What Are Inhalants?

Inhalants are garage and household chemicals that are found around most homes. They are toxic and poisonous.

Inhalants are products that most of us have in our homes and they have a real purpose. These are gasoline, turpentine, propellants in spray products, adhesive products, cleaning products, fuels, solvents and cooking products.

The Basics

What they are, what they look like, how are they abused?

Unlike other drugs of abuse, inhalants are more than one type; and many of them are common household products that are freely available in anyone’s home, garage or in hardware stores. Mostly comprised of legal substances, readily purchased over the counter without any type of sanction, their popularity is based on the ease with which they can be obtained. Methods for using inhalants are to either inhale the fumes of the products after placing them inside a plastic bag; or, as in the case of paint thinner and gasoline, inhaled directly from an open container of the substance.

Effects of Inhalants

What it does, the physical and mental effects while high, what happens in the brain, after-effects of using inhalants.

Inhalants work in various ways. Most will produce an effect very like that of alcohol. The user will appear giddy and uncoordinated. They may have glassy eyes, bad breath, and become nauseated. The effects are short-lived and last from 10-20 minutes. Users will continue use to remain high. The brain becomes instantly “hit” by the vapors being inhaled and inhalant effects can be fatal. Learn more about the effects... of inhalant use/abuse.

Inhalant Dosage and Amounts Taken

What is a regular “hit” of an inhalant? How many hits are "safe"?

The amount of inhalant used can be varied, sometimes with tragic results. A “hit” is what the user inhales. When using an open container, risk is great for ingesting too much of the inhalant. Amounts vary due to substance differences as well. There is no safe amount to inhale, because these are toxic, poisonous substances.

Dangers and Long-Term Effects of Inhalant Abuse

What are the dangers of huffing?

When inhaled in even small amounts, damage to the body of the user is present and may be permanent. The immediate effects of most inhalants are intoxication that resembles alcohol. Increased doses may cause loss of sight, hearing, feeling sensation and even consciousness. Some of these can be permanent and may occur after only one use. Because of the high toxicity of inhalants used by some, death may be the sudden result of even a first-time use. Damage done to the central nervous system and other parts of the brain may be permanent or may wear off over time. Nervous tics and spasms are often the result of inhalant use.

Inhalant Addiction and Tolerance

How addictive are they? Is addiction a myth? Do I have a problem?

From the first use, risk and addiction begin to pile up with inhalant abuse. The instant effects are powerful, and last such a short time that users will continue to “hit” on the baggie or the open container to get it back again, over and over. The high only lasts for about 10-20 minutes for most inhalants, but the first hit packs such a powerful punch that it leads the user down a garden path to active addiction.

Inhalant Overdose Symptoms, Signs, and What to Do

Can you overdose on inhalants?

Overdose, occurs when a user “hits” the baggie or the container of inhalant too many times in rapid succession. Toxins build up and can deplete oxygen going to the brain (stroke, brain death); cause unconsciousness and death by choking on vomit, which is a frequent occurrence; or by sudden heart rate increase until the heart stops completely. These are all known as sudden inhalant death.

If you or someone you are with show signs of a drug overdose, calling your local emergency line is recommended. Our drug emergencies resource page has a list of US poison control centers and addiction resources that could help you in an emergency. We also recommend that you consider seeking treatment once the emergency is over.

Mixing Inhalants with Other Drugs

What are the effects of mixing inhalants with pot, amphetamines, heroin, benzodiazepines, tobacco and other prescription drugs?

Mixing inhalants with many of these drugs can be dangerous. Driving or attempting to operate machinery while under the influence is more difficult, since reaction time is slowed, and thus, driving "under the influence" is illegal. Accidental overdose occurs easily with alcohol and other system depressants. Learn more about mixing... alcohol and other substances.

Inhalant Drug Tests and Detox

How long do inhalants remain in the system? Will I pass a field sobriety test?

Inhalants may remain in the system of the user for 10-14 days, depending on the substance(s) being used. Explicit testing for the presence of inhalant chemicals is necessary to detect their presence. Most agencies will test to rule out alcohol and other drugs first. If the user still appears to be in distress or under the influence, agencies may decide to run the requisite blood tests to look for signs of inhalant use/abuse. Most of the time, smells and symptoms are easily recognized as abuse of inhalants.

The best idea is to not drive or operate equipment when using and drugs or inhalants. Because most inhalant abuse is done by those in the age ranges between 12 and 17 years of age, laws governing operation of motor vehicles and equipment are the same as they would be for any substances of abuse.

Legality, The Laws of Sales and Use of Inhalants

What are some of the laws governing inhalant use? Will I have to go to meetings?

While most of the products containing popular inhalants are legally purchased over the counter by adults anywhere, certain most frequently abused by teens are illegal for purchase, possession, trade, use or sale by those under the age of 18 in most states in the US and throughout the world. Inhalant use and abuse is a worldwide epidemic that is being addressed mainly by attempting to limit access to the substances. Because of the age group being targeted, most users will be treated as minors in courts. These laws are the same as they are for alcohol and other drugs and vary from state to state. Adults are tried mostly for use and sale to minors or allowing minors to access their products for use as inhalants. Specific treatment for inhalants abuse is seldom seen. Treatment for addiction to any drugs remains the most common method.

Frequently Asked Questions Regarding Inhalants

Find the answers to a number of questions commonly asked about inhalants and their effects, such as:

What types of substances are used for inhalants?

What kind of high can a person get from inhalants?

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What is so dangerous about inhalants?

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