Menstuff® has compiled information and books on the issue of Inhalants.

Inhalants A Widespread Problem

Inhalants: They're all over your house.
Teenagers & Inhalants


Related Issues: Talking With Kids About Tough Issues, Bagging, Dusting, Huffing


Inhalants A Widespread Problem

Ether was used as a recreational drug during the 1930s Prohibition era, when alcohol was made illegal in the USA for over 10 years. Ether was either sniffed or drunk, and in some towns replaced alcohol entirely. However, the risk of death from excessive sedation or overdose is greater than that with alcohol, and ether drinking is associated with damage to the stomach and gastrointestinal tract.

Use of glue, paint and gasoline was little known before the 1950s. Later, glue sniffing became a worldwide phenomenon; however, it is not known if this popularity was caused by government anti-inhalant campaigns. Drug educators argue that the advertising campaigns designed to prevent drug use may instead promote such use. Abuse of aerosol sprays became more common in the 1980s as older propellants such as CFCs were phased out and replaced by more environmentally friendly compounds such as propane and butane.

Abuse of solvents is widespread in impoverished communities, both in developing countries or in poor communities in developed countries (e.g., Aboriginal communities in northern Canada or in Australia). Because solvents and inhalant gases are legally available and inexpensive, there has long been incidents of teenagers using inhalants recreationally. However, most of the long term abuse, or use by older adults tends to be limited to extremely poor or marginalised groups in society.

There is a wide range of social problems associated with inhalant use such as feelings of distress, anxiety and grief for the community; violence and damage to property, violent crime, stresses on the juvenile justice system, and stresses on youth agencies and support services.

They're all over your house. They're in your child's school. In fact, you probably picked some up the last time you went to the grocery store. Educate yourself. Find out about inhalants before your children do.

Most parents are in the dark regarding the popularity and dangers of inhalant use. But children are quickly discovering that common household products are inexpensive to obtain, easy to hide and the easiest way to get high. According to national surveys, inhaling dangerous products is becoming one of the most widespread problems in the country. It is as popular as marijuana with young people. More than a million people used inhalants to get high just last year. By the time a student reaches the 8th grade, one in five will have used inhalants.

What is inhalant use?

Inhalant use refers to the intentional breathing of gas or vapors with the purpose of reaching a high. Inhalants are legal, everyday products which have a useful purpose, but can be misused. You're probably familiar with many of these substances -- paint, glue and others. But you probably don't know that there are more than 1,000 products that are very dangerous when inhaled -- things like typewriter correction fluid, air-conditioning refrigerant, felt tip markers, spray paint, air freshener, butane and even cooking spray.

Socioeconomics of inhalant abuse

Inhalants are used by a wide cross section of society, including children, teenagers, and adults, in lower-income, middle-income, and even upper-income settings, because inhalant drugs are a legal and easily available source of a "high." However, most users tend to be "...adolescents (between the ages of 13 and 17)" In some countries, chronic, heavy inhalant use is concentrated in marginalized, impoverished communities).

Young people who become chronic, heavy inhalant abusers are also more likely to be those who are isolated from their families and community. The article Epidemiology of Inhalant Abuse: An International Perspective notes that "[t]he most serious form of obsession with inhalant use probably occurs in countries other than the United States where young children live on the streets completely without family ties. These groups almost always use inhalants at very high levels (Leal et al. 1978). This isolation can make it harder to keep in touch with the sniffer and encourage him or her to stop sniffing." The article also states that "...high [inhalant use] rates among barrio Hispanics almost undoubtedly are related to the poverty, lack of opportunity, and social dysfunction that occur in barrios", and states that the "...same general tendency appears for Native-American youth", because "...Indian reservations are among the most disadvantaged environments in the United States; there are high rates of unemployment, little opportunity, and high rates of alcoholism and other health problems."

There is a wide range of social problems associated with inhalant use such as feelings of distress, anxiety and grief for the community; violence and damage to property, violent crime, stresses on the juvenile justice system, and stresses on youth agencies and support services.

Common psychoactive inhalants

Solvents and gases used as inhalants are found in a range of inexpensive, legally-available household, office, industrial, and automotive products.

