Inhalants are volatile substances producing vapors that can be inhaled and absorbed by pulmonary mucosa to produce a mind-altering “buzz” or high. Inhalants are dangerous and their use represents an abuse problem in the United States and abroad. At greatest risk of harm from these drugs are adolescents in their early teenage years due to the unregulated sale of products containing inhalant chemicals and their ease of use. Most inhalants are central nervous system (CNS) depressants, but they also cause adverse medical effects on almost every organ system. Both short- and long-term toxic effects occur. Short-term effects include diplopia, memory impairment, slurred speech, seizure, or death from cardiac arrhythmias. Long-term chronic effects include permanent ataxias or peripheral neuropathies, blindness, cognitive impairment, dementia, and renal toxicity.
Recreational use of inhalants in the United States increased in the 1950s and is now widespread amongst adolescents. More than 3000 abusable products containing volatile chemicals are legal and readily obtained; these include solvents, adhesives, fuels, dry-cleaning agents, cigarette lighters, permanent markers, correction fluid, and aerosols with propellants used in whipped cream, deodorants, paints, electronic cleaning sprays, and cooking sprays. These products are readily available, easy to purchase, legal to possess, easy to conceal, and found in many households or garages. The CNS effects are rapid in onset and brief, lessening the chances of being detected by authorities or guardians. Few states have laws prohibiting inhalant abuse and criminal prosecution is rare.
The most commonly abused inhalants are aromatic hydrocarbons, aliphatic hydrocarbons, alkyl halides, and nitrites.
Aromatic hydrocarbons, such as toluene and xylene, are the most commonly used inhalants of abuse likely because they cause an intense euphoric rush when inhaled. They are found in markers, adhesive cements, model glues, paint thinners, and spray paints, with the highest concentration found in gold and silver spray paint.
Aliphatic hydrocarbons are volatile fuels such as propane, butane (cigarette lighter fluid), and gasoline.
Alkyl halides, 1,1,1-trichloroethane or trichloroethylene, are found in cleaning fluids, typewriter correction fluid, and compressed air for cleaning electronics.
Nitrites, such as amyl nitrites, are found in room air fresheners, video head cleaner, and leather cleaner. These agents, commonly known as “poppers” or “snappers” are used to enhance sexual activity.
Sniffing – Inhaling vapors from an open container
Huffing – Soaking a rag or sock with substance and placing it over the mouth and nose
Bagging – Spraying or pouring the substance into a paper or plastic bag and inhaling the vapors by placing the bag over the face or over the head
Dusting – Inhaling vapors directly from electronic equipment cleaning aerosols
Street names in inhalant abuse include air blast, aroma of men, bolt, bopper, bullet, discorama, dusting, glading, gluey, hardware, head cleaner, hippie crack, laughing gas, locker room, pearls, popper, quicksilver, rush, shoot the breeze, snapper, Texas shoe shine, thrust, tolly, and whiteout.