What are inhalants?
Inhalants are substances that people inhale (breathe in) to get high. There are other substances that people might inhale, such as alcohol. But those are not called inhalants, because they can also be used another way. Inhalants are the substances that you can misuse only by inhaling them.
Using inhalants to try to get high, even once, can be very harmful to your brain and body. It can even lead to death.
What are the types of inhalants?
Inhalants are often products that are easily bought and can be found in the home or workplace. They contain dangerous substances that have psychoactive (mind-altering) properties when they are inhaled. There are four main types of inhalants are
- Solvents, which are liquids that become gas at room temperature. They include paint thinner, nail polish remover, gasoline, and glue.
- Aerosol sprays, such as spray paint, deodorant spray, and vegetable oil sprays
- Gases, including gas from lighters, whipped cream dispensers, and laughing gas
- Nitrites (prescription medicines for chest pain)
Some of the common slang terms for various inhalants include
- Laughing gas
How do people use inhalants?
People who use inhalants breathe in the fumes through their nose or mouth, usually by "sniffing," "snorting," "bagging," or "huffing." It's called different names depending on the substance and equipment used.
The high that inhalants produce usually lasts just a few minutes, so people often try to make it last by inhaling them again and again over several hours.
Who uses inhalants?
Inhalants are mostly used by young kids and teens. They often try inhalants before they try other substances because inhalants are easier to get.
What are the signs that someone is using inhalants?
Signs that someone is using inhalants include
- Chemical odors on breath or clothing
- Paint or other stains on face, hands, or clothes
- Hidden empty spray paint or solvent containers and chemical-soaked rags or clothing
- Red or runny eyes or nose
- Drunk or disoriented appearance
- Slurred speech
- Nausea or loss of appetite
- Inattentiveness, lack of coordination, irritability, and depression
What are the health effects of using inhalants?
Most inhalants affect your central nervous system and slow down brain activity. Inhalants can cause both short-term and long-term health effects:
- Short-term health effects include slurred or distorted speech, lack of coordination, euphoria (feeling "high"), dizziness, and hallucinations
- Long-term health effects may include liver and kidney damage, loss of coordination, limb spasms, delayed behavioral development, and brain damage
Using inhalants, even once, could lead to an overdose. This can cause you to have seizures or your heart to stop. It can also be deadly.
Are inhalants addictive?
Behavioral therapy may help people who are addicted to inhalants.
Can inhalant misuse be prevented?
To try to prevent inhalant abuse, parents should talk to their children about it. They should discuss the dangers of inhalants and how to deal with peer pressure if someone asks them to try it.
NIH: National Institute on Drug Abuse
- Drug Facts Chat Day: Inhalants (National Institute on Drug Abuse)
Journal Articles References and abstracts from MEDLINE/PubMed (National Library of Medicine)
Find an Expert
- Drug Enforcement Administration
- National Institute on Drug Abuse Also in Spanish
- Partnership at Drugfree.org (Partnership for a Drug-Free America)
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
- Parent's Guide to Preventing Inhalant Abuse (Consumer Product Safety Commission)