Inhalant Abuse

What is Inhalant Abuse?

Inhalant abuse refers to the deliberate inhalation or sniffing of common products found in homes and communities with the purpose of "getting high." Inhalants are easily accessible, legal, everyday products. When used as intended, these products have a useful purpose in our lives and enhance the quality of life, but when intentionally misused, they can be deadly. Inhalant Abuse is a lesser recognized form of substance abuse, but it is no less dangerous. Inhalants are addictive and are considered to be "gateway" drugs because children often progress from inhalants to illegal drug and alcohol abuse. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that one in five American teens have used Inhalants to get high.

Huffing, Sniffing, Dusting and Bagging

Inhalation is referred to as huffing, sniffing, dusting or bagging and generally occurs through the nose or mouth. Huffing is when a chemically soaked rag is held to the face or stuffed in the mouth and the substance is inhaled. Sniffing can be done directly from containers, plastic bags, clothing or rags saturated with a substance or from the product directly. With Bagging, substances are sprayed or deposited into a plastic or paper bag and the vapors are inhaled. This method can result in suffocation because a bag is placed over the individual's head, cutting off the supply of oxygen.

Other methods used include placing inhalants on sleeves, collars, or other items of clothing that are sniffed over a period of time. Fumes are discharged into soda cans and inhaled from the can or balloons are filled with nitrous oxide and the vapors are inhaled. Heating volatile substances and inhaling the vapors emitted is another form of inhalation. All of these methods are potentially harmful or deadly. Experts estimate that there are several hundred deaths each year from Inhalant Abuse, although under-reporting is still a problem.

What Products Can be Abused?

There are more than a 1,400 products which are potentially dangerous when inhaled, such as typewriter correction fluid, air conditioning coolant, gasoline, propane, felt tip markers, spray paint, air freshener, butane, cooking spray, paint, and glue. Most are common products that can be found in the home, garage, office, school or as close as the local convenience store. The best advice for consumers is to read the labels before using a product to ensure the proper method is observed. It is also recommended that parents discuss the product labels with their children at age-appropriate times. The following list represents categories of products that are commonly abused.

Dangers and Effects

Inhaled chemicals are rapidly absorbed through the lungs into the bloodstream and quickly distributed to the brain and other organs. Within minutes, the user experiences intoxication, with symptoms similar to those produced by drinking alcohol. With Inhalants, however, intoxication lasts only a few minutes, so some users prolong the “high” by continuing to inhale repeatedly.

Short-term effects of Inhaling include:

  • headaches
  • muscle weakness
  • abdominal pain
  • severe mood swings and violent
  • behavior
  • belligerence
  • slurred speech
  • numbness
  • tingling of hands and feet
  • nausea
  • hearing loss
  • visual disturbances
  • depressed reflexes
  • stupor
  • loss of consciousness
  • limb spasms
  • fatigue
  • lack of coordination
  • apathy
  • impaired judgment
  • dizziness
  • lethargy

The Inhalant user will initially feel slightly stimulated and, after successive inhalations, will feel less inhibited and less in control. Hallucinations may occur and the user can lose consciousness. Worse, he or she, may even die.
Please see Sudden Sniffing Death Syndrome below.

Long-term Inhalant users generally suffer from:

  • weight loss
  • muscle weakness,
  • disorientation
  • inattentiveness
  • lack of coordination
  • irritability and depression.

Different Inhalants produce different harmful effects, and regular abuse of these substances can result in serious harm to vital organs. Serious, but potentially reversible, effects include liver and kidney damage.

Harmful irreversible effects include:

  • hearing loss
  • limb spasms
  • bone marrow and central nervous system (including brain) damage.

Sudden Sniffing Death Syndrome:

Children can die the first time, or any time, they try an Inhalant. This is known as Sudden Sniffing Death Syndrome. While it can occur with many types of Inhalants, it is particularly associated with the abuse of air conditioning coolant, butane, propane, and the chemicals in some aerosol products. Sudden Sniffing Death Syndrome is usually associated with cardiac arrest. The Inhalant causes the heart to beat rapidly and erratically, resulting in cardiac arrest.

