|A man huffing an inhalant|
Inhalants are a broad range of household and industrial chemicals whose volatile vapors or pressurized gases can be concentrated and breathed in via the nose or mouth to produce intoxication, in a manner not intended by the manufacturer. They are inhaled at room temperature through volatilization (in the case of gasoline or acetone) or from a pressurized container (e.g., nitrous oxide or butane), and do not include drugs that are sniffed after burning or heating. For example, amyl nitrite (poppers), nitrous oxide and toluene – a solvent widely used in contact cement, permanent markers, and certain types of glue – are considered inhalants, but smoking tobacco, cannabis, and crack are not, even though these drugs are inhaled as smoke or vapor.
While a few inhalants are prescribed by medical professionals and used for medical purposes, as in the case of inhaled anesthetics and nitrous oxide (an anxiolytic and pain relief agent prescribed by dentists), this article focuses on inhalant use of household and industrial propellants, glues, fuels, and other products in a manner not intended by the manufacturer, to produce intoxication or other psychoactive effects. These products are used as recreational drugs for their intoxicating effect. According to a 1995 report by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the most serious inhalant use occurs among homeless children and teenagers who "... live on the streets completely without family ties." Inhalants are the only substance used more by younger teenagers than by older teenagers. Inhalant users inhale vapor or aerosol propellant gases using plastic bags held over the mouth or by breathing from a solvent-soaked rag or an open container. The practices are known colloquially as "sniffing", "huffing" or "bagging".
The effects of inhalants range from an alcohol-like intoxication and intense euphoria to vivid hallucinations, depending on the substance and the dose. Some inhalant users are injured due to the harmful effects of the solvents or gases or due to other chemicals used in the products that they are inhaling. As with any recreational drug, users can be injured due to dangerous behavior while they are intoxicated, such as driving under the influence. In some cases, users have died from hypoxia (lack of oxygen), pneumonia, heart failure or arrest, or aspiration of vomit. Brain damage is typically seen with chronic long-term use of solvents as opposed to short-term exposure.
Even though many inhalants are legal, there have been legal actions taken in some jurisdictions to limit access by minors. While solvent glue is normally a legal product, a Scottish court has ruled that supplying glue to children is illegal if the store knows the children intend to inhale the glue. In the US, thirty-eight of 50 states have enacted laws making various inhalants unavailable to those under the age of 18 or making inhalant use illegal.