Huffing and Inhalants Overview

What are Inhalants?

Inhalants are a diverse group of volatile substances whose chemical vapors can be inhaled to produce psychoactive (mind-altering) effects. While other abused substances can be inhaled, the term “Inhalants” is used to describe substances that are rarely, if ever, taken by any other route of administration. A variety of products common in the home and workplace contain substances that can be inhaled to get high; however, people do not typically think of these products (e.g., spray paints, glues, and cleaning fluids) as drugs because they were never intended to induce intoxicating effects. These products can contain extremely toxic substances.

Street Names:

Air Blast
Satan’s Secret
Texas Shoe Shine

What Types of Products Are Abused as Inhalants?

Inhalants generally fall into the following categories:

Volatile solvents – Liquids that vaporize at room temperature.

  • Industrial or household products, including paint thinners or removers, degreasers, dry-cleaning fluids, gasoline, and lighter fluid
  • Art or office supply solvents, including correction fluids, felt-tip marker fluid, electronic contact cleaners, and glue

Aerosols – Sprays that contain propellants and solvents. Household aerosol propellants in items such as spray paints, hair or deodorant sprays, fabric protector sprays, aerosol computer cleaning products, and vegetable oil sprays

Gases – These are found in household or commercial products and used as medical anesthetics

  • Household or commercial products, including butane lighters and propane tanks, whipped cream aerosols or dispensers (whippets), and refrigerant gases
  • Medical anesthetics, such as ether, chloroform, halothane, and nitrous oxide (“laughing gas”)

Nitrites – A special class of inhalants that are used primarily as sexual enhancers.  Organic nitrites are volatiles that include cyclohexyl, butyl, and amyl nitrites, commonly known as “poppers.” Amyl nitrite is still used in certain diagnostic medical procedures. When marketed for illicit use, organic nitrites are often sold in small brown bottles labeled as “video head cleaner,” “room odorizer,” “leather cleaner,” or “liquid aroma.”

These various products contain a wide range of chemicals such as:

• Toluene (spray paints, rubber cement, gasoline)
• Chlorinated Hydrocarbons (dry-cleaning chemicals, correction fluids)
• Hexane (glues, gasoline)
• Benzene (gasoline)
• Methylene Chloride (varnish removers, paint thinners)
• Butane (cigarette lighter refills, air fresheners)
• Nitrous Oxide (whipped cream dispensers, gas cylinders)


According to the 2000 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse, the number of new inhalant abusers rose approximately 158 percent from an estimated 392,000 in 1990 to 1,010,000 in 1999.

The primary user group was composed of 12- to 17-year-olds–over 636,000 had tried inhalants for the first time in 1999. This number is more than double that of the 18- to 25-year-old user group (276,000.) Almost 17 million individuals have experimented with inhalants at some point in their lives.

How is Huffing abused?

Huffing with inhalants occurs when inhalants are breathed in through the nose or mouth in a variety of ways. Huffing abusers begin by inhaling deeply; they then take several more breaths. Abusers may inhale, by sniffing or snorting, chemical vapors directly from open containers or by huffing fumes from rags that are soaked in a chemical substance and then held to the face or stuffed in the mouth.

Other methods of huffing include spraying aerosols directly into the nose or mouth or pouring inhalants onto the user’s collar, sleeves, or cuffs and sniffing them over a period of time (such as during a class in school).

In a practice known as bagging, fumes are inhaled from substances sprayed or deposited inside a paper or plastic bag. Alternatively, the fumes may be discharged into small containers such as soda cans and then inhaled from the can. Huffing users may also inhale from balloons filled with nitrous oxide or other devices such as snappers and poppers in which inhalants are sold.

Signs of Huffing Abuse

  • Drunk or disoriented appearance
  • Paint or other stains on face, hands, or clothing
  • Hidden empty spray paint or solvent containers and chemical-soaked rags or clothing
  • Slurred speech
  • Strong chemical odors on breath or clothing
  • Nausea or loss of appetite
  • Red or runny nose
  • Sores or rash around the nose or mouth

Source: National Institute on Drug Abuse, Research Report Series, Inhalant Abuse, 10 May 2007.

If you have come across our Addiction Treatment Center web site, it may be because you or someone you love is in need of help for huffing addiction. The Cove Center for Recovery is an Addiction Treatment Center offering a premier drug addiction treatment program that can help you or your loved one. Our aim is to treat the whole person, and not just an isolated symptom. During the addiction treatment process we will work with the client to identify the factors that may have contributed to their addiction whether it is home, work, relationship driven or stemming from your medical history. We also believe that families have a vital role to play in the recovery process, and each program has a place for family participation, to educate them in the addiction treatment process and to equip them for their role as supporters.