What are Inhalants?
An inhalant is any substance, usually ordinary household or cleaning products, which produces chemical vapors that are inhaled or sniffed in order to create certain mind-altering or psychoactive effects. The actual effects can vary substantially, depending on the nature of the inhaled substance – some act as stimulants while others can be depressants.
There are four categories of inhalants:
- Volatile Solvents: Liquids that turn to vapor when exposed at room temperature. They are found in numerous industrial products and household cleaning products.
- Aerosols: Sprays with solvents and propellants. These include spray-paint along with other types of sprays like deodorant or hair spray, cooking oils, and fabric protectors.
- Gases: Found in household and commercial products like propane tanks, butane lighters, or refrigerant, as well as medical anesthetics. The most commonly abused gas is nitrous oxide, more commonly known as "laughing gas" or "whippets", but ether and chloroform are also used for recreational purposes.
- Nitrites: These substances do not act directly on the central nervous system like most other inhalants; instead they cause blood vessel dilation and muscle relaxation. Small bottles of the nitrites amyl and butyl nitrite called "poppers" or "snappers” are the most commonly abused nitrites. They can also be acquired in products labeled as room odorizers or leather cleaner.
What is the Scientific Name of Inhalants?Because there are so many chemicals used as inhalants, there is no singular scientific name for the category of drugs called inhalants.
What is the Chemical Formula of Inhalants?Because there are so many chemicals used as inhalants, there is no singular chemical formula for the category of drugs called inhalants.Common inhalants include:
- air-freshener spray
- analgesic spray
- butane or propane lighters or pressurized fuel tanks
- computer/electronics-cleaning spray
- correction fluid
- ethyl acetate methylchloride in glues and rubber cement
- ethyl chloride
- fabric-guard spray
- gasoline (or petrol)
- hair spray
- hydrocarbons in aerosol spray paint
- isobutyl nitrite or butyl nitrite
- isopropyl nitrite
- liquid aroma/liquid incense air fresheners or room odorizers (mostly cyclohexyl nitrite)
- methylene chloride
- paint and polish removers
- racing car octane boosters
- refrigerants (e.g. Freon)
- spot removers and dry cleaning fluids
- spray deodorant
- TCE in paint thinner
- vegetable-oil cooking spray
- videocassette-recorder head cleaner
- whipped-cream dispenser charger (whippets)
- whipping-cream aerosol
- felt-tip marker fluid
- nitrous oxide
- propellants and solvents such as butane
- TCE and tetrachloroethylene in degreasers
What is the Origin of Inhalants?
Many ancient cultures practiced inhaling the fumes from chemicals, including people in Ancient Egypt, Babylonia (present-day Iraq), India and China. Substances such as incense, oils, resins, spices and perfumes were inhaled to alter consciousness, or as part of religious ceremonies. Some researchers believe that priestesses at the Oracle of Delphi in ancient Greece inhaled gas vapors as part of their oracular rituals.
Nitrous oxide, ether and chloroform were anesthetics commonly used as intoxicants during the early 1800s. Nitrous oxide was considered a cheap alternative for alcohol. British scientist Sir Humphry Davy popularized its use by holding nitrous oxide parties, and in 1799 he coined the term “laughing gas.” Davy noted the anesthetic effects of the gas, and proposed that it could be used for surgery, but this was not actually tried for another half century. The use of anesthetics for recreational purposes continued throughout the nineteenth century in Europe and the U.S. During the 1920s Prohibition era, when alcohol was illegal in the US, ether became a popular recreational drug.
What is the Legal Status of Inhalants in the US?
Most inhalants are legal, because they are contained within commonly manufactured household products and therefore are not regulated in the Controlled Substances Act. However, 38 states have restrictions on the sale or distribution of these products to minors because they are commonly used and abused as inhalants. Some states also have laws prohibiting recreational inhalation of nitrous oxide.
What are the Common Street Names of Inhalants?
- Buzz Bomb
- Hippie Crack
- Laughing Gas
- Animal Nitrate
- Aroma of Men
- Locker Room
How are Inhalants Used?
A variety of terms are used to describe the way inhalants are used. “Sniffing” and “snorting” are the most common, and mean to directly inhale the fumes of the substance. In “bagging” the fumes are inhaled from a paper or plastic bag (rebreathing when “bagging” increases the intoxication through hypercapnia and hypoxia). When a cloth or rag is soaked in a substance and then held over the mouth and nose, it is called “huffing.” “Glading” refers to inhaling the contents of air freshener aerosol. And “dusting” means to spray aerosol cleaners directly into the nose or mouth. Usually, several deep inhalations are required to achieve the full effects of euphoria. Nitrous oxide is frequently inhaled by breathing from balloons filled with the gas.
How Long Do Inhalants Stay in Your System?
This varies widely, due to over 1,000 different chemicals and products that are commonly used as inhalants.
