Although other substances that are misused can be inhaled, the term inhalants refers to the various substances that people typically take only by inhaling. These substances include:
- Solvents (liquids that become gas at room temperature)
- Aerosol sprays
- Nitrites (prescription medicines for chest pain)
Inhalants are various products easily bought and found in the home or workplace—such as spray paints, markers, glues, and cleaning fluids. They contain dangerous substances that have psychoactive (mind-altering) properties when inhaled. People don’t typically think of these products as drugs because they’re not intended for getting “high,” but some people use them for that purpose. When these substances are used for getting high, they are called inhalants. Inhalants are mostly used by young kids and teens and are the only class of substance used more by younger than by older teens.
Products Used as Inhalants
- Industrial or household products, including:
- Paint thinners or removers
- Dry-cleaning fluids
- Lighter fluid
- Art or office supply solvents, including:
- Correction fluids
- Felt-tip marker fluid
- Electronic contact cleaners
- Household aerosol items, including:
- Spray paints
- Hair or deodorant sprays
- Aerosol computer cleaning products
- Vegetable oil sprays
- Found in household or commercial products, including:
- Butane lighters
- Propane tanks
- Whipped cream aerosols or dispensers (whippets)
- Used as anesthesia (to make patients lose sensation during surgery/procedures), including:
- Nitrous oxide
- Often sold in small brown bottles labeled as:
- Video head cleaner
- Room odorizer
- Leather cleaner
- Liquid aroma
How do inhalants affect the brain?
Most inhalants affect the central nervous system and slow down brain activity. Short-term effects are similar to alcohol and include:
- Slurred or distorted speech
- Lack of coordination (control of body movement)
- Euphoria (feeling “high”)
People may also feel light-headed or have hallucinations (images/sensations that seem real but aren’t) or delusions (false beliefs). With repeated inhalations, many people feel less self-conscious and less in control. Some may start vomiting, feel drowsy for several hours, or have a headache that lasts a while.
Unlike other types of inhalants, nitrites, which are often prescribed to treat chest pain, are misused in order to improve sexual pleasure by expanding and relaxing blood vessels.
What are the other health effects of inhalants?
Long-term effects of inhalant use may include:
- Liver and kidney damage
- Hearing loss
- Bone marrow damage
- Loss of coordination and limb spasms (from nerve damage)
- Delayed behavioral development (from brain problems)
- Brain damage (from cut-off oxygen flow to the brain)
In addition, because nitrites are misused for sexual pleasure and performance, they can lead to unsafe sexual practices or other risky behavior. This increases the chance of getting or spreading infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS or hepatitis.
Read more about drug use and HIV/AIDS in HIV/AIDS and Drug Abuse: Intertwined Epidemics DrugFacts. Read more about drug use and hepatitis at our webpage about viral hepatitis.