Inhalants: A Deadly Risk

Other names used: Huff, sniff, kick, rush, poppers, ames, bang, laugh gas, whippets.

Using inhalants only once can be a deadly encounter! These substances include a vast array of chemicals that are sniffed or "huffed" to bring on a sudden head rush or high. Often experimented with by adolescents, they can cause both physical and emotional damage and bring fatal consequences for even the first time user.

Death from these misused chemicals can occur through asphyxia, or limitation of oxygen in the lungs that simply stops the breathing process. Suffocation, a similar event, deprives the user of oxygen and often includes severe choking or vomiting that brings on cardiac arrest. The body's response to inhalants may also trigger dangerous behaviors under life-threatening circumstances. "Go out and play in traffic," becomes a deadly game when inhalants are used by youths seeking thrills.

When inhalants are "huffed" for long periods of time then tolerance can be developed. This means that greater and greater amounts of a particular inhalant must be used and if tolerance becomes "inconvenient" then stronger more dangerous substances such as volatile solvents are sought. These include gasoline, paint thinners and paint removers. Of course, these are highly flammable substances with added risks for the user and others around him.

Physical dependence often results from long use and when efforts are made to stop the inhalant habit, severe withdrawal symptoms can occur. They may include hallucinations, stomach cramps, extremely high blood pressures and chills. Immediate medical help should be obtained. Because inhalants usually contain a mix of solvents it is very difficult to determine which is specifically responsible for brain or nerve damage.

Some added facts about inhalants:

  • Many inhaled substances produce the same effects as anesthetics and slow down body mechanisms. Moderate sniffing or huffing usually brings on lightheadedness. Very heavy doses can cause unconsciousness and possible shutdown of the breathing process.
  • Short-term effects most often include nausea, abnormal heartbeat, nosebleed, poor coordination and double vision. The strength and duration of effects depend on the past experiences of the user and the substances involved.
  • Inhalants include gases and nitrites in addition to solvents. Amyl and butyl nitrites have both been associated with cancer.
  • When inhalant use goes on for long periods the user is at great risk for physical damage. Liver, lung and kidney impairment commonly occurs with related brain and nervous system damage also present.

Patterns of abuse to consider:

Inhalant abuse starts early and is most often embraced by young people in their teen years, more young women than men are users. The appeals are based on easily available chemical products that are priced economically. However, a broad older population is attracted for the same reasons.

An additional factor effecting use includes simple packaging of products that includes a label and lends legality to the process. The product themselves are legal. More importantly with inhalants the high comes on quickly and can be an inexpensive substitute for marijuana or alcohol with homeless addicts.