Drug Facts – Inhalants


Inhalants are volatile substances that produce chemical vapors that can be inhaled to induce a psychoactive, or mind-altering, effect. Inhalants include a broad range of chemicals found in hundreds of different products that may have different pharmacological effects. There are four general categories of inhalants:

  • Volatile solvents are liquids that vaporize at room temperature and are found in products such as paint thinners/removers, dry-cleaning fluids, gasoline, correction fluids, and felt-tip marker fluids.
  • Aerosols are sprays that contain propellants and solvents and include spray paints, deodorant and hair sprays, vegetable oil sprays for cooking, and fabric protector sprays.
  • Gases used as inhalants include medical anesthetics (ether, chloroform, and nitrous oxide) as well as gases used in household or commercial products (butane lighters, propane tanks, whipped cream dispensers, and refrigerants).
  • Nitrites include cyclohexyl nitrite, isoamyl (amyl) nitrite, and isobutyl (butyl) nitrite, and are commonly known as “poppers” or “snappers.”

Extent of Use

According to the 2008 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), approximately 22.3 million Americans aged 12 or older reported using inhalants at least once during their lifetimes, representing 8.9% of the population aged 12 or older. Approximately 2 million (0.8%) reported past year inhalant use and 640,000 (0.3%) reported past month inhalant use.

In 2008, there were 729,000 persons aged 12 or older who had used inhalants for the first time within the past 12 months; 70.4% were under age 18 when they first used. There was no significant difference in the number of inhalant initiates between 2007 and 2008, but the 2008 estimate was significantly below the number in 2003 (871,000), 2004 (857,000), and 2005 (877,000). However, there was a significant decrease in the average age at first use among recent initiates aged 12 to 49 from 2007 (17.1 years) to 2008 (15.9 years).

Among students surveyed as part of the 2008 Monitoring the Future study, 15.7% of eighth graders, 12.8% of tenth graders, and 9.9% of twelfth graders reported lifetime use of inhalants.

Approximately 33.9% of eighth graders and 41.2% of tenth graders surveyed in 2008 reported that trying inhalants once or twice was a “great risk.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also conducts a survey of high school students throughout the United States called the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS). Among students surveyed for the 2007 YRBSS, 13.3% reported using inhalants at least one time during their lifetimes.

Approximately 6.3% of college students and 9.1% of young adults (ages 19–28) surveyed in 2007 reported lifetime use of inhalants.

According to data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, approximately 13.6% of State prisoners and 7.5% of Federal prisoners surveyed in 2004 indicated that they used inhalants at some point in their lives.

Health Effects

Most inhalants act directly on the central nervous system (CNS) to produce psychoactive, or mind-altering, effects. They have short-term effects similar to anesthetics, which slow the body’s functions.

Most inhalants produce a rapid high that resembles alcohol intoxication with initial excitation, then drowsiness, disinhibition, lightheadedness, and agitation. If sufficient amounts are inhaled, nearly all solvents and gases produce anesthesia, a loss of sensation, and even loss of consciousness.

Prolonged sniffing of the highly concentrated chemicals in solvents or aerosol sprays can induce irregular and rapid heart rhythms and lead to heart failure and death within minutes of a session of prolonged sniffing. This syndrome, known as “sudden sniffing death,” can result from a single session of inhalant use. Chronic exposure to inhalants can produce significant, sometimes irreversible, damage to the heart, lungs, liver, and kidneys.

A strong need to continue using inhalants has been reported among many individuals, particularly those who abuse inhalants for prolonged periods over many days. Compulsive use and a mild withdrawal syndrome can occur with long-term inhalant abuse. Additional symptoms exhibited by long-term inhalant abusers include weight loss, muscle weakness, disorientation, inattentiveness, lack of coordination, irritability, and depression.

Of an estimated 113 million emergency department (ED) visits in the U.S. during 2006, the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) estimates that 1,742,887 were drug-related. DAWN data indicate that inhalants were involved in 5,643 ED visits.


From 1997 to 2007, the number of admissions to treatment in which inhalants was the primary drug of abuse decreased from 1,819 in 1997 to 992 in 2007. Inhalant admissions represented 0.1% of the total drug/alcohol admissions to treatment during both 1997 and 2007.

Those admitted to treatment for inhalants during 2007 were primarily male (63.9%) and white (64%). Approximately 50% of the inhalant admissions in 2007 involved clients under the age of 20.


Although not regulated under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), many State legislatures have attempted to deter youth who buy legal products to get high by placing restrictions on the sale of these products to minors. As reported by the National Conference of State Legislatures, by 2000, 38 States had adopted laws preventing the sale, use, and/or distribution to minors of various products commonly abused as inhalants. Some States have introduced fines, incarceration, or mandatory treatment for the sale, distribution, use, and/or possession of inhalable chemicals.

Street Terms

Term Definition
Air Blast Inhalants
Bagging Using Inhalants
Buzz Bomb Nitrous Oxide
Climax Isobutyl Nitrate
Glading Using Inhalants
Gluey Sniffing or Inhaling Glue
Huffer Inhalant Abuser
Poor Man’s Pot Inhalants

Taken from the Office of National Drug Control Policy Website.