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Inhalants are extremely toxic and can result in sudden death.

Unlike other substances, there is no such thing as safe recreational use of volatile solvents, aerosols and other street inhalants—their psychoactive effects are inseparable from nerve and organ damage. We strongly discourage you from taking any amount of these substances, even for minor experimentation purposes. Avoid them at all costs. Please see this section for more details.

A range of petroleum-based products that can be abused as inhalants.

Inhalants refer to a broad range of household or industrial chemicals whose volatile vapors or gases are concentrated and inhaled into the lungs via the nose or mouth to produce a state of acute intoxication. The effects of inhalants range from central nervous system depression and intense euphoria to vivid hallucinogenic experiences such as internal and external hallucinations. However, these intoxicating and debilitating effects vary widely depending on the substance and the dose used.

Inhalants do not include substances that are breathed in after they have been heated through vaporization or burned. For example, amyl nitrite (poppers), nitrous oxide and toluene are considered to be inhalants because they are volatile at room temperature and need no other heat source to transform from liquid to gaseous state.

Tobacco, cannabis, crack-cocaine, or any other psychoactive substance that requires an external heat source is not considered to be a member of the inhalant category of substances, even though once heated the resulting fumes are inhaled into the lungs.

Methods of inhalation

Some common for inhalation include "huffing"[1] which is the process of filling a bag up with a solvent and inhaling the resulting fumes and "bagging"[2] which is the process of spraying a solvent into a plastic bag of some sort and inhaling the vapors that emit from it. In the process of inhalation by bagging, the exhaled air is re-breathed by the user, and the resulting lack of oxygen and elevated breathing rates may add to the intoxicating and harmful effects of the solvent.

Some inhalants are inhaled at room temperature through the inhalation of the gases emitted from a solvent, as seen in the case of recreational gasoline or acetone use. One must inhale the vapors from the solvent or gas itself via the nose or mouth. Inhalants that are solvents are commonly used by saturating the cloth with spray paint or other liquid materials, then placing this soaked rag over the nose and mouth, which result in the inhalation of the vapors from the rag. This subsequent inhalation often produces feelings of euphoria, especially when huffing generic "glue" or "paint thinner" that may contain high volumes of toluene and other hydrocarbons.

Other forms of inhalants are gases that are inhaled directly from a pressurized container (e.g. computer duster, butane gas, nitrous oxide or xenon gas). These gases can be inhaled directly from a compressed chemical canister (as is the case with butane gas and computer duster), which may cause physical harm due to the freezing of skin tissue as the gas expands in the lungs, or from the balloons that are filled with the gas.

It is imperative that one ensure an adequate flow of oxygen to the brain while using inhalants to minimize the chances of permanent brain damage.


A solvent is something that emits vapors that can be inhaled for their psychoactive effects. The liquid form of the solvent itself is not consumed. Some common forms of psychoactive solvents are toluene containing paint thinners and lacquers, spray paint, and blends of hydrocarbons such as gasoline or petrol.


Use of this inhalant can cause sudden death upon inhalation and is not advisable from a harm reduction perspective.

Toluene is a chemical solvent commonly used in industry. It is a liquid solvent that is volatile at room temperatures, making the vapors easy to inhale by sniffing a product containing toluene. It has a sweet smell and is colorless. Its vapors can be inhaled from soaking a rag in toluene containing liquids or sniffing the vapors directly from glue emitting toluene vapors. It can found in gasoline, acrylic paints, varnishes, lacquers, paint thinners, adhesives, glues, rubber cement, airplane glue, and shoe polish, among various other common everyday household items. Toluene can be absorbed through the skin in addition to being inhaled.[3]

Exposure to the high concentrations used in toluene abuse can cause many acute physical and cognitive effects ranging from nausea, dizziness, drowsiness, general CNS depression, sedation, motor control loss, and hallucinatory states[4]. The hallucinatory states induced by toluene can be assessed by experience reports submitted by users.

