Inhalants are ordinary household products that are inhaled or sniffed by children to get high. There are hundreds of household products on the market today that can be misused as inhalants. Inhalant users tend to be people who are bored or do not have access to other drugs or alcohol, such as children, teenagers, incarcerated or institutionalized people, and marginalized individuals. The most serious inhalant abuse occurs among children and teens who live on the streets completely without family ties.
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 way.
This substances might seem like an alternative to other mood-altering drugs because they are cheap, can be purchased legally, and are easy to obtain. But that doesn’t make them safer. When used as directed, household products are safe for cleaning, painting, and the other things they’re meant to do. But as inhalants, they can be deadlier than street drugs.
There are four main types of inhalants:
Volatile solvents are liquids that become a gas at room temperature. Some examples are paint thinners and removers, gasoline, glues, and felt-tip marker fluids.
Gases include medical gases (ether, nitrous oxide) and household or commercial products (butane lighters, propane tanks, whipped cream dispensers that contain nitrous oxide, and refrigerants).
Aerosol sprays are some of the most prevalent inhalants in the home and include spray paint, deodorant and hairsprays, vegetable oil cooking sprays, and static cling sprays.
Nitrites include cyclohexyl nitrite, amyl nitrite, and butyl nitrite. On the street, they’re called “poppers” or “snappers.” They’re found in some room deodorizers and capsules that release vapors when opened.
Short term effects of Inhalants
- increased heart rate
- hallucinations or delusions
- losing feeling or consciousness
- nausea and vomiting
- loss of coordination
- slurred speech
People inhale chemical vapors in several ways, including sniffing, snorting, or spraying the inhalant directly into the nose or mouth, putting it into a bag or other container and then inhaling from there, putting the vapor onto a rag, or inhaling nitrous oxide from balloons.
Because the high from inhalants only lasts a few minutes, some people may inhale over and over again for long periods of time to maintain the high, increasing the amount of dangerous chemicals entering and damaging the body.
Inhalants can cause many changes in the body. Once the vapors enter the body, some are absorbed by parts of the brain and nervous system. All of the inhalants (except nitrites) slow down the body’s functions, similar to the effects of drinking alcohol. At first someone gets excited, but then gets tired, has trouble speaking clearly or walking well, gets dizzy, loses inhibitions, and may get agitated.
Long term effects
Constant abuse of inhalants can cause severe long term damage to the liver, kidneys, brain and blood. Some inhalants can lead to the body producing fewer of all types of blood cells, resulting in life-threatening aplastic anaemia. Some of these effects disappear after use is discontinued. Others, such as brain damage, are irreversible and some users never recover their full mental ability and concentration.
Other long term effects:
- muscle weakness
- weight loss
- hearing loss
- limb spasms
- bone marrow
- headaches and nosebleeds
- loss of sense of smell or hearing