Most inhalants produce a pleasurable effect by depressing the user's central nervous system. The exception are nitrites, which dilate and relax blood vessels instead of acting as an anesthetic agent.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, research with animals indicate that many inhalants have similar neurobehavioral effects and mechanisms of action to other substances that depressed the central nervous system, including alcohol, sedatives and anesthetics.
One animal study showed that toluene, an ingredient in many inhalants of abuse, activates the dopamine system in the brain in similar ways to nearly all other drugs of abuse.
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National Institute on Drug Abuse. "Inhalants." Research Report Series Updated July 2012
The Partnership at DrugFree.org. "Inhalants." Drug Guide. Accessed March 2014.