A number of household and office products contain solvents that are used as inhalants, such as toluene and acetone. These products include correction fluids such as Liquid Paper, nail polish removers (acetone), and permanent markers (xylene). Propellant gases used as inhalants in household and office products include freon and compressed hydrofluorocarbons, which are used in various household and office products that come in aerosol spraycans, such as air freshener, computer keyboard cleaner spray (canned air), non-stick cooking spray, aerosol insecticides, and aerosol hairspray. Another household product which contains propellant gases that are used as an inhalant is aerosol whipped cream cans, which contain nitrous oxide gas. Various insecticides such as Raid are also used.

Several nitrite drugs called "poppers" are used for their euphoric effect in the gay subculture and in the rave dance scene. While nitrite drugs are regulated by a variety of federal and local regulations and legal restrictions, several nitrite products can be found in legally-available products. Amyl nitrite is available as an over-the-counter drug in some areas; butyl nitrite is sold as a room deodorizers under trade names as "RUSH" and "Locker Room"; and alkyl nitrite is an ingredient in video head cleaner or some brands of nail polish remover.

Industrial and automotive products also contain solvents and propellant gases that are used as inhalants. Solvents such as toluene are found in turpentine, gasoline, paint, spraypaint, an a range of quick-drying adhesives and cements (e.g., rubber cement and plastic cement). The solvent diethyl ether is used in an aerosol product called automotive starting fluid, which is used to help carburetor engines start in frigid weather. Canisters of butane are used in inexpensive home welding kits.

Who is at risk?

Inhalants are an equal opportunity method of substance abuse. Statistics show that young, white males have the highest usage rates. Hispanic and American Indian populations also show high rates of usage.

What can inhalants do to the body?

Nearly all abused products produce effects similar to anesthetics, which slow down the body's function. Varying upon level of dosage, the user can experience slight stimulation, feeling of less inhibition or loss of consciousness. The user can also suffer from Sudden Sniffing Death Syndrome. This means the user can die the 1st, 10th or 100th time he or she uses an inhalant. Other effects include damage to the heart, kidney, brain, liver, bone marrow and other organs. Results similar to Fetal Alcohol Syndrome may also occur when inhalants are used during pregnancy. Inhalants are physically and psychologically addicting and users suffer withdrawal symptoms.

What can I do if someone I know is huffing and appears in a state of crisis?

If someone you know is huffing, the best thing to do is remain calm and seek help. Agitation may cause the huffer to become violent, experience hallucinations or suffer heart dysfunction which can cause Sudden Sniffing Death Syndrome. Make sure the room is well ventilated and call EMS. If the person is not breathing, administer CPR. Once recovered, seek professional treatment and counseling.

Can inhalant use be treated?

Treatment facilities for inhalant users are rare and difficult to find. Users suffer a high rate of relapse, and require thirty to forty days or more of detoxification. Users suffer withdrawal symptoms which can include hallucinations, nausea, excessive sweating, hand tremors, muscle cramps, headaches, chills and delirium tremens. Follow-up treatment is very important. If you or someone you know is seeking help for inhalant abuse, you can contact the National Inhalant Prevention Coalition at 1-800-269-4237 for information on treatment centers and general information on inhalants. Through a network of nationwide contacts, NIPC can help (but not guarantee) finding a center in your area that treats inhalant use.

What should I tell my child or students about inhalants?

It is never too early to teach your children about the dangers of inhalants. Don't just say "not my kid." Inhalant use starts as early as elementary school and is considered a gateway to further substance abuse. Parents often remain ignorant of inhalant use or do not educate their children until it is too late. Inhalants are not drugs. They are poisons and toxins and should be discussed as such. There are, however, a few age appropriate guidelines that can be useful when educating your children.

How can I educate my community about inhalants?

NIPC leads the annual National Inhalants & Poisons Awareness Week (NIPAW) every third week in March. The next campaign will be held March 17-23, 2008. This community mobilization campaign has proven to be an effective tool for fighting inhalant abuse. In Texas, where the campaign originated, inhalant use decreased following widespread involvement in NIPAW. For details on the campaign and NIPAW coordination in your community, see NIPAW 1998.

How can I be put on the NIPC mailing list?

To receive current inhalant news and information, contact NIPC with your name, organization (if applicable), address, phone, fax and e-mail. Also, please indicate how you heard about the National Inhalant Prevention Coalition or how you found NIPC on the Web. Subscriptions to the NIPC newsletter and general information booklet "Inhalants: The Silent Epidemic" are free, but a voluntary payment or contribution is requested.

