NIDA for Teens: The Science Behind Drug Abuse
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What Are Inhalants?

 A hand depressing an aerosol of a spray canIf 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 get "high." 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

Aerosols, sprays that contain propellants and solvents, include:

  • Spray paint, hair spray, deodorant spray, vegetable oil sprays, and fabric protector spray

Gases, which may be in household or commercial products, or used as medical anesthetics, such as in:

  • Butane lighters, propane tanks, whipped cream dispensers, and refrigerant gases
  • Anesthesia, including ether, chloroform, halothane, and nitrous oxide

Nitrites are a class of inhalants used primarily as sexual enhancers. Organic nitrites include amyl, butyl, and cyclohexyl nitrites and other related compounds. Amyl nitrite was used in the past by doctors to alleviate chest pain and is sometimes used today for diagnostic purposes in heart examinations. When marketed for illicit use, these nitrites are often sold in small brown bottles and labeled as "video head cleaner," "room odorizer," "leather cleaner," or "liquid aroma."