Inhalants contain chemical vapors that are intentionally inhaled or “huffed” to get psychoactive (mind-altering) effects. Although other drugs are inhaled via smoking or vapors, inhalants specifically identifies the type of drug that is only used in this way.
Inhalants come in many forms including industrial and household products (paint thinners, removers, gasoline), art supplies (felt-tip markers, glue), aerosol inhalants including spray paint and hairspray, gases found in butane lighters and propane tanks or medical anesthetics like chloroform or nitrous oxide, and nitrites. 1
Inhalants can seem harmless because the chemical vapors that people get high on come from everyday products like markers or whiteout.
Inhalants are made up of solvents. A solvent is “a volatile substance, usually a liquid, in which things dissolve. The word “volatile” means that it is a solvent that vaporizes easily. Water is the most common solvent. Alcohol can be used as a solvent as well. … Scientists have developed different kinds of commercial solvents because alcohol can be too expensive for industrial use. Commercial solvents are the dangerous chemicals in inhalants.”
There are two other types of inhalants: gases and nitrites. A break down of these three chemicals from theantidrug.com website is:
- 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
Street terms for inhalants include aimies, bagging, getting “dusted”, gluey. See a full list here.
Inhalants can be inhaled or “huffed” in several different ways: sniffing, bagging spraying or huffing. The chemicals are absorbed into the blood, causing them to quickly reach the brain. All of these methods are based on trapping or concentrating the chemical vapor in one area and being able to inhale the chemicals using the mouth or nose. This is why many products that are in aerosol spray cans; not only does the aerosol contain chemicals that a person can use to get high, it also comes out of the can in a concentrated form that releases the chemicals that can get a person high.2
The effect or high of inhalants are similar to anesthetics and include slurred speech, lack of coordination, euphoria, dizziness, as well as hallucinations and delusions. There can also be a sense of loss of control and drowsiness.1 Because huffing chemicals can reach the brain in seconds, people can lose their balance, become confused about their surroundings and can be unpredictable, from very happy and giggly to aggressive and violent.2
Depending on the amount of chemical vapors sniffed, there is a possibility of death when huffing inhalants. Other long-term effects of using inhalants are hearing loss, limb spasms, brain damage, and bone marrow damage. The types of long-term effects an addict gets from inhalants are dependent on what type of chemical they huff. 1
Typically an inhalant high lasts between a few to several minutes, depending on how much has been huffed and in what way it has been huffed. Users typically repeatedly huff the vapors over several hours to maintain the high.1
1) NIDA Infofacts: Inhalants. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Accessed: August 18, 2010.
2) Sean Connoly. Straight Talking: Inhalants. 2006. North Mankato: Black Rabbit Books.
3) Clifford J. Sherry. Inhalants. 2001. New York: Rosen Publishing Group.
4) Inhalants and Huffing. Parents. The Anti-Drug. Theantidrug.com. Accessed: August 19, 2010.