What happens to your body when you use inhalants?

Short-Term Effects

Inhalants can cause the following health effects:

  • confusion
  • upset stomach
  • slurred speech
  • lack of coordination
  • dizziness
  • lightheadedness
  • hallucinations/delusions
  • headache
  • intense feelings of joy
  • sudden sniffing death due to the heart stopping
  • death from suffocation, seizures, coma, or choking

Long-Term Effects of Specific Chemicals

Depending on the type of inhalant used, the harmful health effects will differ. Different types of inhalants and their possible effects are described below:

Amyl nitrite, butyl nitrite (poppers, video head cleaner)

  • sudden sniffing death
  • weakened immune system
  • damage to red blood cells (interfering with oxygen supply to vital tissues)

Benzene (gasoline)

  • bone marrow damage
  • weakened immune system
  • increased risk of leukemia (a form of cancer)
  • reproductive system complications

Butane, propane (lighter fluid, hair and paint sprays)     

  • sudden sniffing death from heart effects
  • serious burn injuries

Freon - difluoroethane substitutes (refrigerant and aerosol propellant) 

  • sudden sniffing death
  • breathing problems and death (from sudden cooling of airways)
  • liver damage

Methylenelchloride (paint thinners and removers, degreasers)  

  • reduced ability of blood to carry oxygen to the brain and body
  • changes to heart muscle and heartbeat

Nitrous oxide, hexane (“laughing gas”) 

  • death from lack of oxygen to the brain
  • altered perception and motor coordination
  • loss of sensation
  • spasms
  • blackouts caused by blood pressure changes
  • depression of heart muscle functioning

Toluene (gasoline, paint thinners and removers, correction fluid)             

  • brain damage (loss of brain tissue, impaired thinking, loss of coordination, limb spasms, hearing and vision loss)
  • liver and kidney damage

Tricholoroethylene (spot removers, degreasers)

  • sudden sniffing death
  • liver disease
  • reproductive problems
  • hearing and vision loss

Signs of Inhalant Use

Sometimes you can see signs that tell you a person is using inhalants, such as:

  • chemical odors on breath or clothing
  • paint or other stains on the face, hands, or clothing
  • hidden empty spray paint or solvent containers, or rags or clothing soaked with chemicals
  • drunk or disoriented actions
  • slurred speech
  • nausea (feeling sick) or loss of appetite and weight loss
  • confusion, inattentiveness, lack of coordination, irritability, and depression
  • purchase of excessive amounts of products used as inhalants