Inhalants encompass a group of substances in which chemical vapors are inhaled through the nose or mouth to produce psychoactive effects. Various products that are common in the home or workplace environments contain substances that can be inhaled to get high. These products are generally not classed as drugs because they were never intended to be ingested to induce intoxicating symptoms. Such products include spray paints, glues, and cleaning fluids are common to this class of substances. Young children and adolescents are the most likely group to abuse these substances because they are easily obtainable. Inhalants are breathed in through the nose or mouth and they produce a high that generally lasts for a few minutes. This results in users often inhaling repeatedly over several hours to extend the high.
The effects of inhalants mimic alcohol including symptoms such as slurred speech, lack of coordination, euphoria, and dizziness. Other symptoms include lightheadedness, hallucinations, and delusions. With increased use, users may feel drowsy for several hours, and experience a lingering headache, confusion, nausea, or vomiting.
Long-term abuse can cause permanent memory impairment, an inability to learn new information, muscle spasms and tremors, or even permanent basic motor difficulties. Some irreversible effects that can occur include hearing loss, limb spasms, central nervous system or brain damage, and bone marrow damage. Some serious but potentially reversible effects can include liver and kidney damage, and blood oxygen depletion.
Inhaling highly concentrated amounts of chemicals in solvents or aerosol sprays can directly induce heart failure and death within minutes of repeated inhalation – “sudden sniffing death”. Death can also occur from suffocation by displacing oxygen in the lungs. This results in the user experiencing a loss of consciousness followed by their breathing discontinuing. The risk of suffocation occurring intensifies when the user inhales from a paper bag or in a closed area.