Q.  What are inhalants?

Inhalants are ordinary household products that are inhaled or sniffed by children to get high. While there are hundreds of household products on the market that can be misused as inhalants, most fall into one of three categories: solvents, gases, and nitrites.

• industrial or household solvents or solvent-containing products, including paint thinners or solvents, degreasers (dry-cleaning fluids), gasoline, and glues
• 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 refrigerant gases
• 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

Q.  How are they used?

These products are sniffed, snorted, bagged (fumes inhaled from a plastic bag), or “huffed” (inhalant-soaked rag, sock, or roll of toilet paper in the mouth) to achieve a high. Inhalants are also sniffed directly from the container.

Q.  What are their short-term effects?

When inhaled via the nose or mouth into the lungs in sufficient concentrations, inhalants can cause intoxicating effects.  Intoxication 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. Other effects include:
• Headache
• Muscle weakness
• Abdominal pain
• Severe mood swings and violent behavior
• Numbness and tingling of the hands and feet
• Nausea
• Hearing loss
• Limb spasms
• Fatigue
• Lack of coordination

Q.  What are their long-term effects?

The long-term effects of inhalant abuse range from potentially reversible to death.   Because of the effect they have on the heart and lungs, inhalants can cause death the first time they are used.

Irreversible effects
• Death from suffocation by displacing oxygen in the lungs and then in the central nervous system so that breathing ceases
• Heart failure and death
• Hearing loss
• Limb spasms
• Central nervous system or brain damage

Sniffing highly concentrated amounts of the chemicals in solvents or aerosol sprays can directly induce death. This is especially common from the abuse of fluorocarbons and butane-type gases. Death from inhalants usually is caused by a very high concentration of fumes. Deliberately inhaling from an attached paper or plastic bag or in a closed area greatly increases the chances of suffocation.

Serious but potentially reversible effects
• Liver and kidney damage
• Blood oxygen depletion