source: UN, The World Youth Report 2003,
Inhalants are especially used by vulnerable youth worldwide…
In poorer communities and among indigenous peoples, rates can be much higher. For example…
- the term ‘inhalants’ refers to more than 1000 different household and commercial products that can be intentionally abused by sniffing or ‘huffing’ (inhaling through one's mouth) for an intoxicating effect;
- these products are composed of volatile solvents and substances commonly found in commercial adhesives, lighter fluids, cleaning solutions, gasoline, paint, glue and paint products. Easy accessibility, low cost, and ease of concealment make inhalants, for many, one of the first substances abused.
- among 40 countries supplying lifetime-prevalence data during the 1990s the reported rates were less than 5% in 16 countries, 5-10% in 15 countries and 10 to 20% in 10 countries;
- in the United States, according to a recent NHSDA survey*, in 2002 more than 2.6 million youths aged 12-17 reported using inhalants at least once in their lifetime. The rate of past year inhalant use was about the same for boys (4.6%) and girls (4.1%). Past month inhalant use among US youths aged 16-17 increased from 0.6% in 2002 to 1.0% in 2003. Among 12-year-olds, inhalants (2.2%) and psychotherapeutics (1.4%) were the primary illicit drugs of choice.
What are the effects?
- in Africa, inhalants and cannabis appear to be the illicit substances most commonly used by youth (falling short of the number using alcohol and tobacco).
- about 24% of 9 to 18-year-olds living in poverty in Sao Paulo, Brazil;
- more than 60% of youth in several native communities in Canada and the United States.
The side effects of inhalants, when they're abused as drugs, vary enormously. What may give one person a short-lived high may give another person a very quick death. Despite having different uses and ingredients, the majority of inhalants have the same effect of slowing down the function of the body rather like an anaesthetic or alcohol. High doses, however, can lead to on unconsciousness or Sudden Sniffing Death Syndrome - particularly associated with butane, propane and aerosols. This can happen the first time someone abuses an inhalant or the 100th time - it's rather like a game of Russian roulette.
An inhalant is basically a depressant of the central nervous system. When it suppresses the speech centre, talking becomes slurred. Depressing the co-ordination centre results in loss of balance and control and the affect on the vision centre leads to distorted vision. There are exceptions to this - namely amyl and butyl nitrates. These so called party drugs work by widening the blood vessels and bringing an immediate rush to the brain. The effects are short lived and usually only last a minute or so. A number of people get headaches after using nitrates and report nausea, coughing and dizziness.
Nitrates aside, the short term adverse effects of abusing inhalants include dilated pupils, palpitations, breathing difficulties, disorientation, headaches, nausea and a chemical smell on the breath. In extreme cases they include death from suffocation or heart failure - in the UK and USA more than a third of deaths from inhalant abuse involve first time users.
* Source: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2004). Results from the 2003 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: National Findings (Office of Applied Studies, NSDUH Series H–25, DHHS Publication No. SMA 04–3964). Rockville, MD.