Straight, No Chaser: When Your Kids Huff and Puff – Learn about Inhalants


Over the course of several posts, we’ve described how difficult it is for you to keep abreast of the activities of teens. In this and a subsequent Straight, No Chaser post, we will review what are often among the first drugs abused by adolescents. You should be especially concerned that inhalants are abused more by younger adolescents than older ones.
What is an inhalant?
Inhalants are chemicals that people inhale on purpose to get “high.” These vapors produce mind-altering effects that users believe are pleasurable. Although they may seem harmless, they can be quite dangerous.

 inhalants huffing-paint-huff-spray

Are there slang names I should recognize?
Common street slang for inhalants include the following:

  • “Bold” – nitrites
  • “Laughing gas” – nitrous oxide
  • “Poppers” – amyl nitrite and butyl nitrite
  • “Rush” – nitrites
  • “Snappers” – amyl nitrite
  • “Whippets” – fluorinated hydrocarbons (named because they are found in whipped cream dispensers)

What age groups are most likely to use inhalants?
National survey data suggest that inhalant abuse is most common among 7th-9th graders. Nearly 66 percent of 8th graders don’t think trying inhalants once or twice is risky, and 41 percent don’t consider the regular use of inhalants to be harmful. Clearly, parents need to be educated and start discussing inhalant use with their children.


How do users get inhalants?
The danger here is inhalants are very common in the home. Access explains why these are used by the very young. Here are some examples of inhalants:

  • Cleaning fluids
  • Gasoline
  • Glue
  • Markers
  • Paints

How Are Inhalants Used?
Inhalant abuse occurs through breathing in chemical vapors through their nose or mouth. Here are some examples and terms with which you should be familiar.

  • Bagging: sniffing or inhaling fumes from substances sprayed or placed into a plastic or paper bag
  • Huffing: inhaling from a rag soaked within an inhalant and stuffed in the mouth
  • Inhaling: breathing in fumes from balloons filled with nitrous oxide
  • Sniffing or snorting: additional forms of taking in fumes from containers
  • Spraying: taking aerosols directly into the nose or mouth

Inhalant effects

Where is the danger in inhalant use?
The intoxication of huffing and other inhalant use only last a few minutes. It is common for abusers to cycle rounds of inhaling for hours to sustain the high. This introduces a potentially large enough amount of chemical into the bloodstream to produce devastating damage, particular in developing children.
The next post on inhalant use will discuss specific effects and actions to take in the face of inhalant abuse. I will end this post by providing a more comprehensive list of household inhalers you should move to secure.

inhalant huffing accident

Here are various categories of inhalants.

Aerosols are sprays that contain propellants and solvents.

  • Spray paint, hair spray, deodorant spray, vegetable oil sprays, and fabric protector spray

Gases may be in household or commercial products or used as medical anesthetics (“numbing medicine”).

  • Butane lighters, propane tanks, whipped cream dispensers, and refrigerant gases
  • Anesthesia, including ether, chloroform, halothane, and nitrous oxide

Nitrites are a class of inhalants used primarily as sexual enhancers.

  • Organic nitrites include amyl, butyl, and cyclohexyl nitrites and other related compounds. You will recognize products likely to contain nitrites as “video head cleaners,” “room odorizers,” “leather cleaners,” or “liquid aromas.”

Volatile Solvents are liquids that vaporize at room temperature.

  • Industrial and household products, such as paint thinner, nail polish remover, degreaser, dry-cleaning fluid, gasoline, and contact cement
  • Art or office supplies, such as correction fluid, felt-tip marker fluid, and electronic contact cleaner

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