Inhalant Effects

The immediate effect of most inhalants is a feeling of intoxication that resembles being drunk on 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, 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. Other effects may be distorted perceptions of time and movement, emotional disregulation and breathing difficulties brought on by the toxic chemicals contained in inhalants. Some of these may create burns on the nose, mouth, throat, larynx, and lungs of the user. Others are carcinogenic and may create cancerous growths on the effected organs. Some users may experience hallucinations and/or psychosis. Those inhalants used by spraying into a plastic bag and inhaled while holding the bag over the mouth and nose produce similar effects. These are sometimes more dangerous because they contain particles that may be lodged in the nose or throat and cause serious ulcerations (burns) on the tissue of these organs. Some users will filter these products with a rag to remove this particulate from the inhalant. Serious side effects can occur with even a first-time use. These are most commonly heart failure and suffocation when oxygen is removed from the blood, similar to carbon monoxide poisoning. This is most often seen in accidental overdoses. Since there is no safe dose for use of inhalants, and no way to determine individual reaction to use, this type of Russian roulette may be the way new users determine if they are going to get high or die trying.

How Inhalants Affect Your Body

Small doses of inhalants will produce an effect like alcohol. There is some distinction between the high experienced by the user of various types of inhalants, depending on quantities and types used. The initial high affects the brain much like alcohol’s delivery system. Some of the chemicals are absorbed directly into the brain, others into the lining of the nasal passages and throat and into the stomach. Damage to internal organs can be seen in the liver and kidneys of even short-term users. The high lasts for several minutes and may leave the user with a headache or nausea. Since the range of inhalants varies, the effects range widely as well. The high mimics alcohol, but repeated use to maintain the high results frequently in toxic doses, leading to several dire consequences, including death. Short-term effects from using inhalants include: increased heart rate, loss of coordination and muscle control, delusions/hallucinations, sleepiness, loss of feeling sensations and/or consciousness and nausea.

Long-Term Effects of Using Inhalants

Other effects from long-term use may be permanent or long-lasting and do not wear off after the high is gone. Some of these are burns that are common around the mouth and nose, going into the nasal and sinus passages, lining of the throat and mouth, and into lung tissue. These are caused by gases inhaled (usually directly from open containers), such as gasoline, paint thinner, lacquer thinner, paint, and butane or propane. Ongoing use of inhalants can lead to severe damage of internal organs such as the liver and kidneys. Because the inhalants are toxins, they damage the lungs, brain and organs that screen toxins from the body of the user. Permanent damage to the brain of many users is often present in those who use only occasionally and stop. Other damage to the liver and kidneys may repair itself when use stops. One unique side effect of inhalants is due to the age group of likely users. Since this population is far younger than that of other drugs of abuse, the brain damage may not be as permanent as that damage done by older users. This is not yet fully confirmed by research. What is known is inhalant use causes heart, brain, liver, kidney, reproductive and respiratory system damage to nearly all users; over long-term use, the damage may be fatal and is often permanent.

Aftereffects of Inhalants

Death from inhalant use/abuse is not uncommon. Researchers believe it is under-reported, because screening may not be done at time of death to indicate causation by inhalants. How users die from inhalant use/abuse is suffocation caused by oxygen depletion from chemicals being inhaled. Another way is choking on vomit from the toxic effects of the chemical. Some users will inhale from an open container of gasoline or paint thinner and swallow some of the gases, causing the user to throw up at the same time they are inhaling, thus choking on their own vomit. This is a graphic description of a tragic form of death common to inhalant use/abuse. Cardiac arrest is caused by the increased heart rate created by inhalants. The user’s heart begins to beat rapidly and irregularly, then stops. Another form of death by inhalants is asphyxiation, which occurs when the chemicals in inhaled vapors replace oxygen going to the lungs and the user stops breathing completely.

Social Effects of Inhalants

Social relationships formed early in teens are important connections that can lead them to social success later in life. When they are formed around using inhalants, they often lead to social interactions later in teen years where use/abuse of other drugs and lifestyle choices are narrowed down to getting high. Obvious consequences are found for users who develop little or no social competence outside the circle of friends with whom they use inhalants and other drugs. Their development becomes impedes into young adulthood, in all arenas of life, and they are not equipped for later becoming responsible adults, capable of dealing with and deciding upon larger life issues.

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