What are inhalants?

Inhalants are breathable chemical vapors that produce mind-altering effects similar to anesthetics, which slow down the body's functions. The fumes are inhaled from a paper bag or by soaking a rag in the chemical. Inhalants fall into three categories:

Nitrites include amyl nitrite (poppers) and butyl nitrites (Rush, Locker Room). Their effects include:

  • A brief high caused by both oxygen deprivation and the dilation of blood vessels.
  • Giddiness, a pounding heartbeat, headaches and dizziness.
  • Nitrites can be deadly if swallowed accidentally. They affect the blood's ability to carry oxygen.
  • Repeated use of nitrites can lead to tolerance, and the user will experience withdrawal when they stop.

Gases include nitrous oxide (whippets), ether, chloroform, gases from household products such as spray paints, deodorant sprays and butane lighters. Their effects include:

  • Feeling giddy
  • Loss of consciousness (many head injuries are associated with this)
  • When the gasses escape from their container, they expand and can injure the mouth, throat and lungs.
  • Long-term effects can include numbness, tingling, and weakness as a result of nerve damage.

Solvents include paint thinners, glues, correction fluid, degreasers and gasoline. Their effects include:

  • A very brief high which can vary from feeling numb to feeling drunk
  • Delusions, loss of coordination, vomiting and suppressed breathing
  • Long-term effects such as depression, kidney and liver failure, and bone marrow damage
  • Death. Solvents are so toxic that death can result the first time they are used. A British study of 1,000 deaths from inhalant use found that 200 of the deaths were to first-time users.

Adapted from Facts on Tap  

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How do I help a friend who's having trouble with drugs or alcohol?

If you are concerned about a friend's drug or alcohol use, this page contains information about different ways to help them. 

Resources at Brown and in Providence

If you or a friend are having trouble with drugs or alcohol, or just have questions, there is help available.

Links you can use

National Inhalant Prevention Coalition  
The FAQ section includes statistics on inhalant use, damage to the body and brain and how to help someone in a crisis. Information is also provided in Spanish.

National Institute of Drug Abuse    
NIDA provides research reports, answers commonly-asked questions and gives related links.

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