The long-term effects of chronic toluene exposure include changes in sleeping patterns, liver failure, kidney failure, heart failure, persistent neurological damage, and death[5].

Toluene is known to cause congenital disabilities and the birth rate of children when used by pregnant women [6]. It is a possible carcinogen, and its nature as a carcinogen is unknown is due to insufficient data from the EPA [7]. Caution should be used if choosing to inhale this chemical in recreational amounts (i.e. over a single experience and over long periods of time).

An anecdotal report of toluene experiences via glue sniffing can be found here:


Use of this inhalant can cause sudden death upon inhalation and is not advisable from a harm reduction perspective.

Acetone is a liquid solvent that is volatile at room temperatures. The vapors of acetone are flammable and so extra caution should be taken when handling and using acetone.

Its vapors can be sniffed and are known to have damaging physical effects such as respiratory tract irritation[8]. The acute effects of acetone exposure through inhalation and dermal exposure include CNS depression, dizziness, sedation, motor control loss, and "narcosis" which can be interpreted as drunkenness or otherwise intoxicant effects[9]. This evidence suggests that acetone acts as a psychoactive chemical in high concentrations.


Use of this inhalant can cause sudden death upon inhalation and is not advisable from a harm reduction perspective.

This substance is highly flammable and should be treated with care.

Petrol, or gasoline, is a toxic liquid that is volatile at room temperatures. This makes it easy to inhale the vapors from sniffing a container full of liquid gasoline and achieving effects ranging from hallucinations to numbness and cognitive euphoria. Gasoline that is inhaled from a gas can, or car can contain other carcinogenic and psychoactive chemicals, such as toluene, benzene, and xylene[10]. The mixed chemical contents of gasoline make it inherently unsafe to inhale over sustained periods of time.

Gasoline as a liquid mixture of hydrocarbons contains many components, some of which are psychoactive or toxic to the body. Gasoline may contain ethanol, toluene, benzene, and many other volatile chemicals that will emit vapors that will be inhaled when abused. In areas where leaded gas is not banned, lead encephalopathy and brain degeneration may be caused by gasoline sniffing [11]. Benzene is also a known constituent of gasoline vapors and is known to contribute to leukemia and other blood disorders[12].

Anecdotal reports of gasoline inhalation experiences can be found here:

Gases or propellants

Gases or propellants are inhalants that are inhaled directly into the lungs in their gaseous form.

Most gasses are compressed into canisters and will absorb heat from the environment upon expansion into the atmosphere from the can. This temperature change can cause serious bodily harm if one does not consider the temperature change that the gas can go through upon inhalation. In addition to the dangers associated with inhaling uncompressed gas, there are dangers of asphyxiation and death because the psychoactive gas that is heavier than air will accumulate in the lungs and prevent oxygen absorption.


Use of this inhalant can cause sudden death upon inhalation and is not advisable from a harm reduction perspective.

This class of chemical refrigerants can be abused as a psychoactive substance. Pure freon is a brand manufactured by DuPont, the most current brand of freon being phased out of production is R-22 and contains primarily chlorodifluoromethane. There are many different variants of the brand name "freon" and the chemical composition varies along with the "R-x" name given the refrigerant. Some people huff freon directly from AC units and this is a dangerous practice as one does not know the exact type of freon found in an AC unit, much less the potential chemical contaminants found in the gas from the AC unit.

An anecdotal report of freon experiences can be found here:

A NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) International Chemical Safety Card for R-22 as one example of these chemical refrigerants can be found here:

Computer duster

Use of this inhalant can cause sudden death upon inhalation and is not advisable from a harm reduction perspective.

Gas dusters generally contain the halocarbons difluoroethane (DFE) or tetrafluoroethane (TFE). Some gas dusters contain trifluoroethane, but these are very rare. TFE has been used as a human anesthetic and has a similar structure to Halothane. DFE has been linked to multiple cases of sudden cardiac death after inhalation. There are no reported deaths from TFE, however, it can cause arrythmias and possibly sudden death. Beta-blockers prevent TFE-induced arrythmias. It is not known whether beta blockers prevent DFE-induced arrythmias and death.

