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What are the Different Types of Inhalant?

By D. Jeffress
Updated: Mar 03, 2024

An inhalant is a commercial, industrial, or medical product that is purposely drawn into the lungs to achieve psychoactive effects. Inhalants are used as recreational drugs primarily because they are inexpensive and legal to purchase, though they can be extremely dangerous or even fatal to users. Most inhalants fall into one of three main categories: aerosols, solvents, or gases. Among the most popular types of inhalant are gasoline, spray paint, hairspray, paint thinners, and glues.

Aerosols are one of the most common types of inhalant, as well as one of the easiest to obtain. Many household products that come in spray cans, including spray paint, cooking spray, hairspray, and computer dusters can be concentrated and inhaled. Individuals usually spray the product into a paper bag, bottle, or other container, and take deep breaths with it over their face so they may inhale the ingredients. Aerosols contain chemicals which provide and immediate, short-lasting feeling of euphoria and lightheadedness. Frequent use can lead to nausea, vomiting, drowsiness, and confusion.

Solvents such as gasoline, paint thinners, and glues can also be used improperly as inhalants. Most people who use solvents either place a saturated rag over their faces or sniff the vapors directly from the source, such as a can of paint thinner or a gasoline tank. Solvents can cause hallucinations, delusions, and dizziness. It is common for an inhalant abuser to experience headaches and nausea for several hours after use. In addition, delayed health problems can arise when an individual inhales a product that contains lead, carcinogens, or other known hazards.

An individual may also abuse various types of medical and commercial gases, including nitrous oxide, amyl nitrites, ether, and refrigerants. When used properly, a medical gas is an effective anesthetic for patients who undergo surgical or dental procedures. It is carefully regulated by a trained anesthesiologist or nurse to ensure safe amounts are administered. When used as a recreational drug, large doses of an anesthetic can cause an individual to feel disoriented for hours at a time.

Abusing any type of inhalant can lead to serious short-term and long-term health effects. The concentrated chemicals in inhalants can cause permanent brain, liver, and kidney damage, heart failure, central nervous system problems, and allergic reactions, among many other dangerous conditions. An individual who has abused inhalants, even if it was many years ago, should consult his or her primary care physician to check for signs of permanent damage. Doctors can suggest rehabilitation therapy, substance abuse treatment, or medication to help active users overcome their problems and work towards healthier lifestyles.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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