Inhalants

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Inhalants can be fatal at any dosage and are impossible to use safely.

Our understanding of the literature is that 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. It is strongly discouraged to take any amount of these substance. Please see this section for more details.

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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. Inhalants can produce effects ranging from motor control loss, hallucinations, and euphoria.

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.

General effects of inhalants

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.

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[3]. Certain inhalants can also cause renal, liver, lung, and bone marrow damage[4].

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[5].

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[6], 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.

Solvents

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.

Toluene

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.[7]

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[8]. The hallucinatory states induced by toluene can be assessed by experience reports submitted by users. T

he long-term effects of chronic toluene exposure include changes in sleeping patterns, liver failure, kidney failure, heart failure, persistent neurological damage, and death[9].

Toluene is known to cause congenital disabilities and the birth rate of children when used by pregnant women [10]. It is a possible carcinogen, and its nature as a carcinogen is unknown is due to insufficient data from the EPA [11]. 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:

Acetone

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[12]. 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[13]. This evidence suggests that acetone acts as a psychoactive chemical in high concentrations.

Petrol/Gasoline

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[14]. 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 [15]. Benzene is also a known constituent of gasoline vapors and is known to contribute to leukemia and other blood disorders[16].

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.

Freon

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:

Computer duster

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

The common use of "computer duster" as an inhalant leads to ambiguity towards which chemicals are being inhaled from the can of duster. In "Dust Off" brand of inhalants, difluoroethane and tetrafluoromethane have been commonly used. Low weight gasses that can be compressed easily in liquid form in a can, then expand easily in the air are qualities looked for in computer duster, but the rapid expansion of gas may cause frostbite or freeze burns to inhalant abusers inhaling the difluoromethane or difluoroethane.

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

Butane

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 [18].

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

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. [19]

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

Aerosols

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,[20] 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.

Ether

Diethyl ether, more commonly called ether, is a substance that is inhaled to produce effects including nausea, dizziness, and auditory hallucinations[21]. 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.

This substance 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 causes damage to an unborn fetus if inhaled by pregnant women[22].

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.

An anecdotal report of an ether experience can be found here:

Chloroform

Chloroform is a volatile solvent that was used as a medical anesthetic during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Its chemical name is trichloromethane and it has sedative and CNS depressant effects.


An anecdotal report of an ether 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:

Legality

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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.

Inhalant use produces a quick-onset high of brief duration, lessening the chances of an inhalant user getting discovered and punished even further. Prosecution of offenders tends to be minimal, and few US states have laws prohibiting inhalant abuse.

See also

External links

References

  1. Huffing: definition (UrbanDictionary) | http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=huffing
  2. Bagging: definition (UrbanDictionary) | http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=bagging&defid=1643529
  3. [The Effects of Toluene on the Central Nervous System https://academic.oup.com/jnen/article/63/1/1/2916394/The-Effects-of-Toluene-on-the-Central-Nervous ] (DOI)
  4. ["Inhalant abuse by adolescents" [1] [DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S1054-139X(00)00159-2]]
  5. [The Effects of Toluene on the Central Nervous System https://academic.oup.com/jnen/article/63/1/1/2916394/The-Effects-of-Toluene-on-the-Central-Nervous ] (DOI)
  6. Sudden Sniffing Death and Fetal Solvent Syndrome| https://www.researchgate.net/publication/51161983_Two_Serious_and_Challenging_Medical_Complications_Associated_with_Volatile_Substance_Misuse_Sudden_Sniffing_Death_and_Fetal_Solvent_Syndrome
  7. CDC Toluene Fact Sheet https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/npg/npgd0619.html
  8. Toluene MSDS http://www.labchem.com/tools/msds/msds/LC26170.pdf
  9. Toluene Toxicology Profile https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/toxprofiles/tp56.pdf
  10. OSHA Toluene Exposure Fact Sheet https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/toluene/exposure_limits.html
  11. Toluene Fact Sheet https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2016-09/documents/toluene.pdf.
  12. Acetone MSDS http://physics.utsa.edu/memslab/MSDS/Acetone.pdf
  13. Acetone MSDS http://physics.utsa.edu/memslab/MSDS/Acetone.pdf
  14. Unleaded Gasoline 2015 MSDS http://www.docs.citgo.com/msds_pi/UNLEAD.pdf
  15. Gasoline sniffing and lead encephalopathy https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1874752/pdf/canmedaj01381-0049.pdf
  16. NCI Benzene Page https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/substances/benzene
  17. http://harmreduction.org/drugs-and-drug-users/drug-tools/getting-off-right/ Getting Off Right Safety Manual (Harmreduction.org)
  18. https://www.airgas.com/msds/001007.pdf%7CButane MSDS
  19. http://www.bristol.ac.uk/news/2013/9333.html | Xenon gas successfully delivered to babies in ambulance
  20. Tarendash, Albert S. (2001). Let's review: chemistry, the physical setting (3rd ed.). Barron's Educational Series. p. 44. ISBN 0-7641-1664-9. - http://books.google.com/books?id=aOij0MVjsy0C&pg=PA44
  21. Erowid Ether Page|https://erowid.org/chemicals/ether/ether_basics.shtml
  22. PubChem Ether Sheet https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/diethyl_ether#section=Safety-and-Hazards