Millions of Americans, especially young people, are abusing the fumes of spray paints, glue, cleaning fluid, gasoline, aerosols, nail polish remover, markers and many other items. Everyday household and workplace products are used to get “high”. It is called the “huffing” of inhalants.
Users feel intoxicated and experience similar effects to those of alcohol intoxication, within just a few seconds.
Bottom line, huffing gets someone high very quickly. But the effects only last a short time, usually only a few minutes. This causes the person to do the process rapidly, over and over again, sometimes with, serious sometimes even fatal consequences. It is popular because they are cheap and readily available.
The Common Denominator Of Huffing
For the most part, inhalants are not the type of drug you will find on a list of illegal drugs. The reason for this is that the vast majority of inhalants that are huffed are actually legal substances that exist for a purpose entirely unrelated to mental stimulation. Common examples of such inhalants include paint thinner, glue, lighter fluid, and shoe polish. These are all relatively common household items that are legal to purchase and have a useful, everyday purpose.
However, these items also all have something else in common. They all contain substances with psychoactive properties that can be accessed through huffing (inhaling through the mouth or nose). Similar to illegal drugs with psychoactive properties, huffing inhalants can alter the brain chemistry in such a way to produce a pleasant sensation.
Huffing Inhalants is Drug Abuse
Inhalants are breathed through the nose or mouth in a variety of ways, including the sniffing or snort of fumes. It just depends on the product being used. Aerosol sprays, such as computer cleaning duster is placed directly into the nose or mouth. Other things, like petroleum products are soaked on a cloth and placed in the mouth.
Parents should be aware of the dangers from common household products that contain volatile solvents or aerosols. Products such as glues, nail polish remover, lighter fluid, spray paints, deodorant and hair sprays, whipped cream canisters, and cleaning fluids are easily accessible.
Abusers may also inhale fumes from a plastic or paper bag. Although the high produced by inhalants usually lasts just a few minutes, abusers often try to prolong it by continuing to inhale repeatedly over several hours.
They can go by the street names of Gluey, Huff, Rush and Whippets
Different inhalant products tend to be abused at various age groups.
Users in the 12 to 15 age bracket tend to abuse glue, shoe polish, spray paints, gasoline, and lighter fluid.
Other users in the 16 to 17 year old age group most tend to abuse nitrous oxide, also known as “whippets.”
Adults most commonly abuse a class of inhalants known as nitrites (such as amyl nitrites or “poppers”).
National surveys indicate nearly 21.7 million Americans aged 12 and older have used inhalants at least one time
4 Major Classifications of Inhalants
The 4 Classifications of Inhalants (Huffing)
Inhalants are now classified into four main types: volatile solvents, gases, aerosols and nitrites. Volatile solvents, gases, and aerosols can alter moods and create a high. Nitrites are used for sexual stimulation.
- Volatile solvents
Volatile solvents are liquids that become a gas at room temperature. Some examples are paint thinner and remover, gasoline, glue, felt-tip markers and office pen “white-out”.
Gas inhalants can include the gases used in medical anesthesia, nitrous oxide, also known as “laughing gas”. They also include butane lighters, propane tanks, whipped cream dispensers and refrigerants.
- Aerosol Sprays
Aerosol sprays are generally household items including spray paint, deodorant and hairsprays, vegetable oil cooking sprays, static cling sprays and whip cream dispensers (“whippets”).
Nitrites include cyclohexyl nitrite, amyl nitrite, and butyl nitrite. Their street names are “poppers” or “snappers.” They can be found in room deodorizers and capsules that release vapors.
image courtesy of NIDA
Huffing’s Side Effects – Brain Damage, STD and Death
The vast majority of inhalants produce an effect similar to drunkenness when huffed. Users experience slurred speech, dizziness, hampered coordination, and may even fall unconscious. A small subset of inhalants, called nitrites, primarily used by adults, instead enhance sexual pleasure in the users. Unfortunately, these pleasant feelings come with some major drawbacks.
Effects may also include loss of coordination and limb spasms due to damage to myelin—a protective sheathing around nerve fibers that helps nerves transmit messages in the brain and peripheral nervous system. Inhalants can also cause brain damage by cutting off oxygen flow to the brain.
Inhalants use can be lethal. Sniffing highly concentrated amounts of the chemicals in solvents or aerosol sprays can directly cause heart failure within minutes. This syndrome, known as “sudden sniffing death,” can result from a single session of inhalant use by an otherwise healthy young person. High concentrations of inhalants may also cause death from suffocation, especially when inhaled from a paper or plastic bag or in a closed area. Even when using aerosols or volatile products for their legitimate purposes like painting or cleaning, it is wise to do so in a well-ventilated room or outdoors.
The chemicals being inhaled can produce serious, long-term consequences. These include liver and kidney damage, hearing loss, bone marrow damage, loss of coordination and brain damage.
Huffing may cause death from suffocation, especially when inhaled from a paper or plastic bag or in a closed area.
Nitrites are a special class of inhalants that are abused to enhance sexual pleasure and performance. They can be associated with unsafe sexual practices that increase the risk of contracting and spreading infectious diseases like HIV/AIDS and hepatitis.
Once the vapors enter the body, they are absorbed by the brain and nervous system. Inhalants, except for nitrites, slow down the body’s functions, similar to drinking alcohol.
Generally, the short-term side effects include:
- Increased Heart Rate
- Lose of Feeling or Consciousness
- Nausea and Vomiting
- Impaired Coordination
- Slurred Speech
- Muscle Weakness
- Loss of Smell or Hearing
More Serious Negative Side Effects From Huffing Inhalants
- High likelihood of permanent liver and / or kidney damage
- Permanent loss of bone marrow, which is likely to result in broken bones later in life
- Increased likelihood of hearing loss, possibly even early in life
- Permanent brain damage resulting from oxygen being cut off from the brain during use
- Death from heart failure during use
- Death from suffocation, especially when a paper bag is used for huffing or the huffing is done in a room without proper ventilation
One of the Most Dangerous Forms of Drug Abuse
Despite the fact that most inhalants are not illegal to own, purchase, transport, or sell, huffing inhalants is more dangerous than taking almost any other drug that exists. The reasons for this are many-fold.
First, when an inhalant is huffed, the pleasant benefit of huffing the inhalant usually only lasts for a few minutes at most, sometimes a few seconds. As a result, most users huff repeatedly for tens of minutes or even hours at a time. This amplifies the damaging side effects caused by the drug.
Second, inhalants tend to have some of the most life threatening and long term side effects of any drug that exists.
Finally, unlike every other drug that has ever been studied, inhalants are used more by young teens than by any other age category. According to studies, 20% of 8th graders reported having huffed inhalants at least once in their life and approximately 4% reported doing so in the last year. Comparatively, only about half that many 12th graders reported huffing inhalants in the last year. The early use (often before the onset of puberty) exacerbates the biological and chemical damage inhalants can cause.