Acute Effects

Inhalants are psychoactive drugs that alter one's physical and psychological perceptions of the world, resulting in a wide range of effects while being under the influence of the chemicals. Inhalants are categorized as a depressant, and work on many neurotransmitters, providing an overall feeling of drunkenness (Levinthal, 2012). The high can last anywhere between 15-45 minutes depending on the does, providing feelings of:
  • Euphoriadeppressants.jpg
  • Giddiness
  • Hallucinations
  • Dizziness
  • Double-vision

Unfortunately, many inhalants are irritating chemicals as they can result in immediate corrosive burns to the face and irritation to the throat and eyes (Yucel, Zalesky, Takagi, Bora, & Fornito, 2010). Moreover, since the route of administration involves covering one's face to breath in a poisonous substance, it can result in sudden sniffing death. Ridenour (2005), shows 22% of individuals will die from sniffing while using solvents. The average percentage of oxygen in the air is 21%, so when the air quality is below this, the body begins to suffocate and eventually dies. Ringwalt & Schlenger (2005), describe an additional process where sudden sniffing death can occur; because some inhalants are vasodialators, lowering blood pressure but raising the heart rate, so if afterwards someone were to do something to increase the heart rate further, the heart can overload and stop working. Severe injury has also been attributed to the behavioural effects of inhalants (Levinthal, 2012). Depressants lower the inhibitions of an individual, therefore inhalant use has been associated with reckless behaviour. Due to the disinhibition and occurrence of hallucinations, at times individuals may experience moments of invincibility (Levinthal, 2012). These experiences can then result in people leaping off buildings or running into traffic.

Chronic Effects

Long-term inhalant use can be more dangerous then compared to others drugs because it is toxic and lipophillic, being able to cause a great deal of brain damage (Yucel et al., 2010). Many inhalants are lipophilic because they are designed to break down fats and oils therefore, by using inhalants the percentage of the brain that is composed of fats is damaged. The myelin sheath that insulates nerve axons has about 75% lipid composition and results in breakdown of this sheath (Yucel et al., 2010).
Myelin is the reason why neural transmission occurs as fast as it does, meaning that the deterioration of myelin can have detrimental and permanent effects on thought processing, motor functioning, and speech. Some psychological effects due to the chronic use of inhalants include (Ridenour, 2005):


  • Dementia
  • Anxiety
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  • Memory Loss
  • Psychosis
  • Attention-deficit

In addition, long-term inhalant use also has a long list of physiological effects not occurring in the central nervous system due to the toxic chemicals circulating consistently throughout the body
(Anthony et al., 1994):
  • Cardiovascular Weakening
  • Coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath
  • Liver Toxicity
  • Renal [[#|Failure]]
  • Bone marrow suppression leading to anemia and leukemia

Some inhalants have specific consequences due to its unique effects. For example nitrites cause smooth muscle to relax and an create an intensification of positive emotion (Ringwalt & Schlenger, 2005). The relaxation of the smooth muscles, for example makes anal sex easier therefore, making nitrites popular with gay males. Ridenour (2005), has found that nitrites also suppress one's immune functioning. In combination with the likelihood of risky behaviour in the gay community, nitrites have been affiliated with an increase of HIV infection.

Inhalant use has also shown to have teratogenic effects, which appear very similar to the effects of alcohol (Hannigan & Bowen, 2010). Children born from a mother who have used inhalants while pregnant have similar features to that of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders. Some of these features include: smaller than average brain, mental retardation, craniofacial abnormalities, and hyperavtivity (Hannigan & Bowen, 2010).