Product List


  • Model airplane glue
  • Rubber cement
  • PVC cement

Solvents and Gases:

  • Nail polish remover
  • Paint thinner
  • Paint remover
  • Correction fluid
  • Toxic magic markers
  • Pure toluene
  • Lighter fluid
  • Gasoline
  • Carburetor cleaner
  • Octane booster
  • Fuel gas
  • Air Conditioning Coolant (Freon)
  • Lighters
  • Fire extinguishers


  • Spray paint
  • Hairspray
  • Air freshener
  • Deodorant
  • Fabric protectors
  • Computer Cleaner

Cleaning Agents:

  • Dry cleaning fluid
  • Spot removers
  • Degreaser

Food Products:

  • Cooking spray
  • Whipped cream


  • Nitrous oxide
  • Butane
  • Propane
  • Helium
  • Ether
  • Chloroform
  • Halothane

*Please note that this is not an all-inclusive list


College Student Mental

Drug Abuse Resistance Education |

Drug Rehab |

National Institute on Drug Abuse |

Office of National Drug Control Policy |

The Parent Teacher Association |

StreetDrugs.Org |

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration |

1-800-662-HELP, an Alcohol and Drug Treatment Referral hotline from HHS

Slang Terms

Street Name Definition
Aimies Amphetamine; amyl nitrite
Air blast Inhalants
Ames Amyl nitrite
Amys Amyl nitrite
Aroma of men Isobutyl nitrite
Bagging Using Inhalants
Bang Inhalants; to inject a drug
Bolt Amphetamine; isobutyl nitrite
Boppers Amyl nitrite
Bullet Isobutyl nitrite; inhalants
Bullet bolt Inhalants
Buzz Bomb Nitrous oxide
Chroming Inhalant
Climax Crack; heroin, isobutyl nitrite; inhalants
Discorama Inhalants
Glading Using inhalants
Gluey One who sniffs or inhales glue
Hardware Isobutyl nitrite; inhalants
Heart-on Inhalants
Highball Inhalants
Hippie crack Inhalants
Honey oil Ketamine; Inhalants
Huff Inhalants
Laughing gas Nitrous oxide
Medusa Inhalants
Moon gas Inhalants
Oz Inhalants
Pearls Amyl nitrite
Poor man's pot Inhalants
Poppers Isobutyl nitrite; amyl nitrite
Quicksilver Isobutyl nitrite; inhalants
Rush Cocaine; isobutyl nitrite; inhalants
Rush Snappers Isobutyl nitrite
Satan's secret Inhalants
Shoot the breeze Nitrous oxide
Snappers Isobutyl nitrite
Snotballs Rubber cement rolled into balls, burned and the fumes are inhaled
Spray Inhalants
Texas shoe shine Inhalants
Thrust Isobutyl intrite; inhalants
Toilet water Inhalants
Tolly Toluene - chemical contained in many inhalants
Toncho Octane booster which is inhaled
Whippets Nitrous oxide
Whiteout Inhalants; isobutyl nitrite

Warning Signs

Inhalant Abuse is a lesser-known form of substance abuse, but is no less dangerous than other forms. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service has reported that more than 2.1 million children in America experiment with some form of an inhalant each year and the Centers for Disease Control lists inhalants as second only to marijuana for illicit drug use among youth.

However, parents aren't talking to their children about this deadly issue. According to the Alliance for Consumer Education's research study, Inhalant Abuse falls behind alcohol, tobacco and marijuana use by nearly 50% in terms of parental knowledge and concern. The Partnership for a Drug-Free America reports that 18 percent of all eighth graders have used inhalants, but nine out of 10 parents are unaware or deny that their children have abused inhalants. Many parents are not aware that inhalant users can die the first time they try Inhalants.

