Inhalant use refers to people who inhale toxic fumes for the purpose of getting “high”. The word solvent is also often used as a synonym to inhalants, although solvents are actually one type of inhalants. This is one of the only drugs that is not originally made for human consumption.
Inhalants are known for their commercial use and can easily be found in most households. There are hundreds of different types of inhalants and they are usually found in one of 4 categories: volatile solvents (cleaning fluids etc.), aerosols (spray cans), gases and nitrites (CAMH).
- Solvents are mostly used by children and young adults because they are cheap, legal and easy to access (CAMH);
- Various studies show that inhalants are a major issue in some Aboriginal communities (CAMH);
- There are now many treatment programs available to help youth with solvent addictions (Health Canada: Nation Youth Solvent Addiction Program);
- You do not need to overdose on inhalants for them to be fatal – they can cause a great deal of harm to you the first time you try it.
Glue, Gas, Whippets, Poppers, Rush, Bolt
How they work
When inhalants are sniffed, they enter the bloodstream through the lungs and reach the organs, especially the brain and liver. They act as a depressor and cause sensations similar to drinking alcohol.
There are three main ways to use inhalants: “sniffing” it directly from the can, “huffing” from a soaked rag or inhaling it from a bag (“bagged”) (CAMH).
The use of inhalants can produce a wide range of side effects from euphoria and excitement to irritability, dizziness, nausea and vomiting. Because of the feelings of recklessness and invincibility associated with solvent use, violent and hazardous behaviour may occur when using these substances.
Regular use of inhalants can also lead to long-term health problems such as damage to the liver, kidneys, lungs, heart, brain, bones and blood. In addition, inhalant use can cause rapid and irregular heart beat which could result in heart failure and even death. This is called the Sudden Sniffing Death Syndrome (SSDS).
Tolerance and dependence
Most inhalant use is experimental and occasional; however, it is possible to develop tolerance and addiction. Withdrawal symptoms include nausea, loss of appetite, tremors, anxiety, paranoia and depression.
Inhalants are not illegal in Canada as they are often regular household items. Alberta is the only province that officially recognizes inhaling or selling inhalants to abusers as illegal (Solvents and Inhalants).
What you can do
If someone you know is using inhalants, the best thing to do is to encourage him/her to stop immediately and seek help or to talk to an adult, a doctor or a school counsellor.
If he or she is currently using and seems to be in crisis, remain calm. Agitation may cause the user to become violent, experience hallucinations or suffer heart dysfunction which can cause SSDS. Make sure the room is well ventilated and call 911.
For more information on side effects and dangers related to solvent sniffing, visit the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health web page on inhalants.
Alberta Health Services: Solvents and Inhalants
Centre for Addiction and Mental Health: Do you know… Inhalants
Centre for Addiction and Mental Health: Solvent Use among Aboriginal Youth
Étape: solvants (in French only)
Health Canada: National Youth Solvent Addiction Program
La référence québécoise en matière de toxicomanie (in French only)