Inhalants are a diverse group of substances that include volatile solvents, gases, and nitrites that are sniffed, snorted, huffed, or bagged to produce intoxicating effects similar to alcohol. These substances are found in common household products like glues, lighter fluid, cleaning fluids, and paint products. Inhalant abuse is the deliberate inhaling or sniffing of these substances to get high, and it is estimated that about 1,000 substances are misused in this manner. The easy accessibility, low cost, legal status, and ease of transport and concealment make inhalants one of the first substances abused by children.
There are four general categories of inhalants:
• Volatile solvents are liquids that vaporize at room temperatures. They are found in a multitude of inexpensive, easily available products used for common household and industrial purposes. These include paint thinners and removers, dry-cleaning fluids, degreasers, gasoline, glues, correction fluids, and felt-tip marker fluids.
• Aerosols are sprays that contain propellants and solvents. They include spray paints, deodorant and hair sprays, vegetable oil sprays for cooking, and fabric protector sprays.
• Gases include medical anesthetics as well as gases used in household or commercial products. Medical anesthetic gases include ether, chloroform, halothane, and nitrous oxide, commonly called “laughing gas.” Nitrous oxide is the most abused of these gases and can be found in whipped cream dispensers and products that boost octane levels in racing cars. Household or commercial products containing gases include butane lighters, propane tanks, whipped cream dispensers, and refrigerants.
• Nitrites often are considered a special class of inhalants. Unlike most other inhalants, which act directly on the central nervous system (CNS), nitrites act primarily to dilate blood vessels and relax the muscles. While other inhalants are used to alter mood, nitrites are used primarily as sexual enhancers. Nitrites include cyclohexyl nitrite, isoamyl (amyl) nitrite, and isobutyl (butyl) nitrite, and are commonly known as “poppers” or “snappers.” Amyl nitrite is used in certain diagnostic procedures and was prescribed in the past to treat some patients for heart pain. Nitrites are now prohibited by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, but can still be found, sold in small bottles, often labeled as “video head cleaner,” “room odorizer,” “ leather cleaner,” or “liquid aroma.