What are the Signs and Symptoms of Short-Term Inhalant Use?
What are the Short-Term Effects of Inhalant Use on the Body?
Inhalants have a variety of effects on the brain, particularly with regards to neurotransmitter release and receptors. Some effects are similar to other depressants including barbiturates, benzodiazepines, and alcohol. These short-term effects on the body can include:
- Chest Pain
- Disturbed Gait
- Drowsiness or sleep within seconds to minutes
- Inability to Coordinate Movements
- Increased Heart Rate
- Slurred Speech
What are the Short-Term Effects of Inhalant Use on Behavior?
- Feelings of Stimulation
- General depression
What are the Signs and Symptoms of Long-Term Inhalant Addiction?
What are the Long-Term Effects of Inhalant Use on the Body?
Even a single incident of inhalants abuse can cause severe and irreparable neurological and neuropsychological effects, such as:
- Ataxia (Dysfunction in Motor Skills)
- Brain Damage
- Creation of Carcinogenic Nitrosamine and Methemoglobin as Metabolites
- Decreased Visual Acuity
- Diminished Cognitive Abilities
- Distal Renal Tubular Acidosis
- Emphysema-like Abnormalities and other Pulmonary Debilitations
- Excessive Thirst
- Hydrocarbons can result in bone marrow toxicity (causing Aplastic Anemia and Leukemia)
- Immune Impairment
- Kidney Damage
- Liver Damage
- Menstrual Disorders
- Microcephaly and Cognitive Impairments in babies born to mothers who have long-term use of inhalants
- Nystagmus (Involuntary Eye Movement)
- Pale Appearance
- Pimples Around the Lips
- Pimples Around the Mouth
- Replication of HIV and Kaposi’s Sarcoma
- Sensory Deficits
- Slurred Speech
- Specific long-term effects on the body for women include:
- Spontaneous Abortions
What are the Long-Term Effects of Inhalant Use on Behavior?
How to diagnose if you are Addicted to Inhalants?
- Signs of Use and Abuse
- A Chemical Odor on the Breath
- A Dazed or Dizzy Appearance
- General Apathy
- Hidden Rags, Cloths, or Empty Containers
- Loss of Appetite
- Memory Loss
- Paint or Stains on the Body or Clothing
- Problems in School (Failing Grades, Learning Problems, Absences)
- Red or Runny Eyes
- Runny Nose
- Spots or Sores Around the Mouth or Nose
What are the Withdrawal Effects of Inhalants?
- Rapid Pulse
- Hand Tremors
- Physical Agitation
- Stomach Pain
How is Inhalant Addiction Treated?
In most cases, inhalant abusers tend not seek medical attention, unless there has been an associated injury or serious illness. There is no effective treatment for acute inhalant intoxication and withdrawal aside from extra-vigilant and supportive care. Medical professionals may manage withdrawal with the use of anti-arrhythmics or beta-blockers to stabilize vital signs. High blood pressure is common and heart rate should must be monitored carefully, along with the mental status of the patient. It may be necessary to decontaminate skin and clothing. A thorough patient history should be taken from parents and peers, and the neurological status needs to be evaluated. Also critical are laboratory screenings for liver, kidney and heart damage. Treatment should be based upon the manifestation of withdrawal symptoms, such as sweating, tics, nausea, anorexia, sleep disturbance, and noticeable mood changes.
Because inhalant abusers tend to be younger and suffering from a greater degree of social dysfunction than most abusers of other substances, treatment programs that are specific to inhalants should be provided. These should be structured to include detoxification, a peer-patient advocate system, counseling to develop strengths and skills, and supplying an easy transition back into their community. Dependencies on other substances and concurrent psychiatric or physical disorders must also be treated. Widespread screening enables early detection and treatment, and extended treatment periods improve outcomes. Very often, families of inhalant abusers are dysfunctional, which can be addressed with family therapy, while social family contracting with parental reinforcement and enforcement of the youth’s appropriate behavior may also be effective in treatment. Finally, in order to reduce the chances of relapse, counselors, social workers, and other health professionals should be available both during and following treatment to ensure the continuation of mindful parenting, parent support, and programs for youth social skills.
What is the Extent of Inhalant Use?
In the 1940s, recreational use of solvents, primarily gasoline, as inhalants became popular. Through the 1950s and 60s, the abuse of inhalants increased and is now widespread among teens and pre-teens in the United States. The practice of sniffing solvent has grown to include a wide variety of commercial products including but not limited to spray paint, lighter fluid, paint thinners, shoe polish, nail polish remover, and more. In more recent years, street children in around the world, but particularly in Mexico, South Asia, Kenya, and Eastern Europe have taken to glue and gas sniffing, in order to numb the pain of hunger, cold and desperation.
In isolated areas of Canada, Australia, New Zealand and some Pacific Islands, gas and spray paint sniffing has also become very common.