What are Inhalants?

Have you ever caught a whiff of a magic marker or the scent of gasoline? You have just unknowingly experienced an inhalant. Inhalants are chemical vapors that people intentionally inhale in order to get high. The vapors produced by gasoline, glue, markers, paints, and cleaning fluids can have hallucinogenic effects. The vapors can also be deadly. Typically, inhalants are broken down into three categories: volatile solvents, aerosols, and gases.

Volatile Solvents

These inhalants are liquids that vaporize at room temperature. Examples include paint thinner, nail polish remover, and correction fluid (e.g. White-Out).


Aerosols are sprays that contain propellants and solvents. Inhalants in aerosol form are also referred to as “whippets”. Examples include hair spray, oil spray, and deodorant spray.


These types of inhalants include propane tanks, butane lighters, and gasoline.

Inhalant Statistics

  • – Over 2.6 million children, aged 12 – 17, use an inhalant each year to get high
  • – 1 in 4 students in America has intentionally used an inhalant to get high by the eighth grade
  • – Inhalants are usually the first drug that children try
  • – 59% of children are aware of friends “huffing” at age 12
  • -“Sniffing” and “huffing” can begin at age 10 or younger
  • – Inhalants are the fourth most-abused substance after alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana
  • – Using an inhalant only once can still cause instant death

Common Street Names

Common slang for inhalants includes “laughing gas” (nitrous oxide), “snappers” (amyl nitrite), “poppers” (amyl nitrite and butyl nitrite), “whippets” (fluorinated hydrocarbons, found in whipped cream dispensers), “bold” (nitrites), and “rush” (nitrites).

How do Inhalants kill?

Using an inhalant just one time can lead to sudden death, cardiac arrest, passing out, and vomiting. Your risk of stroke also increases, as are the risks for permanent cognitive damage to the brain. Inhalants cause cancer from the carcinogens contained in some of the chemicals being inhaled. They can also cause permanent psychosis, muscle damage, burns and permanent scarring.

I know someone who uses inhalants. What should I do?

When someone has a drug problem, it’s not always easy to know what to do. If someone you know is abusing inhalants, encourage him or her to talk to a parent, school guidance counselor, or other trusted adult. There are also anonymous resources, such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK) and the Treatment Referral Helpline (1-800-662-HELP).

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK) is a crisis hotline that can help with a lot of issues, not just suicide. For example, anyone who feels sad, hopeless, or suicidal; family and friends who are concerned about a loved one; or anyone interested in mental health treatment referrals can call this Lifeline. Callers are connected with a professional nearby who will talk with them about what they’re feeling or concerns for other family and friends.

In addition, the Treatment Referral Helpline (1-800-662-HELP)—offered by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration—refers callers to treatment facilities, support groups, and other local organizations that can provide help for their specific needs.

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