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Drugs & Health Blog

March is National Inhalants Month

This blog post is archived and is no longer being updated. For the latest content, please visit the main Drugs & Health Blog page.
Sara Bellum

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.

Comments posted to the Drugs & Health Blog are from the general public and may contain inaccurate information. They do not represent the views of NIDA or any other federal government entity.


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what are the long term effects of this drugs?

@kvnmgn Long-term inhalant use can break down myelin. Myelin is a fatty tissue that provides a protective cover surrounding many of the body's nerve fibers (neurons). Some chemicals ininhalants leave the body quickly, but others stay for a long time and get absorbed by fatty tissues like myelin in the brain and central nervous system. Long-term inhalant use can break down myelin. When this happens, nerve cells are not able to transmit messages as efficiently, which can cause muscle spasms and tremors or even permanent difficulty with basic actions like walking, bending, and talking. These effects are similar to what happens to patients with multiple sclerosis—a disease that also affects myelin. Inhalants also can damage brain cells by preventing them from receiving enough oxygen. The effects of this condition, also known as brain hypoxia, depend on the area of the brain affected. The hippocampus, for example, helps control memory, so someone who repeatedly uses inhalants may lose the ability to learn new things or may have a hard time carrying on simple conversations. If the cerebral cortex is affected, the ability to solve complex problems and plan ahead will be compromised. And, if the cerebellum is affected, it can cause a person to move slowly or clumsily.

And finally, inhalants can be addictive.

For more info, check out:

Hey this is really entertaining . I enjoyed to read this article. I agree with cody.

To halt smoking cigarettes takes a large amount of hard work and energy : but you can end, regardless how a long time you might have been smoking cigarettes. nEvertheless a good many individuals fail, not really since [commercial link removed, per guidelines]

What are the short/long term effects?

Hi Coldwar, it depends on the chemical.  Generally, the short term effects include dizziness, loss of consciousness, bad mood swings, hallucinations, delusions, and headaches.  The long term effects include reduces oxygen in the blood, organ damage, brain damage, and even death.  For more information, check out Drug Facts: Inhalants.  There you will find a detailed list of the effects of inhalants, including effects for 8 common chemicals people sniff.