Inhalants consist of a variety of products that can be found in the home, at school, or the workplace. Items such as spray paints, glues, cleaning fluids, markers all have unstable ingredients in them that have mind-altering effects when inhaled. Most people in society do not ordinarily think of these items as drugs because that was not the intended purpose for them. There are those, however, who do abuse these types of everyday items as recreational drugs.
Inhalants are classified in four general categories:
- Volatile Solvents
These inhalants are in liquid form and can evaporate, allowing the vapors to be inhaled. These solvents are ubiquitous, available at stores, and are common household and industrial-use products. They include items such as paint thinners, cleaning fluids, glue, typewriter correction fluids, felt-tip markers and degreasers.
These inhalants are sprays that have propellants and solvents within them. Examples of aerosols include spray paint cans, deodorants, hair sprays, cooking oil sprays and fabric protectants.
Gases as inhalants can be medical anesthetics or even common home or business products. Anesthetic gases include chloroform, halothane, and nitrous oxide (laughing gas). This last gas is the most abused gas as it can easily be inhaled from whipped cream cans. Other gaseous inhalants are found in cigarette lighters, propane tanks or certain refrigerants.
Nitrites are a different class of inhalants that go to work directly on the central nervous system. Some examples of nitrites are cyclohexyl nitrite, amyl nitrite and isobutyl. Some of these can be discovered in products labeled as video head cleaners, room odorizers, leather cleaners or liquid aromas.
Inhalants are known under a variety of street names that include but are not limited to the following:
- Air Blast
- Aroma of Men
- Hippie Crack
- Laughing Gas
- Locker Room
- Texas Shoe Shine
History and Trends
Inhalants have been around as long as the products that produce them have been in production. More than one thousand products in common use can be abused as inhalants. Some users take in the drug by breathing the vapors in through the mouth, using a term called “huffing,” taking a rag soaked with inhalant and stuffing it in the mouth to be “huffed.”
Sniffing or snorting the fumes from containers is one way of breathing in the drug through the nose. Others may spray the inhalant from an aerosol can right into their nose or mouth.
One might also take in the fumes from a balloon or a bag, called “bagging.” They spray the fumes inside a plastic or paper bag, then sniff or inhale it.? Balloons that were blown up using nitrous oxide can be inhaled by untying the balloon, then breathing in through the mouth.
The “high” that inhalants give a user are very short-term, usually lasting just a few minutes. Abusers try to lengthen the high by inhaling the substance over and over again, for several hours.
The effects that inhalants give are similar to alcohol use. Most inhalants, except nitrites, act as depressants on the central nervous system. The effects of inhalants on the user may include:
- Slurred speech
- Decreased coordination
- Euphoric feelings
Nitrite inhalants produce an enhancement of sexual pleasure because they dilate and relax blood vessels.
The effects of using inhalants can be deadly. Breathing in inhalants in highly concentrated amounts can cause heart failure within moments. This is a syndrome known as “sudden sniffing death.” It can happen from just one single inhaling session.
Abuse and Addiction
Children and teenagers from 8th grade and up have been known to abuse inhalants. Studies performed by the National Institute on Drug Abuse in 2014 have shown that 10.8% of eighth graders, 8.7% of twelfth grade students and 6.5% of high school seniors have used inhalants over their lifetime.
One can notice the symptoms of inhalant abuse by detecting:
- Chemical smells on the person
- Stains on the face or hands
- Hidden empty spray bottles or chemical-soaked rags
- Disoriented appearance
- Slurred speech
- Lack of coordination
The short-term effects of inhalants resemble alcohol intoxication, followed by sleepiness, loss of inhibitions, dizziness and agitation. Long-term effects with sufficient amounts of vapors inhaled over long periods include a loss of all sensation (anesthesia) and unconsciousness, perhaps leading to immediate death, coma, seizures, choking or suffocation.
When an inhalant abuser withdraws from these substances, symptoms can occur that are similar to narcotic withdrawal symptoms. These include:
- Excessive sweating
- Hand tremors
- Aches and pains
The most widely recognized treatment for inhalant addiction is abstinence. Assistance from a treatment facility is often necessary, as detoxification requires a medical screening and neurological assessment that will lead to a treatment plan. A team approach is necessary to address medical, neurological, psychological, occupational, physical and educational elements of the treatment plan. Aftercare planning is also critical to keep access to inhalable substances restricted.