Inhalant Drugs: Types, Effects and Consequences

The Inhalant drugs Are volatile substances that produce chemical vapors that can be inhaled to cause a certain psychoactive effect. They are therefore substances whose main use is not consumption. However, when inhaled they produce effects similar to those of Designed drugs Or used for recreational purposes.

Of course, this feature that defines inhalant drugs covers a wide range of chemicals. In fact, today multiple elements have been described that can be inhaled and produce psychoactive effects.


Some examples of inhalant drugs are glues, gasolines, paints or deodorants, among many others. Each of the substances that make up this type of psychoactive elements can have different effects.

The fact that inhalant drugs are not products designed for consumption and recreational use, motivates a high unpredictability of their effects and consequences.

The consumption of these substances is increasingly prevalent in our society. The main factors that motivate the increase in consumption is the reduced price of inhalants compared to other types of drugs.

In this sense, the classification and determination of the characteristics, effects and consequences of inhalant drugs is one of the main topics of interest in research on drug addiction.

The present article describes the types of inhalants that have been described today, and are reviewed, their characteristics, their effects, their prevalence and the medical consequences they cause.

Types of inhalant drugs

The classification of inhalant drugs is one of the main complications of these substances. There are many elements that when inhaled can have psychoactive effects, so that grouping them into categories is highly complex.

Faced with this situation, despite its limitations, the classification system that has obtained the most scientific evidence proposes four categories.

These categories lie mainly in the characteristics of the substances and not so much in the psychoactive effects or Consequences of its consumption .

In this sense, inhalant drugs can be grouped into four different types: volatile solvents, aerosols, gases and nitrites.

1- Volatile solvents

Volatile solvents are liquid substances which are vaporized by the ambient temperature.

They can be found in a wide variety of cheap and easily accessible products, which is why consumption is simple and increasingly prevalent in society.

Volatile solvents include household and industrial products such as: thinners, paint removers, drycleaning liquids, greases, gasoline, glues and liquid correctors.

Obviously, these elements are not produced or marketed for recreational purposes. Their functions are not intended for consumption, however, if they are inhaled they produce psychoactive effects, so they can act as drugs.

2- Aerosols

The aerosol is a colloid of solid or liquid particles suspended in a gas. In fact, the term aerosol refers to both the particles and the gas in which they are suspended.

Thus, these substances are sprinklers containing propellants and solvents. Some products with these characteristics are sprayed paints, deodorants, hair fixatives, cooking oil sprinklers or sprinklers to protect fabrics and fabrics.

Its consumption is done by the same route as the other inhalant drugs, ie, inhalation. The administration of these substances may cause significant psychoactive effects.

3- Gases

Gases are substances of low density that can be extended indefinitely. Inhalant gases include multiple substances that, when consumed, have direct effects on the functioning of the brain.

The most consumed are anesthetics for medical use such as ether, chloroform, halothane and, above all, nitrous oxide.

Other gases consumed as inhalant drugs are household and / or commercial products such as butane lighters, propane tanks and refrigerants.

4- Nitrites

Nitrites are substances formed by salts or esters from nitrous acid. These elements appear by biological oxidation of amines and ammonia or by reduction of nitrate under anaerobic conditions.

These types of substances deserve a differentiation from other inhalant drugs, since they produce different effects. Unlike volatile solvents, aerosols and gases, nitrites do not act directly on the Central Nervous System When consumed.

Nitrites perform extensive dilatation of the blood vessels and relax the muscles, so they are not consumed to alter the mood, but the state of the body.

Thus, elements such as cyclohexyl nitrite, isomalic nitrite or isobutyl nitrite (popularly known as"poppers") are mainly inhaled to enhance sexual pleasure.

Although amyl nitrite was previously used as a treatment for angina, it is now prohibited to market these substances.

However, in the market you can find nitrite easily, marketed in small bottles and labeled as"video head cleaners"or"environmental perfumes".

Mode of consumption

The defining characteristic of inhalant drugs is their mode of consumption. That is, they are substances that are administered through aspiration, either through the nose or through the mouth.

However, the inhalation of these substances can be carried out in various ways. These modalities of consumption depend largely on the qualities of the inhaled substance and the preference of administration of the subject.

At present, 5 different consumption patterns have been described:


It is the most used mode of consumption of inhalant drugs. Try to suck or inhale the vapors directly from the container.

In this case, if glue is consumed, for example, the lid of the container would be opened and the product vapor would be inhaled directly.


The dew technique is mainly applied in aerosols, due to the characteristics of these products.

