Inhalant Use

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Inhalants are substances that produce chemical vapors that are mind-altering when inhaled. These substances are common household, industrial, or medical products. Most people don't think of them as drugs because they are not meant to be used in that way.

Inhalants include:

  • Solvents (such as paint thinners and degreasers), gasoline, glues, and office supplies (such as correction fluids, felt-tip markers, and electronics cleaners).
  • Gases. These include household products such as aerosol computer cleaners, butane lighters, whipping cream aerosols (whippets), spray paints, hair or deodorant sprays, vegetable oil sprays, and fabric protector sprays.
  • Nitrites. The prescription medicine is called amyl nitrite. An illegal form of amyl nitrite, called poppers or snappers, is often packaged and sold in small bottles. Common air fresheners also contain nitrites that can be inhaled.

These substances can be inhaled in different ways. For example, aerosols can be sprayed directly into the nose or mouth. Nitrous oxide can be inhaled directly from balloons. Terms for the way inhalants are used include:

  • Sniffing or snorting, when fumes are inhaled from a container.
  • Bagging, when fumes are inhaled from substances sprayed or placed inside a plastic bag.
  • Huffing, when fumes are inhaled from a soaked rag placed in the mouth or held to the face.

Effects of inhalants

When inhalants are breathed, they can cause:

  • Effects similar to those of drinking alcohol. These may include slurred speech, lack of coordination, and dizziness.
  • Lightheadedness and possibly hallucinations and delusions.

The effects last only a few minutes.

After heavy use of an inhalant, the person may have a headache and feel drowsy for several hours. A person who inhales repeatedly over several hours may pass out and die.

Inhaling some substances can cause long-term health problems, such as brain, liver, kidney, blood, or bone marrow damage. Long-term use of inhalants also causes:

  • Weight loss.
  • Muscle weakness and lack of coordination.
  • Disorientation and inattentiveness.
  • Irritability and depression.

Inhalants are often not found with urine or blood drug screening tests. They have usually been passed from the body by the time the test is done.

Signs of use

Signs that a person may be using inhalants include:

  • Chemical odors on the person's clothing or breath.
  • Having empty containers, discarded soaked rags, or clothing hidden in the trash.
  • Having red eyes, frequent headaches, and slurred speech.
  • Personality changes, such as acting irritable or seeming drunk.
  • Sores around the mouth.


Current as of: November 15, 2023

Author: Healthwise Staff
Clinical Review Board
All Healthwise education is reviewed by a team that includes physicians, nurses, advanced practitioners, registered dieticians, and other healthcare professionals.

The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.