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Drug Abuse: Inhalants

Sniffing Markers Can Damage Your Brain

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Did you know that in a 2002 study, 15.2% of eighth graders said they had used inhalants at least once? That number was higher than the number of tenth and twelfth graders!

An "inhalant" is usually a liquid or gas that was never meant to be used as a drug, like the stuff that's inside a colored marker or the gas in a can of whipped cream that enables you to spray it. Some people like to inhale these substances to get a short "high" or feel like their mind has been altered. As you may know, many young people like to abuse inhalants because they're easy to get and cheaper than other kinds of drugs. But the truth is, many inhalants are just as dangerous, and sometimes even more dangerous, as other drugs.

Inhalants can be broken down into three basic categories.


  • Art and office products like "White Out" fluid, glue, and magic markers.
  • Household or commercial products like paint thinners, glue, gasoline, and dry cleaning chemicals.


  • Butane, which is the substance inside cigarette lighters, and propane, which is the gas in barbecue grill tanks.
  • Gases found in whipped cream cans and spray cans that are used in paint and cooking.
  • Medical gasses used for anesthesia, including nitrous oxide (also known as "laughing gas"), ether, chloroform, and halothane.


Cyclohexyl nitrate (which is available to the general public), amyl nitrate (which is available by prescription), and butyl nitrite (which is now an illegal substance).

People who use it may experience:

  • Intoxication or "high"
  • Headache
  • Muscle weakness
  • Stomach pain
  • Nausea
  • Violent behavior
  • Mood swings
  • Numbness in hands and feet
  • Spasms in the limbs
  • Fatigue
  • Hearing loss
  • Loss of coordination
  • Loss of consciousness (passing out)

The big, serious health risks are:

  • Permanent hearing loss
  • Damage to nervous system
  • Brain damage
  • Blood oxygen depletion
  • Liver damage
  • Kidney damage
  • Heart failure
  • Suffocation
  • Death

Using inhalants is a problem because:

  • Even though the "high" from inhalants only lasts a few minutes, people try to make it last longer by using the inhalant again and again. All these inhalations will make someone feel less in control, and they can eventually lose consciousness.

  • Sniffing highly concentrated amounts of the chemicals in solvents or aerosol sprays can cause immediate heart failure and death within minutes. This is known as "sudden sniffing death," and is usually connected with the abuse of butane, propane, and chemicals in aerosols.

Next: Methamphetamine…big word, big trouble.


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