If you’ve ever come across a smelly marker, you’ve experienced an inhalant. They seem harmless, but they can actually be quite dangerous. Inhalants are chemical vapors that people inhale on purpose to get “high.” The vapors produce mind-altering, and sometimes disastrous, effects.
These vapors are in a variety of products common in almost any home or workplace. Examples are some paints, glues, gasoline, and cleaning fluids. Many people do not think of these products as drugs because they were never meant to be used to achieve an intoxicating effect. But when they are intentionally inhaled to produce a “high,” they can cause serious harm.
Although inhalants differ in their effects, they generally fall into the following categories:
Volatile Solvents, liquids that vaporize at room temperature, present in:
- Certain industrial or household products, such as paint thinner, nail polish remover, degreaser, dry-cleaning fluid, gasoline, and contact cement
- Some art or office supplies, such as correction fluid, felt-tip marker fluid, and electronic contact cleaner
- Spray paint, hair spray, deodorant spray, vegetable oil sprays, and fabric protector spray
- Butane lighters, propane tanks, whipped cream dispensers, and refrigerant gases
- Anesthesia, including ether, chloroform, halothane, and nitrous oxide
What Are the Common Street Names?
Common slang for inhalants includes "laughing gas" (nitrous oxide), "snappers" (amyl nitrite), "poppers" (amyl nitrite and butyl nitrite), "whippets" (fluorinated hydrocarbons, found in whipped cream dispensers), "bold" (nitrites), and "rush" (nitrites).
Who Abuses Inhalants?
Inhalants are often among the first drugs that young adolescents abuse. In fact, they are one of the few classes of substances that are abused more by younger adolescents than older ones. Inhalant abuse can become chronic and continue into adulthood.
Data from national and state surveys suggest that inhalant abuse is most common among 7th through 9th graders. For example, in the Monitoring the Future study, an annual NIDA-supported survey of the Nation’s secondary school students, 8th graders regularly report the highest rate of current, past-year, and lifetime inhalant abuse compared to 10th and 12th graders. In 2010, 8 percent of 8th graders, 5.7 percent of 10th graders, and 3.6 percent of 12th graders reported abusing inhalants in the year prior to the survey. One of the problems is that, according to the 2010 survey, 39 percent of 8th graders don’t consider the regular use of inhalants to be harmful, and 64 percent don’t think trying inhalants once or twice is risky. Young teens may not understand the risks of inhalant use as well as they should.
How Are They Abused?
People who abuse inhalants breathe in the vapors through their nose or mouth, usually in one of these ways:
- "Sniffing" or "snorting" fumes from containers
- Spraying aerosols directly into the nose or mouth
- Sniffing or inhaling fumes from substances sprayed or placed into a plastic or paper bag ("bagging")
- "Huffing" from an inhalant-soaked rag stuffed in the mouth
- Inhaling from balloons filled with nitrous oxide
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