Inhalants are volatile substances (many of which are familiar household items) that, when vaporised and inhaled, might make the user feel intoxicated or high. Like alcohol, inhalants are depressants. Street names are Glue, Gas, Sniff, Huff, Chroming (as in the use of chrome paint) and Poppers.
Teenagers are identified as the most prevalent group of inhalant users. Some adults in the dance scene also use inhalants to boost their experience.
Users fall into three broad categories of people:
The experimenter – most teenagers fall into this category. They try it once or twice then stop by themselves.
Social/situational user – usually done with a group of friends. These users often develop other interests and grow out of this practice.
The long-term, dependent user – A few go on to use regularly over a long time.
Reasons young people give for using inhalants are often very similar to the reasons adults give for using alcohol and tobacco. Experimenting with inhalants can be a part of growing up and, for most, it is a passing interest and they move on to other activities.
With short-term use, most products rarely cause damage to the body. But some glue-sniffers have been admitted to hospital, unable to control their movements or speak properly, and sometimes have convulsions. Most of these symptoms clear within a few hours. Some people might have problems with their breathing passages, but even that improves over time.
Long-term users might appear pale, have tremors, lose weight, feel tired and be unusually thirsty. They might also have anaemia because some inhalants affect blood production. The lead in petrol, and some of the chemicals in other inhalants, might build up in the body. This irritates the lining of the stomach and intestines and can cause damage to the brain, nervous system, kidneys, and liver. Prolonged and heavy use might even cause stupor or coma, problems with breathing, irregular heartbeat and sometimes seizures.
A small number of people have died from using inhalants. The main danger comes from accidents when high, such as suffocation from plastic bags, choking on vomit when unconscious, and behaving recklessly.
“Sudden sniffing death” has followed the use of aerosol sprays, cleaning and correction fluids, and model aeroplane cement. It is believed that chemicals in these products can cause heart failure, particularly if the user is stressed or does heavy exercise after inhaling.
Most inhalants are common household products. It is illegal for shopkeepers to sell products to someone if they believe that they are to be used for inhaling.