Aerosols allow direct spraying of the substances, so for consumption the product is applied in the mouth or nose so that the substances penetrate the body.

Inhaling spray mist vapors

This form of consumption is somewhat more elaborate but no less used among individuals who use these drugs.

Try to suck vapors from substances that have been previously sprayed or deposited into a plastic bag or paper. In this way, a more direct contact with the vapors is obtained and the consumption of Psychoactive substances .

Inhaling products applied on a rag

Similar to the previous modality, there are subjects who choose to apply the product in a cloth. Subsequently, the rag is applied in the mouth and / or nose, and the psychoactive substances that have been impregnated in it are aspirated.

Inhaling Balloons

Finally, nitrous oxide presents an extended modality of consumption different from previous ones. In this case, the product is applied in a balloon, and the air inside it is sucked directly.

How many people use inhalant drugs?

Inhalant use is a growing phenomenon in society. More and more people opt for the use of these drugs to achieve effects on the central nervous system.

Inhalants are highly consumed among the younger population. In this sense, a US national survey found that nearly 3% of American children had already inhaled before 10 years of age.

Also, the consumption of these drugs can be extended to adulthood and chronified, so that the abuse of these substances can start already at very early ages.

Another prominent feature of inhalants is that they do not usually have a specific pattern of abuse. That is, an individual who consumes inhalants usually opts for any available inhalant drug, so it may not be limited to abuse of a particular substance.

However, the effects of each inhalant drug are different and each individual may have a marked preference for a particular substance, but also consume other inhalants.

An observational study of the future (MTF) reported that the age of greatest consumption of inhalant drugs is established between 12 and 15 years. Likewise, there appears to be no gender difference in the use of these substances at these ages.

However, in the adult stage (from 18 to 25) there is a greater abuse of inhalant drugs in men than in women.

Thus, it is concluded that inhalant drugs are substances highly consumed. Between 13 and 14 years of age, these elements present a prevalence of abuse similar to that Marijuana (16%) and higher than cocaine or the LSD .

From 16 years of age, its prevalence is reduced to approximately 10%, and is clearly outnumbered by marijuana, which amounts to 30-40%.

How do inhalant drugs come to the brain?

Whatever the mode of consumption of inhalants, the result is the same. Through aspiration, substances in the products are quickly absorbed through the mouth or nose.

As with oxygen when breathed, substances are quickly absorbed through the lungs, and through them, they reach the blood. Once they are in the blood, the substances travel all over the body, until they reach the brain.

During the seconds after consumption the individual experiences intoxication, due to the rapid arrival of substances into the brain. The initial intoxication is characterized by a series of effects similar to those originating from alcohol.

Effects of inhalant drugs

Each of the inhalant drugs can produce different and varied pharmacological effects. However, most of them share a number of characteristics.

Inhalant drugs usually produce a rapid sensation of euphoria, accompanied by an initial excitement followed by drowsiness, disinhibition, stunning and agitation.

With high amounts, the consumption of inhalants produces anesthesia, loss of sensitivity, and extreme abuses can lead to loss of consciousness.

Other symptoms that can cause inhalant drugs include belligerence, apathy , Impaired judgment and maladaptive operation.

Also, dizziness, drowsiness, babbling, lethargy, general muscle weakness and stupor are signs that can easily appear.

On the other hand, recent studies have shown that people who use these substances can also experience Headaches , Feeling of wobbling, confusion, delusions, nausea and vomiting.

Finally, inhaled nitrites cause somewhat different effects. They dilate blood vessels, increase heart rate, produce heat sensations, arousal and cause symptoms such as flushing or dizziness.

Addiction to Inhalant Drugs

The abuse of inhalant drugs for prolonged periods of time, usually generates a clear addiction.

Most consumers often report a strong need to continue using inhalants. Prolonged abuse can lead to compulsive use of these substances.

Inhalant drugs can also cause abstinence syndrome In the addicted person. However, this one of less seriousness compared to that originating other substances like the alcohol , Cocaine or marijuana.


Inhalant drug abuse is a clear risk factor for a wide range of diseases. In fact, it is considered that the consequences of the consumption of these substances are devastating for the person.

The worst consequence that can result from inhalation of substances is heart failure, which causes the syndrome known as"sudden death by inhalation."

Other negative consequences of the consumption of these drugs include; Choking, suffocation, Convulsions , Coma, choking, gradual decrease of smell, Violent behavior , Hepatitis, difficulty in sphincter control and death trauma.

Finally, research on the effects of inhalant drugs reveals that they are highly toxic. Thus, the habitual consumption of these substances peripheral nervous system of the brain.


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