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People who abuse drugs take these substances in different forms. One of the possible methods of getting affected by drugs is through inhaling the vapor some types of substances produce. These kinds of drugs are called inhalants.

Inhalants involve the types of drugs which are neither burnt nor heated, but are, rather, inhaled in their regular form. Thus, tobacco, marijuana and crack, for example, are not considered to be inhalants. Keep in mind that certain types of inhalants are used for medical purposes since their intoxicating effect is useful for concealing the pain of surgeries or dental procedures. However, once the inhalants are used due to their effect and not due to their purpose, the process is drug abuse, also known as huffing.


The main classification of inhalants is done according to their function, even though most types of inhalants are meant to be used for different purposes.

Thus, products based on petroleum, such as gasoline, kerosene, propane and butane are known as aliphatic hydrocarbons. On the other hand, toulene and xylene belong to the class of aromatic hydrocarbons. Furthermore, acetone, also known as the nail polish remover is considered to be a ketone. Finally, aerosols and propellants are the part of haloalkanes, while alkyl nitrites and nitrous oxide are inhalants which are known to be nitrites.

The main effect an inhalant has on a person takes place due to a mixture of oxygen deprivation and a direct effect on the receptors in our organism. Yet, the effect depends greatly on the type of the inhalant used.

Administration and Effects

Inhalants are usually placed in plastic bags which are then kept over the mouth. Alternatively, some types of these drugs are kept inside a solvent like gasoline or paint thinners, inhaled this way. Furthermore, while some types of inhalants are inhaled directly from their containers, others are either sprayed onto a rag or administered into a plastic bag.

When people use these substances this way, the capillaries on their lungs absorb the gases, causing the blood levels to increase significantly. Due to this characteristic of inhalants, the effect of the substance engages very quickly, as if the drug was injected intravenously.

Naturally, the very effect varies, depending on the type of the substance abused and the quantity of the gas inhaled. Smaller amounts of inhalants like paint thinners may make a person feel intoxicated as if he/she was consuming alcohol. Yet, if stronger vapors are used in larger quantities, they can trigger effects such as time and space distortion, hallucinations and emotional disturbances.

Due to the strength of certain inhalants, the usage commonly results in vomiting, nausea, headaches, speech problems, wheezing and lack of motor skills.

Dangers and Health Problems

Statistically, 144 people have died in the Texas region between 1988 and 1998, all due to the abuse of inhalants. Moreover, these substances have taken 39 lives in Virginia in the period between 1987 and 1996. However, the statistical data is hard to obtain and difficult to calculate, since many cases of inhalant abuse go unnoticed, possibly resulting in death of the abuser.

Thus, using inhalants can be a deadly action indeed, especially when these substances are handled improperly. The lack of oxygen can be fatal, once the abuser inhales the substance from a plastic bag, without actually breathing some air in the process.

Also, when people inhale sprays, they risk suffering from frostbite since these inhalants are cool the moment they leave the container. Moreover, many types of inhalants are flammable or may explode. Thus, people who abuse these are risking their lives, especially if they smoke at the same time.

Finally, many individuals who abuse these substances risk getting killed once they get intoxicated, due to the impairment the inhalants themselves cause.

Solvents are known to lead to pneumonia, cardiac failure and aspiration of vomit. Also, some types of solvent have been related to hearing loss, spasms in the arms and legs and damage to the central nervous system, as well as kidney damage, oxygen depletion and death.

Pregnant women abusing these substances can risk giving birth to a baby with defects. Miscarriage can also take place in these situations.

Ultimately, overdose can happen once a person takes excessive amounts of inhalants and breathes them in, possibly manifesting through death or serious health consequences.

A survey, carried out in 1983, encompassing 4,165 secondary school students reported that a vast number of these individuals were using aerosols and solvents. Moreover, in 1985, 14 communities in Australia reported occurrences of young people abusing inhalants while in 1997, about 200 young individuals were caught sniffing petrol.

All in all, regardless of the dangers which go hand-in-hand with inhalants, many people abuse them on a daily basis. These substances are inhaled after being placed in a plastic bag or are abused directly from their containers. The main effect of this sort of substance abuse lies in the lack of oxygen in the organism of the abuser, even though many different inhalants have their own, additional effects.

If you are using inhalants, seek medical assistance or professional help before too late, since these substances can lead to various health issues and possibly even death.

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