An anecdotal report of electronics duster experiences can be found here:


Use of this inhalant can cause sudden death upon inhalation and is not advisable from a harm reduction perspective.

This chemical is often found in a compressed form in a can and can be inhaled directly. Using butane as a drug is dangerous due to possible oxygen deprivation. The direct inhalation of the gas can also cause drowsiness, narcosis, asphyxia, and cardiac arrhythmia among other CNS depressant effects. Butane is the most commonly abused volatile organic solvent in the United Kingdom and caused 52% of solvent-related deaths in 2000.

When butane is sprayed directly into the throat, the jet of fluid can cool rapidly to the dangerous temperature of −20 °C by adiabatic expansion, causing prolonged laryngospasm and other bodily harm. The ingestion of liquid butane or direct inhalation of butane can cause frostbite like effects that pose a serious risk of personal injury [14].

Butane is also dangerous to use in an unventilated area. It is a highly flammable gas and if too much butane accumulates in the atmosphere a physical or electrical spark can cause an explosion. If pressure or heat is applied to cans containing butane, they will explode and pose a risk for bodily harm.

An anecdotal report of a butane experience can be found here:


Xenon is an elemental gas that is reported to produce psychoactive effects upon inhalation. These include dissociation and anesthesia. Xenon is neuroprotective against oxygen deprivation and has been used to prevent brain damage in extremely premature babies. [15]

Anecdotal reports of xenon experience can be found here:


Use of this inhalant can cause sudden death upon inhalation and is not advisable from a harm reduction perspective.

Aerosols are found in common household items such as air freshener, hair spray, and spray paint. The variety of the specific chemicals used in inhalation vary widely based on the product being used. The most common ingredients found in aerosols is some fluorocarbon or hydrocarbon molecule acting as a propellant.

Medical anesthetics

Nitrous oxide

Main article: Nitrous Oxide

While not a volatile organic chemical, nitrous is often inhaled or huffed and is therefore technically an inhalant. It is also worth noting that this is one of the very few inhalants which are not inherently dangerous to use assuming that appropriate precautions are taken.

Nitrous oxide, commonly known as laughing gas, nitrous, nitro, NOS or hippy crack,[16] is an inorganic molecule and chemical compound with the formula N2O. It is an oxide of nitrogen. At room temperature, it is a colorless and non-flammable gas with a slightly sweet odor and taste. It is used in surgery and dentistry for its anesthetic and analgesic effects.

It is also known as "laughing gas" due to the euphoric effects of inhaling it, a property that has led to its recreational use as an atypical dissociative anesthetic. The duration of these effects is approximately 2 - 5 minutes in length. It is also used as an oxidizer in rocketry and in motor racing to increase the power output of engines. At elevated temperatures, nitrous oxide is a powerful oxidizer similar to molecular oxygen.


Diethyl ether (commonly known as ether) is a volatile liquid whose vapors are inhaled to produce effects such as nausea, dizziness, and auditory hallucinations[17]. The CNS depressant effects lead it to also cause unconsciousness, drowsiness, and sedation. Other psychoactive effects that are documented in experience reports include internal hallucinations, loss of motor control, and other hallucinatory states.

Ether is highly flammable and should be treated with care. It can cause irritation to the upper respiratory tract when inhaled. Irritation to the eyes and skin may also occur along with coughing and headaches.

Ether was commonly used in the 19th century for anesthesia. It was also used as a psychoactive drug for its intoxicant effects. It can be drunk in its liquid form but, due to the volatility of the substance, this practice is not advised as it can cause severe damage to internal organs. Pure ether is volatile at standard temperature and pressures, and the vapors of ether can be inhaled to experience its psychoactive effects. Ether can also be absorbed through the skin.

