NIDA for Teens: The Science Behind Drug Abuse
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What Are Examples of the Effects of Inhalants by Type?

Inhalant Examples Effects
TOLUEENE
  • Spray paint
  • Glue
  • Dewaxer
  • Fingernail polish
  • Hearing loss
  • Damage to white matter in the brain
TRICHLOROETHYLENE
  • Cleaning fluid
  • Correction fluid
  • Hearing loss
HEXANE
  • Glue
  • Gasoline
  • Peripheral neuropathy (nerves carrying messages to and from brain and spinal cord don’t work properly)
NITROUS OXIDE
  • Whipped cream dispensers
  • Gas cylinders
  • Hearing loss
BENZENE
  • Gasoline
  • Bone marrow damage
DIFLUOROETHANE (FREON) SUBSTITUTES
  • Dust-Off
  • Irregular heart rhythms

Butane gas, found in cigarette lighters and refills, makes the heart extra sensitive to a chemical naturally found in the body that carries messages from the central nervous system to the heart. This chemical, noradrenaline, tells the heart to beat faster when someone is in a stressful situation. If the heart becomes too sensitive to noradrenaline, it can affect the heart's rhythm, with potentially lethal consequences.

Nitrite abuse has other health risks. Unlike most other inhalants, which act directly on the brain, nitrites enlarge blood vessels, allowing more blood to flow through them. Inhaled nitrites make the heart beat faster and produce a sensation of heat and excitement that can last for several minutes. Nitrites can also cause dizziness and headaches. Nitrites are typically used by older adolescents and adults, and their abuse is associated with unsafe sexual practices that can increase the risk of contracting and spreading infectious diseases, such as HIV and hepatitis.

Lethal Effects

Prolonged sniffing of the highly concentrated chemicals in solvents or aerosol sprays can cause irregular or rapid heart rhythms and can lead to heart failure and death within minutes. This "sudden sniffing death" is particularly associated with the abuse of butane, propane, and chemicals in aerosols.

High concentrations of inhalants also can cause death from suffocation. This happens when the inhalant vapor takes the place of oxygen in the lungs and brain, causing breathing to stop. Deliberately inhaling from a paper or plastic bag or in a closed area, for example, greatly increases the chances of suffocation.

While high on inhalants, people also can die by choking on their own vomit or by fatal injury from accidents, including car crashes.