How do Inhalants Affect Your Body?


Inhalant use can cause damage to the heart, kidneys, brain, liver, bone marrow and other organs.

  • Inhalants starve the body of oxygen and force the heart to beat irregularly and more rapidly.
  • Users can experience nausea and nosebleeds and lose their sense of hearing or smell. Chronic use can lead to muscle wasting and reduced muscle tone, and the poisonous chemicals gradually damage the lungs and the immune system.
  • An inhalant user risks Sudden Sniffing Death Syndrome. Death can occur the first time or the hundredth time an inhalant is used.

“It was a steady progression from glue sniffing, gas sniffing, magic mushrooms, that went on until I was 17. Then I started on cannabis. I was spending my money on as much cannabis as I could get my hands on. Then I was old enough to go into the clubs, so I started there on amphetamines and Ecstasy….

“I began hanging out with people who were taking heroin, and soon I was using it more and more until I was addicted. I had no idea then the damage it would cause me later…that I would be serving one prison sentence after another, burglarizing people’s houses, stealing from my family. All the pain and heartache that I have caused was worse than stealing the material things from them.” —Dennis


Most inhalants act directly on the nervous system to produce mind-altering effects. Within seconds, the user experiences intoxication and other effects similar to those from alcohol. There are a variety of effects that may be experienced during or shortly after use, including:

  • Slurred speech
  • Drunk, dizzy or dazed appearance
  • Inability to coordinate movement
  • Hallucinations and delusions
  • Hostility
  • Apathy
  • Impaired judgment
  • Unconsciousness
  • Severe headaches
  • Rashes around the nose and mouth
  • Prolonged sniffing of these chemicals can induce irregular and rapid heartbeat and lead to heart failure and death within minutes.
  • Death from suffocation can occur by replacing oxygen in the lungs with the chemical, and then in the central nervous system, so that breathing ceases.


Long-term users have experienced:

  • Muscle weakness
  • Disorientation
  • Lack of coordination
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Serious and sometimes irreversible damage to the heart, liver, kidneys, lungs and brain
  • Memory impairment, diminished intelligence
  • Hearing loss
  • Bone marrow damage
  • Deaths from heart failure or asphyxiation (loss of oxygen)

The chronic use of inhalants has been associated with a number of serious health problems. Sniffing glue and paint thinner causes kidney problems. Sniffing toluene and other solvents causes liver damage. Inhalant abuse has also resulted in memory impairment and diminished intelligence.

Inhalants can be categorized into four different types:


LIQUIDS that vaporize at room temperatures. These are found in numerous easily available household and industrial products including paint thinners, degreasers, gasoline, glues, correction fluids and felt-tip marker fluids.

SPRAYS such as spray paints, deodorant and hair sprays, vegetable oil sprays for cooking and fabric protector sprays.

GASES including medical anesthetics (ether, chloroform and nitrous oxide, commonly called “laughing gas”), butane lighters, propane tanks, whipped cream dispensers and refrigerants.

NITRITES (a chemical compound found in food preservatives, leather cleaner, room deodorizers, etc.) are considered a special class of inhalants which act directly on the central nervous system, brain and spinal cord. They are used mainly as sexual enhancers and are commonly known as “poppers” or “snappers.”

“For three days, a friend gave me glue free of cost. On the fourth day he asked for money from me. By then, I was addicted and I had to give him money to get a tube of glue. I needed several tubes of glue daily.” —Marty

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