Huffing: The Dangerous Effects of Inhalants

Inhaling chemical substances with the intention of creating a psychoactive or physical effect is  a dangerous habit that often leads to a form of drug addiction. Although there are many substances that are meant to be inhaled, when substances that are not meant to be inhaled or consumed in any way the body, these are considered drug-related inhalants. This method of inhaling can cause serious physical and emotional damage, as well as permanent brain damage or in severe cases even death. Anyone struggling with an inhaling habit or addiction should seek professional addiction treatment immediately. 

What Are Inhalants?

Inhalants, which are substances that can usually be found in everyday items, are chemicals that when inhaled, create a psychoactive effect or high. Inhalants are categorized separately from other drugs for the distinction that these chemicals are only ever inhaled and unable to be taken any other way. While other drugs can be inhaled, they can also be abused through other methods such as smoking, shooting, and in pill form.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse refers to these substances as volatile substances and has separated them into four general categories of chemicals: solvents, aerosols, gases, and nitrates. 


Volatile Solvents are defined as liquids that vaporize at room temperature. When inhaled, they create an almost instantaneous intoxication. Once inhaled, volatile solvents affect the kidneys, liver, lungs, brain, and nervous system. Side effects of solvents include: euphoria, cognitive difficulties, slowed breathing, agitation, blurred vision, tremors, difficulty speaking, and more. Volatile Solvents can be found in the following household items:

  • Paint Thinners
  • Disinfectants
  • Leather Cleaner
  • Gasoline
  • Glue
  • Markers


Aerosols are another sub-group of inhalants that are classified by sprays that have solvents or propellant gases. When inhaled, these gases create a quick head high that can last seconds to minutes depending on the type of chemicals. Abused Aerosols typically come from household products not intended to be inhaled. These types of inhalants will damage brain cells, key organs, and the lungs. Some common aerosols include:

  • Hairspray
  • Spray Deodorant
  • Spray Paint
  • Canned Cooking Oil
  • Fabric Cleaner


Gases are the most commonly abused classification of inhalants, especially with teens and young adults. The subcategory of gases can be classified by-products that contain one or more gases or medical anesthetics. When inhaled, gases cause a quick head high and result in disorientation, hallucinations, lack of coordination, and loss of blood flow. Gases are the category known as whip-its, which is a common teen practice where one quickly inhales the gas from a canister of whipped cream. The most common gas inhalants include:

  • Lighters
  • Propane tanks
  • Canned food (whipped cream, cheese, etc)
  • Medical ether
  • Medical chloroform


Nitrates differ from the other subcategories of inhalants for their muscle relaxing effect. In most cases, they are not used for a high effect, instead but a calming and sensation enhancing effect. Nitrites include cyclohexyl nitrite, isoamyl nitrite, and isobutyl nitrite and are commonly known as “poppers” or “snappers. They are most commonly used as sexual enhancers. Some examples of nitrate inhalants include:

  • Room deodorizers
  • Video head cleaner
  • Liquid aroma

Dangers of Abusing Inhalants

It’s not uncommon for young teens to attempt whip it’s or poppers once or twice, although not recommended. When used long term and often, however, they can become addictive- both mentally and physically. The effects of ingesting any one of these subcategories of inhalants result in a severe brain cell, organ, and tissue damage. There is also a chance of permanent damage, overdose, and in rare cases- immediate death. 

These chemicals, once ingested, cause the blood vessels to shrink and tighten which blocks the flow of oxygen throughout the body and to the brain. When the brain isn’t receiving enough oxygen or the oxygen it receives is polluted with toxins, the individual can no longer perform at an optimal level. Coordination, thoughts, critical thinking, eyesight, movement, speech, and internal functions are all impaired. While this damage is occurring, there is a simultaneous rush of feel good emotions as a result of the chemicals blocking pain signals. The more accustomed to these chemicals the body gets, the more it begins to crave- thus forming a dangerous addiction. 

Inhalants Bringing You Down

Another negative side effect of inhalant abuse is its direct influence on mental health. The chemicals found in these categories of drugs have been shown to increase the presence of anxiety and depression, which can both lead to the formation of secondary addictions like alcoholism or narcotic addiction.

People who are addicted to inhalants may find that they are irritable and restless without them, and unable to feel happy or at peace when they don’t have access to their next high. Likewise, many feel this way even on the drugs, but find it is more tolerable when they have the effects of inhalants to numb their minds.

The anxiety and depression form due to the instability of emotions and moods caused by inhalant use. Since most people who abuse inhalants aren’t using them 24/7, and the high is short, many turn to more long-lasting drugs to fuel their addictions. When a secondary addiction is formed, these individuals will need to seek treatment for a dual diagnosis.

Treatment For Inhalant Addiction

There is help available for anyone struggling with inhalant addiction. Proper detox to rid the body of chemicals is the first step, and from there, trained clinical professionals will design a treatment plan to address all aspects of the addiction.

Treatment will likely consist of medical detox, variations of talk therapy, holistic healing (acupuncture, massage therapy, art therapy) support groups, and physical care. It can feel like it is impossible to overcome the addiction to the chemicals found in the different types of inhalants, but sobriety is attainable. A healthy sober life begins with the decision to commit to bettering yourself and your life, and we are here to help. Contact our addiction specialists today to start your recovery or call us at (877) 455-0055 to learn more information about our services.