Inhalants are substances that can be sprayed in vapors and breathed in by a user. Intoxication is short, lasting up to 30 minutes for most inhalants. People who abuse these substances often inhale for several hours up to all day. The vapors of these substances easily pass through the alveoli in the lungs through the bloodstream and into the brain. This can lead to very high levels of toxins in the brain and cause permanent brain damage and death.
Most inhalants are central nervous system depressants (CNS depressants), so signs of an inhalant “high” are similar to alcohol or opioid intoxication. However, nitrites are stimulants and can cause hallucinations or excitement similar to signs seen with cocaine intoxication. Typical inhalants abused include:
- solvents (liquids that become gas at room temperature)
- nitrites (prescription medicines for chest pain)
Inhalants are usually household items, so the ease of access is of great concern. Some spray paints, markers, glues, and cleaning fluids can be used to get an inhalant high. The chemicals cause a psychoactive response that is short in duration but gives an intense feeling of euphoria. Lack of coordination, dizziness, and slurred or slow speech are also side effects. Long-term use of inhalants causes both liver and brain damage. People don’t typically think of these products as drugs because they’re not intended for getting “high,” but they are often abused because of the ease of obtaining them. When these substances are used for getting high, they are called inhalants and are the only class of drugs used more by younger teens than adults or older teens.