Source: National Inhalant Prevention Coalition, 1201 W. Sixth Street, Suite C-200, Austin, Texas 78703 or 800.269.4237 or 512.480.8953 or or and National Inhalant Prevention Coalition, 322-A Thompson Street, Chattanooga, TN 37405, 800.269.4237 or 423.265.4662, E-mail or

Teenage & Inhalants

Most teens could probably tell you what the top three abused substances are among teenagers. Alcohol, tobacco and marijuana. However, one that is considered equally, if not more addictive and deadly, would not be considered dangerous by most teenagers, unless they lost a friend to it.

The U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) says that every month almost 500,000 kids 12 to 17 try these killer highs. The vapors actually dissolve brain tissue and users can permanently lose the ability to walk, talk, see or hear. Other long-term side effects can include problems with your reproductive system; gases replacing vital oxygen in the blood and weakening bones; and serious lung, liver and kidney damage, since these poisons work directly on those organs. Younger users are especially vulnerable because they can permanently inhibit mental and physical developments. Yet, in a 1997 survey of 900 middle school students in California, 11 percent of 14-year-olds had experimented with these poisons. And, among seventh graders, 9 percent had used poisons versus only 4 percent having used alcohol. Some sources estimate that nearly one in five 12- and 13-year-olds nationwide have tried getting high this way and more than 12 million people over 12 have tried this stuff. It's the silent epidemic. Kids want to experiment and push the envelope, but they're generally unaware of the real dangers. Unlike alcohol, tobacco and marijuana, using this stuff is like playing Russian roulette with your life each and every time you do it. And it even has its own medical term - Sudden Sniffing Death Syndrome. When chemical vapors or fumes are "sniffed", "huffed", "bagged" or "ballooned," inhalant users take a chance on some serious side effects that can land them in the emergency room...or the morgue. The inhaled poison slows the blood flow to the brain, making the central nervous system shut down. When the body can't get blood to the heart, and that's when heart failure can kick in. According to medical sources, resuscitation rarely works in these cases. Think one huff can hurt?  Guess again:  A study based in Great Britain discovered that one out of three inhalant deaths were first-time users. Butane, rubber cement, nitrous oxide (laughing gas), Duster II, a computer keyboard cleaner, are some of the over 1000 products, including household clears, air fresheners and paints. And, since parents aren't educated about the dangers of inhalants, they don't notice when products are missing from kitchen cupboards or garage shelves. However, over 40 states have some form of legislation to limit a minor's access to certain substances and in some of these states, it's a misdemeanor to intentionally misuse a legal substance by inhalation or ingestion; violators can even be sentenced to jail.

Some manufacturers like S.C. Johnson, maker of Glade air freshener, have sponsored several awareness campaigns and added warning labels to its products, and some, like the markers of WD-40, have actually altered the chemical composition of the product so it won't deliver a huffer's high. Unfortunately, most kids and parents don't get the message until it kills one of them or their friends.

Signs & Symptoms:  How to tell if someone you know is using inhalants:

How To Help:  In an emergency, a few simple steps can save a life:

Inhalant Info:  Don't wait - if you or someone you know needs help, talk to parents, teachers, or a doctor. The following organizations offer counseling referrals, free brochures and more:

If you would never consider playing Russian roulette with a bullet in every chamber, don't play it with inhalants. And, if you're a parent, wake-up!  Talk to your children about the dangers and side effects and lock up toxic household products that can be used as an inhalant. Don't put it off. This is one talk you don't want to wait on. You might be a day too late. Just do it!



Just a Typical High School Boy

"David and his friend went to a drug store in the neighborhood and bought a can of computer duster...They returned to the swimming pool and began to do what is called "huffing" or inhaling the propellant from the can under the water to intensify the high. And on the third or fourth try, David suddenly went into cardiac arrest and drowned before his friends or paramedics could save him." Read David's memorial. David's dad, Kim Manlove, reflects on the loss of his son while chronicling his day to day thoughts and experiences through his Partnership blog

A Mothball Buzz?

Mothballs may make you think of grandma's house, but they're also a new source of intoxication for teens. Learn about the symptoms and health risks of the mothball high.

Here's What Happens When You 'Huff' an Inhalant

First images show how the solvent toluene travels through the brain.

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