What Are Inhalants?

Pronounced as [in-hey-luh nts]

Inhalants are compounds or chemicals that easily emit vapor or readily evaporate to a gas at room temperature. People use inhalants by inhaling chemical vapors to get a quick high feeling. For some, inhalants produce a sedative or psychotic impact on the user.

Many of the popular inhalants are household items like glue, paint thinners, gasoline, cleaning fluids, nail polish remover, hair spray, and lighter fluid. But while many people use inhalants from household items, inhalants are also sold at clubs and concerts where they are commonly known as “poppers” (amyl nitrite) or “whippits” (nitrous oxide).

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, there are four major classifications of abused inhalants: aerosols, gasses, nitrites, and volatile solvents. This classification of the types of inhalants is based on the physical form or state of the compound as often seen in households or industries. Below are the classifications of substances called inhalants.


Volatile Solvents

In mixtures or solutions, solvents mostly come in larger amounts and they dissolve the solute. Volatile solvents are liquid substances that easily evaporate at room temperature.

Products under this category can be readily bought in convenience or retail stores. A few examples of volatile substances include glues, lacquer thinners, gasoline, paints, paint thinner, correction fluid, and paint removers.

Aerosols (Spray Paint, Fresheners, Deodorants, Air Fresheners)

Aerosol spray products are a combination of solvents and propellants which are commonly stored and sold in cans. The substance inside the can is dispensed through spraying to create a mist of liquid aerosols.


Gas products can be both organic and inorganic compounds. They are sold and found as household, industrial, or medical anesthetic products.

Gas products sold as medical anesthetics include chloroform, halogenated ethers such as halothane, nitrous oxide (popularly known as “laughing gas”), enflurane, isoflurane, and desflurane.

Nitrous oxide or laughing gas is the most utilized gas product in the industry and households. Nitrous oxide is also a component in whipped cream dispensers for household usage. Nitrous oxides are also used in race cars to increase octane levels in their fuel.

Several commercial products also contain gasses. These commercial products include propane fuel tanks, butane lighters, liquid petroleum gasses, and refrigerants.


In comparison to other inhalants, nitrites are a unique category of inhalants. Generally, the inhalants’ impact is directed toward the brain or central nervous system. However, nitrites act differently because they tend to expand blood vessels and induce muscle relaxation.

Many people who use inhalants do so to alter their mood. Nitrites, on the other hand, are used to increase sexual drive or stamina. Some household nitrites stored and sold in amber bottles are room odorizers, leather cleaning agents, video head cleaning agents, and liquid aromas.

What Does an Inhalant Look Like?

Most inhalants are liquid substances stored in cans, PET bottles, glass, or amber bottles that easily turn into vapors at room temperature.

Some types of inhalants are stored in a pressurized container to prevent them from vaporizing. Most of it is stored in pressurized containers and dispensed into a thin mist of liquid particles via spraying.

Inhalant Addiction

What Are the Street Names for Inhalants?

Air blast



Viagra in a bottle

Aroma of men

Texas shoe shine

Rush Snappers



Moon gas



Satan’s secret

Locker room

Bullet bolt






Toilet water

Buzz bomb


Poor man’s pot






How Are Inhalants Used?

You might be wondering how people use inhalants to get high. The use of inhalants is done by inhaling through the nose or mouth in several methods. Methods of inhalant use can include:

  • Snorting from small holes or openings in its containers
  • Direct spray application of aerosols into the user’s nose or mouth
  • People who use inhalants breathe the fumes inside the plastic bag. It can either be a paper or plastic bag.
  • Huffing which is using inhalants by soaking a rag in solvent and is placed it into the mouth and inhaled directly from there
  • Filling balloons with Nitrous oxide and sniffing directly into the nose

How Do Inhalants Work?

Once inhaled, the chemicals quickly mix into the bloodstream and run through the lungs. The compounds are distributed among all parts of the body.

When the chemical reaches the brain, the user feels intoxicated which can last just a few minutes or for several hours. Some inhalants cause a numbing sensation while others create an analgesic effect.

Depending on the amount absorbed, the user might also experience hallucinations, delusions, and a feeling of being lightheaded.

Inhalants can be extremely harmful because they put the nervous system at risk of breakdown. Toluene and Naphthalene are the two inhalant substances that have a great impact on damaging nerve tissues and the peripheral nervous system. This is the same effect you get when you have multiple sclerosis.

