Basic Inhalant Facts

Inhalants are both habit forming and potentially deadly.

Known as “huffing,” the act of inhaling the fumes of toxic chemicals in order to get the intoxicating effects is a cheap way for people to get the euphoric and dissociative effects they desire. Other inhalants, such as amyl nitrates, are thought to increase sexual pleasure. There are a dizzying number of products that fit this capability:

  • Solvents
  • Aerosol spray
  • Lubricants
  • Cleaning agents
  • Gases, such as “laughing gas”
  • Nitrates

In totality, there are over 1,400 products with intoxicating properties when inhaled. The fumes of all of these products are toxic and their inhalation is explicitly prohibited, as stated on their warning labels. Unfortunately, this is not enough to stop many people from seeking them out. Their use carries a risk of death or severe impairment, and these effects are possible with even just a single use of inhalants of any kind. The “high” feeling produced is mostly due to the robbing of the brain of oxygen, which, unsurprisingly, is very dangerous.

Although less common, professional adults also use inhalants. This is because inhalants are easily obtainable, and since their use is generally seen as a problem more common with youths than working adults, many people are not familiar with the signs of inhalant intoxication. An adult using inhalants might feel that they are able to hide their abuse in plain sight, whereas it would be more difficult to disguise more commonly used inebriate use such as alcohol. People who are afflicted with addiction discover that the brain, when searching out for addictive substances, doesn’t particularly care what the substance is, so long as it provides the desired effect. Inhalants are not detectable in the body for as long as other chemicals, and are abused regularly by addicts without as much fear of detection. Consequently, inhalants might not be the first drug that a person with addiction turns to, but for a professional adult who is battling other addictions to drugs such as alcohol or painkillers, it is entirely possible that they will use inhalants to replace their drug of choice once it has been made clear by either social or legal repercussions that they must abstain from drug use.

Effects of Inhalant Use

Addiction is not common with inhalants, but does occur. The intoxication effect of inhalants is short and typically does not even last an hour, which can lead to repeated use in a short time frame. Inhalants are categorized as an depressant, meaning that they act on the body in a way that is similar to alcohol and depress—or slow down—the central nervous system of the user.

Effects of inhalants are:

  • Mumbling or slurred speech
  • Fainting
  • Dizziness and lightheadedness
  • Euphoria, giddiness
  • Excitement and giggling
  • Sense of detachment from reality
  • Loss of inhibitions

Due to their toxic nature, abuse of inhalants can cause a range of health problems, such as:

  • Respiratory damage to esophagus and lugs
  • Liver and kidney damage
  • Brain damage due to oxygen deprivation
  • Death
  • Damage to speech and memory centers in the brain
  • Nerve damage
  • Ocular damage to vision and the eyeball
  • Headaches

Amyl Nitrates

Use of amyl nitrates among adults is on the rise. Known by the street slang as “poppers” because they come in single use containers, amyl nitrates became popular in the club and rave scene in the late 1980’s and 90’s. Their use as a club drug is fueled by their side effect of decreasing blood pressure while increasing blood flow to smooth muscle tissue, which enhances sexual pleasure. Their use was particularly prevalent in the gay community as the effect is more pronounced on male genitalia than on female genitalia. Significant drug education programs have reduced the usage in that population, but inhalant abuse still occurs among adults.