From Academic Kids

Inhalants are a chemically diverse group of psychoactive substances composed of organic solvents and volatile substances commonly found in more than 1000 common household products, such as glues, hair spray, air fresheners, gasoline, lighter fluid, and paint. The practice of inhaling such substances is sometimes colloqiually referred to as solvent abuse or huffing. It has existed in very poor populations in various urban slums around the world at least since the 1960s.

Solvents are some of the most dangerous substances used recreationally, and can cause serious damage to the brain and central nervous system, and are generally only used by young substance abusers or as a desperate last resort for financially deprived drug addicts. While not regulated in the United States under the Controlled Substances Act, many states have placed restrictions on the sale of these products to minors.


Methods of use

Inhalants may be sniffed directly from an open container or "huffed" from a rag soaked in the substance and held to the face. Alternatively, the open container or soaked rag can be placed in a plastic bag where the vapors concentrate, and the bag held to the face as the user inhales. Solvent-based glue and markers are generally held to the nose, and the fumes inhaled. Propane and butane may be inhaled directly from the canister.

Although inhalant abusers may prefer one particular substance because of the odor or taste, a variety of substances may be used because of their similar effects, availability, and cost. Once inhaled, the extensive capillary surface of the lungs allows rapid absorption of the substance, and blood levels peak rapidly. Entry into the brain is so fast that the effects of inhalation can resemble the intensity of effects produced by intravenous injection of other psychoactive drugs.

In several parts of the world where glue-sniffing is widespread, terms for glue-sniffers have arisen based on brand-names of substances, such as aurolaci in Romania from the brand name Aurolac, or resistoleros in Brazil from the brand name Resistol. These terms are often used even in English-language writing about substance abuse in those regions.


The effects of inhalant intoxication resemble those of alcohol inebriation - stimulation and loss of inhibition, followed by depression. Users report distortion in perceptions of time and space. Many users experience headache, nausea or vomiting, slurred speech, loss of motor coordination, and wheezing. A characteristic "glue sniffer's rash" around the nose and mouth may be seen. An odor of paint or solvents on clothes, skin, and breath is sometimes a sign of inhalant abuse.

Sniffing highly concentrated amounts of the chemicals in solvents or aerosol sprays can directly induce heart failure and death. They also cause death from suffocation by displacing oxygen in the lungs and then in the central nervous system, causing breathing to cease. Additionally, compressed gas directly out of a tank or canister can be very cold, and direct inhalation may freeze the tissues of the lungs or cause damage due to its high pressure. Many solvents are extremely flammable as well, and a wayward spark or flame can cause serious burns.

The chronic use of inhalants has been associated with a number of serious, long-term, and often irreversible health problems, due, for example, to some inhalants' neurotoxicity. These include hearing loss, brain and central nervous system damage, bone marrow damage, liver and kidney damage, and blood oxygen depletion.

Unlike many other recreational drugs, volatile solvents can cause sudden loss of consciousness. There are reports of users falling down and sustaining critical injuries, getting into car accidents, or passing out into the plastic bag being used for huffing and then dying of asphyxiation.

Usage and availability

Inhalant abuse is common among children and adolescents. In a 1998 survey by the National Parents' Resource Institute for Drug Education, 2.2 percent of fourth graders and 2.7 percent of sixth graders admitted to sniffing glue and other inhalants on a monthly basis. By the time they reach the eighth grade, 5.0 percent will be using inhalants monthly, and 19.7 percent will have used inhalants at least once in their lifetime, according to statistics from the 1999 Monitoring the Future study.

Inhalants are readily available, inexpensive, and easy to conceal. Therefore, they are increasingly popular with young people and are, for many, one of the first substances abused. The extent of the inhalant problem among children and adolescents was, at first, virtually unrecognized by the general public. However, an event in early 1999 called national attention to this severe problem. Five high school girls were killed in a car accident outside Philadelphia, and the coroner's report showed that four of the five, including the driver, had ingested "significant" amounts of a computer keyboard cleaner. Since this event, there has been an increased awareness of the threat of inhalant abuse.

Common inhalants

Note that diethyl ether and nitrous oxide are not in this category even though they are inhaled and can be used recreationally. Their psychoactive effects involve a completely different and much less harmful mechanism (which is why they are used in medicine as anaesthetics).

This article was originally a copy of the United States Drug Enforcement Administration article on inhalants (

See also

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