QUESTION: What do nail polish, paint and glue have in common?

ANSWER: They can:

  • be found at home or school
  • be inhaled by people looking for a quick high
  • cause damage to the body including the brain
  • STINK.

Inhaling (also called "huffing" or "sniffing") chemicals is a problem for many people including teenagers. Inhalants are cheap and can be found everywhere - in kitchens, garages and schools. There are hundreds of different materials that can be abused by people who inhale these dangerous chemicals. Inhalants not only damage the nervous system, but other organs such as the lungs, liver, heart and kidney can be injured permanently.

Extremely Flammable
Harmful or Fatal If Swallowed
Vapors May Cause Fire

DANGER: Keep away from heat and flame. If swallowed or if excessive inhalation occurs resulting in abnormal reactions including dizziness or nausea, contact a physician. Intentional misuse by deliberately concentrating and inhaling contents may be harmful or fatal.

(From a warning label on waterproofing spray)

Variety of Inhalants
ProductChemical Content
Hair SprayFluorinated hydrocarbons; propane; isobutane
Nitrous OxideNitrous Oxide
Cleaning FluidsChlorinated hydrocarbons; naphtha
Typewriter Correction FluidTrichloroethane; trichloroethylene
Nail Polish RemoverAcetone; aliphatic acetates; benzene
GasolineHydrocarbons; tetraethyl lead
Glue; rubber cementToluene; acetone, benzene; xylene; ethanol; chloroform
Paint/Paint ThinnerToluene; methylene chloride; benzene, ethanol
Lighter FluidHydrocarbons
Room DeodorizersAmyl, butyl and isobutyl nitrite
Marker pensToluene; xylene

Effects of Inhalants on the Nervous System

When vapors are inhaled (1), they are absorbed through the lungs (2) and enter the bloodstream (3). Once in the bloodstream, the chemicals travel to the brain (4) and other tissues throughout the body. Most inhalants that are abused depress the functioning of the nervous system. However, the effects of each inhalant are difficult to determine because each product in made up many different chemicals and each person may breathe in different amounts of each chemical. Nevertheless, these chemicals do have significant effects on the nervous system.

Some of the effects of inhalants are simliar to those of alcohol. The immediate effects of inhalants include:

  • relaxation
  • slurred speech
  • euphoria
  • hallucinations
  • drowsiness
  • dizziness
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • DEATH - from heart failure or suffocating on plastic bags or vomit.

Long term use of inhalants can cause:

  • memory loss
  • concentration problems
  • visual disturbances; blindness
  • motor problems
  • peripheral nerve damage

Nervous System Targets of Inhalants

Inhalants may affect different parts the brain and nervous system and may cause a variety of sensory, motor, psychological and emotional problems. One major effect of inhalants is the destruction of the myelin sheath that surrounds neurons. This can result in problems in the normal transmission of impulses through neurons and cell death.

Specific areas of the brain targeted by inhalants include:

  1. Cerebral cortex: damage can cause changes in personality, memory loss, hallucinations and learning problems.

  2. Cerebellum: damage can cause problems in balance and movement.

  3. Hippocampus: damage may result in the memory problems.

  4. Visual System: damage to the peripheral nerves may cause visual disturbances.

Did you know?

Nitrous oxide was discovered in 1776 by Sir Joseph Priestley. In 1799, Sir Humphrey Davy suggested that nitrous oxide could be used during surgery to reduce pain.


For more information about inhalant abuse, see:
  1. Mind Over Matter: Inhalants
  2. Huffing Dangers
  3. Inhalant abuse kills with little public attention - from CNN (March 22, 1999)
  4. Inhalant Abuse - from the National Institute on Drug Abuse
  5. National Inhalant Prevention Coalition


GO TO: Alcohol Amphetamines Caffeine Cocaine
Heroin Inhalants LSD Marijuana
Nicotine Ecstasy Rohypnol 1,4-Butanediol
GHB Barbiturates PCP Hallucinogenic Mushrooms

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