Title:   Drug Proofing the Family
 Authors:   Erica Wittenberg & Jim Parker

 Publication Date:

  September 2003

 Catalog No:



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 now.

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 in suffocation.

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.

Marijuana Alcohol/Downers Heroin/Narcotics Stimulants
....Cocaine/Crack Hallucinogens Inhalants Other Resources


Continue with Chapter 7: Starting Points
Go to Table of Contents

This is one in a series of publications on drugs, behavior, and health by Do It Now Foundation. Check us out online at www.doitnow.org.