• Classification \ Schedule: Inhalants are legally sold products; therefore, there isn’t a DEA Federal Classification Schedule for inhalants.
  • Trade or Other Names: Gluey, Huff, Rush, Whippets
    Medical Uses: –
  • Physical Dependence: High
  • Psychological Dependence: High
  • Tolerance: Yes
  • Duration (hours): 2–4
  • Usual Method: Inhaled
  • Possible Effects: Slurred speech, inability to coordinate movements, dizziness, confusion, delirium
  • Effects of Overdose: hallucinations, drowsiness, coma, possible death
  • Withdrawal Syndrome: nausea, sweating, muscle cramps, headaches, agitation, hallucinations

About Inhalants

Inhalants are a class of drugs that are familiar to all of us. They are useful chemicals in household products, and readily accessible in our homes and schools. Unlike some other abused drugs, such as cocaine, marijuana, and LSD, inhalants may be legally obtained. These chemicals have legitimate uses, and customers have, on the whole, unrestricted access to purchasing them. The ease of getting these products for use as drugs increases their abuse potential. Chemicals whose vapors or gasses can be intentionally inhaled to give the user a high are called inhalants. The use of inhalants produces psychoactive or mind-altering effects on the user. Inhalants are usually solvent fluids, a category that includes thousands of diverse chemicals. A few such chemicals and products that are abused are lighter fluid, markers, spray paint, and glue. Inhalant abuse is also termed “volatile solvent abuse.” It should be noted that many drugs besides those classified as “inhalants” can be administered by inhalation, including marijuana, cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, fentanyl patches, and nicotine. These drugs are not volatile solvents and have different physical and chemical properties; therefore, they are not classified as “inhalants.” Inhalants are chemicals that are volatile, meaning they can readily vaporize from liquid to gas state at room temperature. They are also solvents, meaning they have the ability to dissolve other substances. The third characteristic of inhalants is that they produce psychoactive effects after a user breathes in the chemical vapors. Although classified together under a very broad category, different inhalants cause various short-term effects and long-term consequences. They are classified together not based on associated chemical action, pharmacology, or toxicology, but because of the shared way these compounds are administered. This general term encompasses a vast number of products (over 1,400) that can be inhaled as drugs.

Inhalant abuse can have far-reaching consequences. It can cause severe damage to the brain and nervous system. It can cause death by starving the body of oxygen and causing the heart to fail. It is unknown how many adolescents die each year from inhalant abuse because these deaths are often classified as deaths from suffocation, accidents, or suicide. The early signs of inhalant abuse often go unnoticed by parents, friends, and teachers. Inhalants are so cheap and seemingly harmless that abuse can go unrecognized. Additionally, the fact that the purchase of these products is legal leaves nothing in the way of obstacles for an inhalant abuser. Initial abuse of inhalants starts at an average age that is younger than that of abuse of either alcohol or tobacco. Research has suggested that inhalant abuse in young adults may be an indicator of continued and serious involvement with drugs later in life. This makes inhalants a “gateway” drug, with the use of inhalants predicting the use of other drugs later in life in some individuals.

Products that may be abused as inhalants do not always have a warning such as the “skull and crossbones” poison symbol on their label. However, any product with toxic ingredients includes a printed warning label similar to the following: “Intentional misuse by deliberately concentrating or inhaling the contents can be harmful or fatal.” Products with this or similar warnings should be used in well-ventilated areas only for their legitimate purposes. In spite of these warnings and the dangerous consequences of inhalant use, many users will still sniff for the high and the euphoria that drugs can induce.

Origins of Inhalant Use

The use of inhalants dates back at least as far as 1400 B.C. At this time the Temple of Apollo at Delphi was founded on Mount Parnassus in Greece. It was a place where people from all over Greece would go to learn about the future and have their most important questions answered about both politics and private matters. The oracle of Delphi transmitted prophecies first from the Earth goddess Gaia and later from the Greek god Apollo. The oracle’s shrine was built in the 8th century B.C. by the Dorians, who considered Delphi to be the center of the Earth, at its navel or “ompholos.” Until A.D. 392, when the oracle was banned by the Christian emperor of Rome, people would come to the oracle to receive answers from a priestess called the Pythia.

This role was served by many women of unblemished character for nearly 2,000 years. In the 1st century A.D., Plutarch, then the high priest at the temple, left records on how the oracle worked. He described the descent of the priestess into a small chamber where she would breathe divine, sacred vapors and enter a trance. Then the Pythia would return to sit on a stool with a basin of water held in one hand and a sprig of olive in the other and proclaim her prophecies from Apollo. The priest at the temple then wrote the response in verse form for the visitor. Plutarch described the vapors as a “delightful fragrance coming on a current of air,” and he believed they arose from a fissure or spring, possibly emanating from rocks disturbed by earthquakes.

In 1927, scientists explored the area for a fissure or rising gas and found nothing, so Plutarch’s vapor idea was disregarded. It was revisited in 2001 when Jelle de Boer and his colleagues from Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, and the Kentucky Regional Poison Center discovered an unknown fissure carved by spring water that intersected a known fault immediately below the Temple of Apollo. They found evidence of methane (CH4) and, more intriguingly, ethylene (C2H4) gasses both in the spring and preserved within the rock under the temple. Ethylene can be produced from methane, and any seismic activity along the fault would heat the spring and release the gasses. Ethylene is a sweet-smelling hydrocarbon gas that can stimulate the central nervous system. Just 60 years ago, it was used as an anesthetic in hospitals. The gas is fatal in large doses, but in small doses it causes a disembodied sensation of euphoria, intoxication, and hallucination. Plutarch described some cases in which the Pythia would experience delirium, and comparing the experience to that of drinking wine; he noted that the intoxication was different from priestess to priestess. In one case he even described a death in the chamber when the priestess became hysterical and threw herself down, dying days later. The recent findings of de Boer and colleagues, demonstrating ethylene and methane gas emanating from a fissure beneath the Temple of Apollo, suggest that the priestesses, as part of their preparation and ceremony, were exposing themselves to inhalants and entering trances. This is an ancient example of inhalant use in the context of a cultural and religious ritual.

How Inhalants are Consumed

Inhalants are breathed in through the mouth or nose. There are several known methods of getting the drug into the body. Among these methods, we may include:

• Bagging – Inhaling the substance after it has been sprayed plastic bag
• Ballooning – Inhaling the drug from a balloon
• Dusting – Spraying the aerosol into the nose or mouth
• Glading – Inhaling air-freshener aerosols
• Huffing – Inhaling from a rag soaked with the substance
• Sniffing – Inhaling a substance directly through the nose
• Snorting – Inhaling a substance directly through the mouth

Effects of Inhalant Use

Short Term Use Effects

• Slurred speech
• Drunk or dizzy appearance
• Inability to coordinate movements
• Hallucinations and delusions
• Apathy
• Impaired judgment
• Unconsciousness
• Severe headaches
• Rashes around the nose and mouth
• Prolonged sniffing – irregular and rapid heartbeat that lead to heart failure and death within minutes.
• Death from suffocation

Long Term Use Effects

• Muscle weakness
• Disorientation
• Lack of coordination
• Irritability
• Depression
• Irreversible damage to the heart, liver, kidneys, lungs and brain
• Memory impairment
• Hearing loss
• Bone marrow damage
• Deaths from heart failure or suffocation