How Long Do Inhalants Stay in Your System?

Inhalant substances have a very short lifespan because of their instability in chemical composition. On average, most inhalants stay inside the body for around two weeks. The chemicals are excreted out from the body either through exhaling or urine.

Moreover, other physiological factors affect how quickly the body can eliminate and excrete inhalant chemicals from the inside. These factors include metabolism, organ health, genes, and age.

How Do Inhalants Affect the Brain and the Body?

Inhalants are extremely dangerous substances. They can have a devastating effect on organs and tissues in the body.

Most inhalant chemicals enter the bloodstream rapidly and directly. This can cause an immediate loss of brain functions such as memory, concentration, judgment, and alertness.

Below are the common effects of using inhalants:

  • Uncoordinated body movements
  • A feeling of “high” or euphoria
  • Dizziness
  • Inability to speak well
  • Being lightheaded
  • Delusions
  • Hallucinations
  • Health problems
  • Impaired judgment which could lead to unsafe sexual practices
Inhalant Overuse

What Are the Short and Long-Term Effects of Using Inhalants?

Some of the health effects of inhalant use are comparable to that of alcohol intoxication. However, depending on the type of substance, the effects of inhalants may vary. There are short-term and long-term effects that result from the use of inhalants.

Short-term effects of Inhalants:

  • Inability to balance and uncoordinated muscle movements
  • Headache
  • Vomiting
  • Inability to speak fluently
  • Quick mood swings
  • Hallucinations
  • Chest pain
  • Can affect breathing rate

Long-term effects of Inhalants:

  • Liver and kidney damage
  • Central and peripheral nervous system damage
  • Loss of hearing
  • Limb spasms
  • Damaged bone marrow
  • Heart failure
  • Delayed behavioral development

Inhalant abuse can cause several detrimental effects on the body. Solvents and aerosol sprays can cause fast and irregular heartbeats which may lead to cardiac arrest and death of the user.

Below are some of the worse effects of abuse:

  • Sudden sniffing death
  • Inhalant-related death
  • Asphyxiation
  • Suffocation
  • Convulsion or Seizures
  • Coma
  • Brain damage - Naphthalene and toluene exposure is capable of destroying the nerve endings of your brain
  • Organ failures like liver and kidney damage
  • Weakened immune system
  • Increased risk of tumors and infectious diseases
  • Birth defects when used by pregnant women
  • Overdose when combined with other substances like alcohol and prescribed medications like benzodiazepines or opioids

Inhalant Drug Abuse and Withdrawal Symptoms

Inhalant misuse is a very common problem, especially among teens and young adults. Repeated drug use can cause increased tolerance and inhalant dependence.

People engaged in inhalant use will usually display signs which may include:

  • Showing signs of confusion and disorientation
  • Slurred speech
  • Red eyes or runny nose
  • Appearing drunk or intoxicated
  • Unusual smell on clothes
  • Inability to focus and easily gets irritated
  • Health problems

Withdrawal symptoms can also manifest once a person stops using inhalants. Withdrawal symptoms can be mild or severe such as cravings for more drugs, depression, anxiety, insomnia, headaches, appetite loss, hallucinations, delusions, and paranoia.

Many organizations around the world have conducted research into the effects of inhalant abuse. Some of these organizations include the National Health and Medical Research Council and Cancer Council Victoria which prepared reports for the Australian government. These reports are available on the various drug abuse website platforms of these organizations.

What Causes Inhalant Overdose?

A person can have an inhalant overdose by sniffing or breathing an excessive amount of the chemicals into the body. However, some chemicals can instantly cause damage even with just a small amount of it inhaled.

Around 2.6 million kids from the age group of 12 to 17 have been reported to misuse inhalant substances. One reason why young kids are the usual victims is that inhalants are readily accessible around the house compared to other drugs. Unlike other drugs like prescription medicines or even over-the-counter medications, you don't need to go to a pharmacy to get them.

Treating Inhalant Abuse and Addiction

Since inhalants are extremely dangerous, it’s important to get professional help as soon as possible. There are several treatments that professionals use to help a person recover from drug abuse involving inhalants.

Substance abuse is treatable through a holistic approach that integrates behavioral therapy, counseling, and lifestyle changes.