Anecdotal reports of ether experience can be found here:


Chloroform, or trichloromethane, is an organic compound with formula CHCl3. It is a colorless, strong-smelling, dense liquid. It is a volatile solvent that was used as a medical anesthetic during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It is one of the four chloromethanes and a trihalomethane. It is a powerful anesthetic, euphoriant, anxiolytic and sedative when inhaled or ingested.[18]

The anaesthetic qualities of chloroform were first described in 1842 in a thesis by Robert Mortimer Glover, which won the Gold Medal of the Harveian Society for that year. Glover also undertook practical experiments on dogs to prove his theories. Glover further refined his theories and presented them in the thesis for his doctorate at the University of Edinburgh in the summer of 1847. The Scottish obstetrician James Young Simpson was one of the persons required to read the thesis, but later claimed to have never read the thesis and to have come to his conclusions independently.

The use of chloroform during surgery expanded rapidly thereafter in Europe. In the 1850s, chloroform was used by the physician John Snow during the birth of Queen Victoria's last two children. In the United States, chloroform began to replace ether as an anesthetic at the beginning of the 20th century; however, it was quickly abandoned in favor of ether upon discovery of its toxicity, especially its tendency to cause fatal cardiac arrhythmia analogous to what is now termed "sudden sniffer's death". Some people used chloroform as a recreational drug or to attempt suicide.[19]

Use of chloroform as an incapacitating agent has become widely recognized, bordering on clichéd, due to the popularity of crime fiction authors having criminals use chloroform-soaked rags to render victims unconscious. However, it is nearly impossible to incapacitate someone using chloroform in this manner.[20] It takes at least five minutes of inhaling an item soaked in chloroform to render a person unconscious. Most criminal cases involving chloroform also involve another drug being co-administered, such as alcohol or diazepam, or the victim being found to have been complicit in its administration. After a person has lost consciousness due to chloroform inhalation, a continuous volume must be administered and the chin must be supported to keep the tongue from obstructing the airway, a difficult procedure typically requiring the skills of an anesthesiologist.

Anecdotal reports of chloroform experience can be found here:

Experience reports

There are currently no anecdotal reports which describe the effects of inhalants within our experience index. Additional experience reports can be found here:

Toxicity and harm potential

It is strongly recommended that one use harm reduction practices when using this class of substances. There is no safe way to consume inhalants, as sudden death upon inhalation is always a present risk. Long term damage to the central nervous system has been well-documented among long-term inhalant users[21]. Certain inhalants can also cause renal, liver, lung, and bone marrow damage[22].

The specific toxicities of each inhalant are given below, but inhalants as a class of substances are among the most harmful and dangerous to use due to the possibility of oxygen deprivation, long-term health damage, and sudden death.

Some inhalant users become injured due to the harmful effects of the inhalants themselves, oxygen deprivation, or due to other chemical by-products that are unintentionally inhaled in a contaminated solvent. Inhalant users can also become injured due to behaviors they may perform while they are under the influence of inhalants, such as driving or falling suddenly. In some cases, users have died from a lack of oxygen, also known as hypoxia[citation needed].

Pneumonia, cardiac failure or arrest, or aspiration of vomit are other common causes of death after inhalant use. Brain damage is typically seen with the chronic long-term use of solvents while short-term exposure carries a lower chance of permanent brain damage[23].

Lethal dosage

The lethal doses of inhalants vary depending on the substance used. All inhalants are inherently dangerous to use and may cause sudden death.

Sudden sniffing death syndrome[24], also known as SSDS, is when inhalants indirectly cause sudden death by cardiac arrest, in a syndrome known as "sudden sniffing death." In some cases, the anesthetic gasses present in the inhalants themselves appear to sensitize the user to adrenaline treatment by emergency medical services and, in this state of intoxication, a sudden surge of adrenaline (possibly from a frightening hallucination or run-in with other persons), may cause fatal cardiac arrhythmia.

The direct inhalation of any gas or solvent that is capable of displacing oxygen in the lungs (especially gases heavier than oxygen itself) carries the risk of hypoxia (oxygen deprivation) as a result of the very mechanism by which breathing is triggered.

