Although other abused drugs can be inhaled, the term Inhalants is reserved for the wide variety of substances, including: solvents, aerosols, gases, and nitrites. These are all products that can be readily found in the home or workplace. For example, spray paints, glues, cleaning fluids, and markers contain volatile substances that have psychoactive (mind-altering) properties when inhaled.
People do not typically think of these products as drugs because they were never intended for that purpose. But, these products can be abused in that way. Young children and adolescents especially abuse these products and are the only class of substance abused more by younger than older teens.
How are Inhalants Abused?
Abusers of inhalants breathe them in through the nose or mouth in a variety of ways (known as “huffing”). They may sniff or snort fumes from a container or dispenser (such as a glue bottle or a marking pen), spray aerosols (such as computer cleaning dusters) directly into their nose or mouth, or place a chemical-soaked rag in their mouth. Abusers may also inhale fumes from a balloon or a plastic or paper bag. Although the high produced by inhalants usually lasts just a few minutes, abusers often try to prolong it by continuing to inhale repeatedly over several hours.
People tend to abuse different inhalant products at different ages. New users ages 12–15 most commonly abuse glue, shoe polish, spray paints, gasoline, and lighter fluid. New users ages 16–17 most commonly abuse nitrous oxide or “whippets.” Adults most commonly abuse a class of inhalants known as nitrites (such as amyl nitrites or “poppers”).
How Do Inhalants Affect the Brain?
Most abused inhalants other than nitrites depress the central nervous system like alcohol. The effects may include:
- Slurred speech.
- Lack of coordination.
People who abuse inhalants repeatedly, feel less inhibited and less in control. Some may feel drowsy for several hours and experience a lingering headache. Nitrites enhance sexual pleasure by relaxing and dilating blood vessels.
Although it is not commons, addiction to inhalants can occur with repeated abuse.
Other Health Effects
- Liver and kidney damage.
- Hearing loss.
- Bone marrow damage.
- Loss of coordination.
- Limb spasms.
- Brain damage.
Products Abused as Inhalants:
- Volatile solvents, liquids that vaporize at room temperature.
- Aerosols, sprays that contain propellants and solvents.
- Gases, found in household or commercial products and used as medical anesthetics.
- Nitrites, used primarily as sexual enhancers