalants are breathable chemical vapors that produce psychoactive
A variety of products common in the home and
in the workplace contain substances that can be inhaled. Many people do
not think of these products, such as spray paints, glues, and cleaning
fluids, as drugs because they were never meant to be used to achieve an
intoxicating effect. Yet, young children and adolescents can easily
obtain them and are among those most likely to abuse these extremely
Inhalants fall into the following categories:
they differ in makeup, nearly all abused inhalants produce short-term
effects similar to anesthetics, which act to slow down the body?s
functions. When inhaled in sufficient concentrations, inhalants can
cause intoxication, usually lasting only a few minutes.
However, sometimes users extend this effect for several hours by
breathing in inhalants repeatedly. Initially, users may feel slightly
stimulated. Repeated inhalations make them feel less inhibited and less
in control. If use continues, users can lose consciousness.
Sniffing highly concentrated amounts of the chemicals in solvents or
aerosol sprays can directly induce heart failure and death within
minutes of a session of repeated inhalations. This syndrome, known as
"sudden sniffing death," can result from a single session of inhalant
use by an otherwise healthy young person. Sudden sniffing death is
particularly associated with the abuse of butane, propane, and
chemicals in aerosols.
High concentrations of inhalants also can cause death from suffocation
by displacing oxygen in the lungs and then in the central nervous
system so that breathing ceases. Deliberately inhaling from a paper or
plastic bag or in a closed area greatly increases the chances of
suffocation. Even when using aerosols or volatile products for their
legitimate purposes (i.e., painting, cleaning), it is wise to do so in
a well-ventilated room or outdoors.
Chronic abuse of solvents can cause severe, long-term damage to the brain, the liver, and the kidneys.
Harmful irreversible effects that may be caused by abuse of specific solvents include:
- Hearing loss?toluene (spray paints, glues, dewaxers) and trichloroethylene (dry-cleaning chemicals, correction fluids)
- Peripheral neuropathies, or limb spasms?hexane (glues, gasoline) and nitrous oxide (whipped cream dispensers, gas cylinders)
- Central nervous system or brain damage?toluene (spray paints, glues, dewaxers)
- Bone marrow damage?benzene (gasoline)
Serious but potentially reversible effects include:
- Liver and kidney damage?toluene-containing substances and chlorinated hydrocarbons (correction fluids, dry-cleaning fluids)
oxygen depletion?aliphatic nitrites (known on the street as poppers,
bold, and rush) and methylene chloride (varnish removers, paint
Source: The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)