Liz, age 15, got scared when her hair started falling out. But the Pueblo, Colorado, teen couldn’t stop sniffing paint from milk jugs even though she didn’t like how she looked. She lost her appetite and a lot of weight due to the effects of the poisonous fumes.
In Englewood, Colorado, paramedics worked frantically to save the life of an 11-year-old girl. She almost died from sniffing hair spray. A paramedic explained, “What happens is the person gets hallucinations and an intense sense of euphoria [high] that lasts for a short time”
He continued, “You do it even once and it can kill you.”
Two friends, Steve and Cody, were sniffing gasoline inside Cody’s living room. Cody spilled some gas on himself. The two teens began fighting, then walked onto the front porch. In a burst of anger, Steve threw a lighted disposable lighter at Cody, which instantly set him ablaze, Cody, age 14, was hospitalized with burns over 40 percent of his body. Steve, age 17, faces criminal charges in New Philadelphia, Ohio.
These teens were the lucky ones. Other teens have lost their life to inhalants. In Chester, New Jersey, on December 21, 1993, Justin and his friends inhaled laughing gas (nitrous oxide). Justin, age 16, collapsed and died.
A Scary Craze Resurfacing
Back in the late 1950s and into the 1960s, reports of glue sniffing hit the news. After that, many people thought inhalant abuse had disappeared for good. It hadn’t. Since 1991, national surveys have shown that inhalant use is skyrocketing, especially among younger teens. It’s a serious problem, especially because so many legal products that can be inhaled are easily available.
A 1994 nationwide survey by the University of Michigan shows that one in every five or six students had tried an inhalant. The researchers found that current use is highest among eighth graders: 20 percent admitted to using inhalants. Until the large increase in marijuana use in the previous year, inhalants were the most widely used drugs among eighth graders. Others recent studies show that teens ages 12 to 14 are the most likely to use inhalants. Some users combine inhalation products, which magnifies the health risk.
Older teens, though, are not as likely to use inhalants. Many quit. Some turn from inhalants to other drugs.
Inhalants Are All Around
About 1,400 ordinary products contain chemical vapors that can be sniffed or inhaled. These products are bought in grocery hardware, and convenient stores across the United States.
Experts put inhalants into three categories:
* Solvents are used in household and undustrial products, including various glues, paint, paint thinner, gasoline, kerosine, lighter fluid, nail polish, fingernail polish remover, varnishes, and cleaning fluids. They’re also in art or office supply products such as correction fluids and felt tip markers.
* Gases are in household and commercial products, including butane lighters and propane tanks, whipping cream aerosols, cooking sprays, and refrigerant gases. They’re also in household aerosol items such as spray paints, hair or deodorant sprays, and fabric protector sprays. Medical gases include ether, chloroform, and nitrous oxide.
* Nitrites are found in room deodorizers.
Are Inhalants Drugs?
Most people never think of these products as drugs, and they are not meant to be drugs. When used properly, they are safe. Always follow the directions when using any aerosols, solvents, or gas. Use them in well-ventilated rooms or outdoors. Never light matches or use lighters around these products, as they can catch fire quickly.
But improper use of inhalants is abuse.
The intense high from inhalants comes fast, within seconds. That’s because 60 percent of the fumes immediately enter the lungs, move into the bloodstream, then go directly to the heart and brain. Depending on the type and amount of chemicals huffed or inhaled, the high can last an hour or two, but usually ends after a few minutes. The body takes two or more weeks to rid itself of the various toxic (poisonous) chemicals in the inhalants.
Headaches and nausea often follow the high and sometimes last for days. Because inhalants act as depressants on the central nervous system, they slow the body down. At low doses, users may feel slightly stimulated, as if they were intoxicated with alcohol. Their speech slurs a little, and they may stagger and feel dizzy. If they inhale more, they may feel out of control and hallucinate. At very high doses, users can become unconscious.
If young people continue to abuse inhalants, different effects will occur: headaches, nausea, mood changes, hallucinations, dizziness, loss of concentration, confusion, and loss of balance. Poor judgment and violent or aggressive behavior sometimes result from abusing inhalants. That’s what happened between Steve and Cody.
Sniffing or inhaling these drugs can severely damage the brain, nervous system, liver, kidneys, blood, and bone marrow. This damage can’t be reversed. Hearing loss can occur from sniffing or inhaling paint sprays, glues, dewaxers, cleaning fluids, and correction fluids. Depending on the chemicals inhaled or sniffed, users can go blind or have memory lapses or permanent brain damage. Some chemicals, such as the benzene in rubber cement, can cause cancer. Sniffing lead-based gasoline or paint puts a teen at high risk for lead poisoning.
Sudden Sniffing Death
There’s another serious problem with inhalant abuse–Sudden Sniffing Death. Remember Justin? He died due to either cardiac (heart) arrest or suffocation from the highly concentrated amounts of nitrous oxide. Here’s what happened.
The chemicals in solvents or aerosol sprays can make the heart beat very fast and erratically, then suddenly stop beating, causing death. That’s cardiac arrest. Or, the inhalant can starve the body of oxygen by pushing the air out of the lungs and central nervous system. All breathing stops and the person dies instantly.
No one knows the number of deaths and accidents due to inhalant use. According to the National Inhalant Prevention Coalition, this information is not tracked across the United States.
No one can predict the amount needed for an inhalant to kill. A teen can huff a certain amount with no serious effects one time, but the next time, that same amount can kill.