Since reflexive breathing is prompted by elevated carbon dioxide levels rather than diminished blood oxygen levels, breathing a concentrated and inert solvent or gas (ex: tetrafluoromethane or nitrous oxide) that removes carbon dioxide from the blood without replacing it with oxygen will produce no outward signs of suffocation even when the brain is experiencing hypoxia.

Once full symptoms of hypoxia appear, it may be too late to breathe without assistance, especially if the gas is heavy enough to sink in and remain in the lungs for extended periods of time. Even completely inert gasses, such as argon, can have this effect if oxygen is largely excluded. This dangerous property of heavy gasses makes many inhalants inherently unsafe.

Addiction potential

The chronic use of many inhalants can be considered moderately addictive with a high potential for abuse and is capable of causing psychological dependence among certain users. When addiction has developed, cravings and withdrawal effects may occur if a person suddenly stops their usage.

Oxygen deprivation

If one is inhaling an inhalant that is a pure compound, they will not be inhaling any oxygen. Severe oxygen deprivation can lead to unconsciousness and death. 'Huffing' from a bag that contains no fresh oxygen source is an especially risky practice in this respect. When inhaling gasses directly from a balloon or canister, it is imperative that one also intake an adequate amount of oxygen to prevent brain damage and cell death.

Legal status


This legality section is a stub.

As such, it may contain incomplete or wrong information. You can help by expanding it.

Many solvents and gasses that can be abused can be obtained easily in a legal manner across all continents; these include solvents, adhesives, fuels, dry-cleaning agents, cigarette lighters, permanent markers, correction fluid, and aerosols with propellants used in whipped cream, deodorants, paints, electronic cleaning sprays, and cooking sprays. Many inhalants or solvents that can be abused are readily available, easy to purchase, not illegal to possess, easy to conceal, and are found in households. Prosecution of offenders tends to be minimal, and few US states have laws prohibiting inhalant abuse.

See also

External links


  • Woodward, J. J., & Beckley, J. (2014). Effects of the abused inhalant toluene on the mesolimbic dopamine system. Journal of drug and alcohol research, 3.


  1. Huffing: definition (UrbanDictionary) |
  2. Bagging: definition (UrbanDictionary) |
  3. CDC Toluene Fact Sheet
  4. Toluene MSDS
  5. Toluene Toxicology Profile
  6. OSHA Toluene Exposure Fact Sheet
  7. Toluene Fact Sheet
  8. Acetone MSDS
  9. Acetone MSDS
  10. Unleaded Gasoline 2015 MSDS
  11. Gasoline sniffing and lead encephalopathy
  12. NCI Benzene Page
  13. Getting Off Right Safety Manual (
  14. MSDS
  15. | Xenon gas successfully delivered to babies in ambulance
  16. Tarendash, Albert S. (2001). Let's review: chemistry, the physical setting (3rd ed.). Barron's Educational Series. p. 44. ISBN 0-7641-1664-9. -
  17. Erowid Ether Page|
  18. "Chloroform [MAK Value Documentation, 2000]". The MAK-Collection for Occupational Health and Safety. 2012. pp. 20–58. doi:10.1002/3527600418.mb6766e0014. ISBN 978-3527600410.
  19. Martin, William (3 July 1886). "A Case of Chloroform Poisoning; Recovery". British Medical Journal. 2 (1331): 16–17. doi:10.1136/bmj.2.1331.16-a. PMC 2257365. PMID 20751619.
  20. Payne, J. P. (July 1998). "The criminal use of chloroform". Anaesthesia. 53 (7): 685–690. doi:10.1046/j.1365-2044.1998.528-az0572.x. PMID 9771177. S2CID 1718276.
  21. [The Effects of Toluene on the Central Nervous System ] (DOI)
  22. ["Inhalant abuse by adolescents" [1] [DOI:]]
  23. [The Effects of Toluene on the Central Nervous System ] (DOI)
  24. Sudden Sniffing Death and Fetal Solvent Syndrome|