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Inhalants

two teens Inhalants are a diverse group of volatile substances whose vapors, or fumes, can be inhaled to produce psychoactive (mind-altering) effects. They include common household substances such as glues, shoe polish, and cleaning fluids. Other products used as inhalants include spray paint, gasoline, lighter fluid and nitrous oxide.

Users may refer to inhalants as laughing gas, poppers, snappers, or whippets. Common types of inhalants include volatile solvents, aerosols, gases and nitrites:
  1. Volatile Solvents: Volatile solvents are liquids that vaporize at room temperature. They can be industrial or household products, including paint thinners or removers, degreasers, dry-cleaning fluids, gasoline, and lighter fluid. In addition, they can also be art or office supply solvents, including correction fluids, felt-tip marker fluid, electronic contact cleaners, and glue.


  2. Aerosols: Aerosols are sprays that contain propellants and solvents. These include household aerosol propellants in items such as spray paints, hair or deodorant sprays, fabric protector sprays, aerosol computer cleaning products, and vegetable oil sprays.

  3. Gases: Gases are found in household or commercial products and used as medical anesthetics. These include household or commercial products, such as butane lighters and propane tanks, whipped cream aerosols or dispensers (whippets), and refrigerant gases. Also, medical anesthetics, such as ether, chloroform, halothane, and nitrous oxide (“laughing gas”)


  4. Nitrites: Nitrites are a special class of inhalants that are used primarily as sexual enhancers.
How are Inhalants Misused?
Inhalant users may sniff or snort fumes from a container, spray directly into the nose or mouth, or breathe from an inhalant-soaked rag. Users may also inhale fumes from a balloon or a plastic or paper bag that contains an inhalant. Misuse of inhalants is often called huffing. The intoxication produced by inhalants tends to last just a few minutes; therefore, users often try to extend the “high” by continuing to inhale repeatedly over
several hours.

Inhalants produce effects similar to those of anesthesia. They slow the body down, produce a numbing feeling and can cause unconsciousness.
What Are the Risks Associated with Inhalant Use?
Inhaling large amounts of these chemicals can cause heart failure, suffocation, convulsions, seizures and coma. Furthermore, sniffing highly concentrated amounts of these chemicals can directly induce heart failure and death within minutes of a session of repeated inhalation, also known as “sudden sniffing death.”

High concentrations of inhalants can also displace oxygen in the lungs, causing the user to lose consciousness and stop breathing. Other than death, inhalants may also cause harmful and irreversible effects such as hearing loss, limb spasms, central nervous system or brain damage, and bone marrow damage.
Inhlalant Use in NYC
  • In 2008-2009, an estimated 38,000 (0.6% of the population) New Yorkers aged 12 or older reported using inhalants in the past year.

► See Related NYC Health Department Publications

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Last Updated: January 7, 2013