March is National Inhalants Month

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Distorted and fuzzy image of spray cans

We get a lot of comments and questions about what drugs do to your brain, including chemicals that people sniff to get high. For example, Justin posted a comment on this blog once saying he always thought that if he “huffs” markers in small doses, just every once in a while, that it will cause little or no damage to his brain cells. Maybe or maybe not. The problem is that you really don’t know when something might be dangerous for you even if other people are okay.

What’s clear is that when you inhale toxic chemicals like those in markers, paint thinner, or computer duster, it messes with your brain’s wiring and signals, so you feel almost drunk or dizzy for a while—but if you keep doing it, you can have pretty scary side effects.

In the short term, these chemicals can cause dizziness, loss of consciousness, bad mood swings, and headaches. In the long term, toxic fumes can take the place of oxygen in the blood, leading to hypoxia (low oxygen pressure in the body), which can damage your brain and other organs or even kill you. In fact, even one hit of a toxic substance can stop your heart, aka “Sudden Sniffing Death Syndrome”—a tragedy that too many teens and parents have experienced. Some only come close, like Megan who stopped just in time.

Like Justin, maybe you weren’t aware of the potential consequences of huffing. Many teens and parents are not. That’s the point of National Inhalants and Poisons Awareness Month. Every year this month is a chance to educate people about the dangers of huffing, while supporting those who have already been affected. So what can you do? Maybe you can start a conversation with a friend about inhalant abuse or pass this blog along to others. You can make a difference and could maybe save a life.

Why don’t you see how you and your friends do on this short quiz about inhalants?…see if you can get them all right! Answers are listed after the questions.

1. Inhaling stuff repeatedly can cause serious damage to the:

  1. A. heart
  2. B. liver
  3. C. brain
  4. D. all of the above

2. Huffing and using illegal drugs can cause brain changes that last:

  1. A. for minutes
  2. B. for days
  3. C. four days
  4. D. for years

3. “Sudden sniffing death” can be caused by…

  1. A. Acute odor receptor over-activation
  2. B. Inhaling noxious fumes from household products like glue, hairspray, or gasoline
  3. C. Smelling dirty socks
  4. D. Inhaling noxious fumes from your little brother
  5. E. Smoking marijuana

4. Damage from the use of inhalants can slow or stop nerve cell activity and reduce the size of some parts of the brain, including:

  1. A. Cerebral cortex (the thinking part)
  2. B. Brainstem (controls respiration and basic activities)
  3. C. Cerebellum (involved in movement)
  4. D. All of the above

5. Inhalants cause damage to the brain because:

  1. A. They smell really bad
  2. B. They prevent oxygen from getting to neurons
  3. C. They cause muscles to break down
  4. D. All of the above

Answers: 1.d, 2.c, 3.b, 4.d, 5.b.

Find Help Near You

Use the SAMHSA Treatment Locator to find substance use or other mental health services in your area. If you are in an emergency situation, this toll-free, 24-hour hotline can help you get through this difficult time: call 1-800-273-TALK, or visit the Suicide Prevention Lifeline. We also have step by step guides on what to do to help yourself, a friend or a family member.

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