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Basic Facts About Inhalants

A Dangerous Habit

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Updated April 30, 2014

Inhalants are breathable chemical vapors that produce psychoactive (mind-altering) effects. Younger children and teens tend to abuse inhalants in part because they are readily available and inexpensive. Although unintentional inhalation of household products can occur, inhalant abuse, or huffing, is an intention act.

Street Names

Whippets, Poppers, Snappers

What Are Inhalants?

Inhalants are breathable chemical vapors often found in common household products that contain volatile solvents or aerosols. Inhalants fall into four major categories:

  • Volatile Solvents
    Volatile solvents are industrial, household, art or office supply solvents or solvent-containing products. They include paint thinners or removers, degreasers, dry-cleaning fluids, gasoline, correction fluids, felt-tip-marker fluid, and electronic contact cleaners.

  • Aerosols
    Aerosols are household aerosol propellants and associated solvents in items such as spray paints, hair or deodorant sprays, fabric protector sprays, aerosol computer cleaning products, and vegetable oil sprays.

  • Gases
    These are gases used in household or commercial products, including butane lighters and propane tanks, whipping cream aerosols or dispensers (whippets), and refrigerant gases, medical anesthetic gases, such as ether, chloroform, halothane, and nitrous oxide (laughing gas).

  • Nitrites
    Organic nitrites are volatiles that include cyclohexyl, butyl, and amyl nitrites, commonly known as "poppers." Amyl nitrite is still used in some medicine procedures. Volatile nitrites are often sold in small brown bottles labeled as "video head cleaner," "room odorizer," "leather cleaner" or "liquid aroma."

    How Is It Taken?

    Inhalants are sniffed directly from the container, 'huffed' from a cloth saturated with the substance and held closely to the face, 'bagged' which is sniffing from a bag with the saturated cloth inside it or put on hands, fingernails or clothing enabling the user to inhale the fumes in public without being detected.

    Who Uses Inhalants?

    Young people may use inhalants as a substitute for alcohol. Because of its addictive nature, many go on to use it as they grow older. Older adults who use inhalants are generally chronic abusers. Research suggests that chronic or long-term inhalant abusers are among the most difficult drug abuse patients to treat.

    What Are the Effects of Inhalants?

    Most inhalants produce a rapid high that resembles alcohol intoxication. If sufficient amounts are inhaled, nearly all solvents and gases produce anesthesia, a loss of sensation, and even unconsciousness.

    What are the Hazards of Using Inhalants?

    Short-Term Hazards

    • Intoxication
    • Loss of consciousness
    • Heart failure
    • Suffocation
    • Injury to the mouth, throat and lungs
    • High-risk of death

    Long-Term Hazards

    • Damage to the brain, liver, and kidneys
    • Hearing loss
    • Damage to central nervous system
    • Vision damage
    • Limb spasms
    • Blackouts
    • Cognitive impairment
    • Bone marrow damage
    • Immune system damage
    • High-risk of death

    Other Dangerous Effects

  • Sudden Sniffing Death
    Sudden Sniffing Death can result from a single session of inhalant, even in healthy individuals. This is often associated with the abuse of butane, propane, and chemicals in aerosols.

  • Inhalants and Suffocation
    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.

    Are Inhalants Addictive?

    Yes. Heavy users can become addicted to inhalants may suffer cognitive impairment or other neurological dysfunctions which makes quitting difficult. Users develop a tolerance for inhalants over time which means it takes more to experience the 'high' that they used to get from smaller amounts.

    Cautions

    Casual users face the same dangers from using inhalants as heavy users. A British study of 1,000 deaths from inhalant use found that 200 of the deaths were to first-time users.

    Sources:
    National Institude on Drug Abuse
    U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration
    National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information

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