OTHER NAMES FOR INHALANTS: Some common names
for Inhalants are: Air Blast, Oz, Poppers, Satan's Secret,
Snappers, Texas Shoe Shine, Whippets.
Inhalants are a diverse group of volatile substances whose
chemical vapors can be inhaled to produce psychoactive (mind-altering)
effects. While other abused substances can be inhaled, the
term “inhalants” is used to describe substances
that are rarely, if ever, taken by any other route of administration.
A variety of products common in the home and workplace contain
substances that can be inhaled to get high; however, people
do not typically think of these products (e.g., spray paints,
glues, and cleaning fluids) as drugs because they were never
intended to induce intoxicating effects. Yet young children
and adolescents can easily obtain these extremely
toxic substances and are among those most likely to abuse
them. In fact, more 8th-graders have tried inhalants than
any other illicit drug.
What Types of Products Are Abused as Inhalants?
Inhalants generally fall into the following categories:
Volatile solvents - liquids that vaporize at
• Industrial or household products, including paint
thinners or removers, degreasers, dry-cleaning fluids, gasoline,
and lighter fluid
• Art or office supply solvents, including correction
fluids, felt-tip marker fluid, electronic contact cleaners,
Aerosols - sprays that contain propellants
• Household aerosol propellants in items such as spray
paints, hair or deodorant sprays, fabric protector sprays,
aerosol computer cleaning products, and vegetable oil sprays
Gases - found in household or commercial
products and used as medical anesthetics
• Household or commercial products, including butane
lighters and propane tanks, whipped cream aerosols or dispensers
(whippets), and refrigerant gases
• Medical anesthetics, such as ether, chloroform, halothane,
and nitrous oxide (“laughing gas”)
Nitrites - a special class of inhalants
that are used primarily as sexual enhancers
• Organic nitrites are volatiles that include cyclohexyl,
butyl, and amyl nitrites, commonly known as “poppers.”
Amyl nitrite is still used in certain diagnostic medical procedures.
When marketed for illicit use, organic nitrites are often
sold in small brown bottles labeled as “video head cleaner,”
“room odorizer,” “leather cleaner,”
or “liquid aroma.”
These various products contain a wide range of chemicals such
• toluene (spray paints, rubber cement, gasoline),
• chlorinated hydrocarbons (dry-cleaning chemicals,
• hexane (glues, gasoline),
• benzene (gasoline),
• methylene chloride (varnish removers, paint thinners),
• butane (cigarette lighter refills, air fresheners),
• nitrous oxide (whipped cream dispensers, gas cylinders).
Adolescents tend to abuse different products
at different ages. Among new users ages 12–15, the most
commonly abused inhalants are glue, shoe polish, spray paints,
gasoline, and lighter fluid. Among new users age 16 or 17,
the most commonly abused products are nitrous oxide or whippets.
Nitrites are the class of inhalants most commonly abused by
How Are Inhalants Abused?
Inhalants can be breathed in through the nose or mouth in
a variety of ways (known as “huffing”), such as
sniffing or snorting fumes from a container, spraying aerosols
directly into the nose or mouth, or placing an inhalant-soaked
rag in the mouth. Users may also inhale fumes from a balloon
or a plastic or paper bag that contains an inhalant.The intoxication
produced by inhalants usually lasts just a few minutes; therefore,
users often try to extend the “high” by continuing
to inhale repeatedly over several hours.
How Do Inhalants Affect the Brain?
The effects of inhalants are similar to those of alcohol,
including slurred speech, lack of coordination, euphoria,
and dizziness. Inhalant abusers may also experience lightheadedness,
hallucinations, and delusions. With repeated inhalations,
many users feel less inhibited and less in control. Some may
feel drowsy for several hours and experience a lingering headache.
Chemicals found in different types of inhaled products may
produce a variety of additional effects, such as confusion,
nausea, or vomiting.
By displacing air in the lungs, inhalants deprive the body
of oxygen, a condition known as hypoxia. Hypoxia can damage
cells throughout the body, but the cells of the brain are
especially sensitive to it. The symptoms of brain hypoxia
vary according to which regions of the brain are affected:
for example, the hippocampus helps control memory, so someone
who repeatedly uses inhalants may lose the ability to learn
new things or may have a hard time carrying on simple conversations.
Long-term inhalant abuse can also break down myelin, a fatty
tissue that surrounds and protects some nerve fibers. Myelin
helps nerve fibers carry their messages quickly and efficiently,
and when damaged, can lead to muscle spasms and tremors or
even permanent difficulty with basic actions such as walking,
bending, and talking. Although not very common, addiction
to inhalants can occur with repeated abuse. According to the
2006 Treatment Episode Data Set, inhalants were reported as
the primary substance abused by less than 0.1 percent of all
individuals admitted to substance abuse treatment. However,
of those individuals who reported inhalants as their primary,
secondary, or tertiary drug of abuse, nearly half were adolescents
aged 12 to 17. This age group represents only 8 percent of
total admissions to treatment.
What Other Adverse Effects Do Inhalants Have on Health?
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 inhalation. 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 may also cause death from
suffocation by displacing oxygen in the lungs, causing the
user to lose consciousness and stop breathing. 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.
Harmful Irreversible Effects
• Hearing loss—spray paints, glues, dewaxers,
dry-cleaning chemicals, correction fluids
• Peripheral neuropathies or limb spasms—glues,
gasoline, whipped cream dispensers, gas cylinders
• Central nervous system or brain damage—spray
paints, glues, dewaxers
• Bone marrow damage—gasoline
Serious but Potentially Reversible Effects
• Liver and kidney damage—correction fluids, dry-cleaning
• Blood oxygen depletion—varnish removers, paint
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