Sudden Sniffing Death Syndrome is caused in one of two ways. First, Inhalants force the heart to beat rapidly and erratically until the user goes into cardiac arrest. Second, the fumes from an Inhalant enter a user's lungs and central nervous system. By lowering oxygen levels enough, the user is unable to breathe and suffocates. Regular abuse of these substances can result in serious harm to vital organs including the brain, heart, kidneys and liver.

Even if the user doesn't die, Inhalants can still affect the body. Most Inhalants produce a rapid high that resembles alcohol intoxication with initial excitement, then drowsiness, disinhibition, lightheadedness and agitation. Short-term effects include headache, muscle weakness, abdominal pain, severe mood swings and violent behavior, slurred speech, numbness and tingling of the hands and feet, nausea, hearing loss, limb spasms, fatigue, and lack of coordination. Long- term effects include central nervous system or brain damage. Serious effects include damage to the liver, heart, kidneys, blood oxygen level depletion, unconsciousness and death.

Studies show that strong parental involvement in a child's life makes the child less likely to use Inhalants. Know the warning signs or behavior patterns to watch for and take the time to educate yourself about the issue so that you can talk to your children about inhalants.

1. Include Inhalant Abuse in substance abuse discussions with your child:

First, parents should arm themselves with as much information about Inhalant Abuse as possible. Know what products are potentially harmful if intentionally abused as inhalants. Learn what slang words are used to describe Inhalants and the act of Inhaling. Go to the various web sites and read as much information as possible. (Several links are provided throughout this website for your use). Ask your pediatrician to tell you about inhalant abuse and ask if he or she has had any experience dealing with children that have abused Inhalants.
One of the most important steps you can take is to talk with your children at an appropriate but early age, about not experimenting with Inhalants. In addition, talk with your children's friends, teachers, guidance counselors and coaches. By discussing this problem openly and stressing the deadly consequences of Inhalant Abuse, you may help save a life.

2. Know the warning signs:

If someone is an Inhalant Abuser, some or all of these symptoms may be evident:

  • Drunk, dazed, or dizzy appearance
  • Slurred or disoriented speech
  • Uncoordinated physical symptoms
  • Red or runny eyes and nose
  • Spots and/or sores around the mouth
  • Unusual breath odor or chemical odor on clothing
  • Signs of paint or other products where they wouldn't normally be, such as on face, lips, nose or fingers
  • Nausea and/or loss of appetite
  • Chronic Inhalant Abusers may exhibit symptoms such as hallucinations, anxiety, excitability, irritability, restlessness or anger.

While several of these warning signs may point to occasional problems most teens experience at some point during the teenage years, don't be fooled. Know what specific signs may signal real trouble for your child.

3. Recognize other telltale behavior signs of Inhalant Abusers:

  • Painting fingernails with magic markers or correction fluid
  • Sitting with a pen or marker by the nose
  • Constantly smelling clothing sleeves
  • Showing paint or stain marks on face, fingers or clothing
  • Having numerous butane lighters and refills in room, backpack or locker (when the child does not smoke)
  • Hiding rags, clothes or empty containers of the potentially abused products in closets, under the bed, in garage etc.

4. Know what to do in case of an emergency:

  • First, stay calm, do not excite or argue with the abuser while they are under the influence.
  • If the person is unconscious or not breathing ---call for help immediately. CPR should be administered until help arrives.
  • If the person is conscious, keep them calm and in a well-ventilated area.
  • Do not leave the person alone.
  • Activity, excitement or stress may cause heart problems or lead to "Sudden Sniffing Death Syndrome" (when an individual dies the first time they abuse an inhalant.
  • Check for clues, try to find out what was used as the inhalant. Tell the proper authorities.
  • Seek professional help for the abuser through a counselor, school nurse, physician, teacher, clergy, or coach.
  • Be a good listener.