Information on Inhalants
Inhalants are common products found 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. They sniff or "huff" ordinary household products like nail
polish remover, cleaning fluid, gasoline, and spray paint.
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
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,
- art or office supply solvents, including correction fluids, felt-tip-marker
fluid, and electronic contact cleaners
- gases used in household or commercial products, including butane lighters
and propane tanks, whipping cream aerosols or dispensers (whippets), and
- 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
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. Sniffing highly concentrated amounts of the chemicals
in solvents or aerosol sprays can directly induce heart failure and death. This
is especially common from the abuse of fluorocarbons and butane-type gases.
High concentrations of inhalants also cause death from suffocation by displacing
oxygen in the lungs and then in the central nervous system so that breathing
ceases. Other irreversible effects caused by inhaling specific solvents are:
- Hearing loss - toluene (paint sprays, glues, dewaxers) and trichloroethylene
(cleaning fluids, correction fluids)
- Peripheral neuropathies or limb spasms - hexane (glues, gasoline) and nitrous
oxide (whipping cream, gas cylinders)
- Central nervous system or brain damage - toluene (paint sprays, glues, dewaxers)
- Bone marrow damage - benzene (gasoline)
- 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)