Drugwise: Growing Up Straight in a Chemical Culture
 Author:   Jim Parker
Publisher:   Do It Now Foundation

 Publication Date:

  September 2003

 Catalog No:



A lot of younger kids get into inhalants just because they're easy to get. That's too bad. Because in a lot of ways, inhalants could easily fit in that "most dangerous" category we talked about a while ago.

There are three main types of inhalants: solvents--like glue, gasoline, and lighter fluid; aerosols--spray oils, hairsprays and deodorants; and nitrites, a family of gases that includes amyl nitrite and nitrous oxide. All are inhaled, or sniffed, through the nose or mouth to the lungs.

Solvents produce effects like alcohol. Users act drunk, slur their words (or lapse into total incoherence), stagger, and generally act weird. Effects usually last less than an hour.

Solvents are dangerous in two ways.

For one thing, their effects kick in instantly--and so can an overdose. Since they're not digested by the stomach or filtered by the liver like other drugs, they're a blast of raw chemical gunk rushing from the nose to the brain in a single heartbeat.

And that's exactly how long it takes for solvents to kill someone.

Solvents can also cause problems with memory and thinking, due to their toxic effects on brain cells.

Aerosol sprays pose other dangers since sniffers can easily overdo it and coat their alveoli--the tiny air cells in the lungs that process oxygen--with hairspray or paint or other sludge. When this happens, suffocation and death can result.

Nitrites pose less immediate hazards, but they can be risky all the same.

Isopropyl nitrite--sometimes sold legally as "liquid incense" or "head cleaner"--produces a short-term, dizzy kind of buzz, which may be linked to a shut off of oxygen flow to the inner brain. Longer-term effects can include severe headaches and dizzy spells.

Nitrites can also be dangerous if swallowed. And some users of nitrous oxide (AKA "laughing gas") have been known to suffocate inside cars or other enclosed spaces with open tanks of nitrous oxide.

Want to jump ahead (or go back) to a particular drug or drug category? Click in the table below to go there, or use the links, below right, to continue with the main text.

Alcohol Downers Speed
Cocaine Marijuana Hallucinogens
Inhalants Narcotics Other Do It Now Info

Continue with Chapter 3: Downers
Continue with Chapter 4: Locks & Keys
Go to Table of Contents


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