Inhalants are a toxic wasteland
of common household and industrial chemicals that are sniffed
for their intoxicating effects. How common are they? About as
common as you can get. In fact, you've probably got at least
a dozen different examples of them sitting in your home right
Inhalants fall into three main
groups: Volatile solvents, aerosol sprays, and nitrites. Although
their effects are similar in many ways, they're also different
enough -- and often, dangerous enough -- to consider individually.
Solvents. Glue, paint, butane, and gasoline are
among the most-used solvents. Sniffers act as if they're drunk,
down to the slurred speech and stagger, with effects lasting
less than an hour. Heavy use can cause hallucinations and impair
memory, concentration, and coordination. Long-term use can damage
the brain and other organs. Other risks derive from how fast
solvents are absorbed when inhaled. Effects hit immediately,
but so can overdose, without gradual warning signs. Sudden shock
or exertion after sniffing can also trigger heart failure.
Aerosol Sprays. Aerosols pose different, but equally-lethal,
dangers. In this case, the intoxicant is the propellant used
to make hairspray or cooking oil or deodorant spray out of the
container, and usually produces only a brief high. Still, in
the process of inhaling the propellant, users also inhale the
grease or gunk being sprayed, which can coat the lungs and result
Nitrites. The nitrites group includes chemicals
you've probably never heard of (such as butyl nitrite and cyclohexyl
nitrite) and one you probably have heard of (and may even have
used yourself, probably when you were sitting in a dentist's
chair): nitrous oxide, or "laughing gas."
Sometimes sold over the counter
at head shops or adult bookstores in a variety of sham products
("room odorizers" or VCR "head cleaners"
are common examples) nitrites produce a brief buzz that usually
lasts only a minute or two. They're less toxic than other inhalants,
but can be deadly, if swallowed. And even nitrous oxide has been
linked to a small number of deaths, usually involving kids who
passed out in cars (or other enclosed spaces) while sniffing
it from pressurized tanks.
Since inhalants are fairly easy
to obtain, they're most often used by young people, particularly
younger teens and pre-teens. That's too bad, because in many
ways, inhalants are among the most potentially dangerous substances
kids can ever get into.