What are the Different Types of Inhalant Drugs?

Nick Doniger

While the concept of drug abuse is often associated with illicit and illegal substances, common household items that contain harmful vapors are often abused for their intoxicating effects. The use of inhalant drugs has become a serious problem among teens since such substances are legal, inexpensive, and easily accessible. This form of drug abuse frequently results in consequences no less severe than the abuse of illegal drugs. Parents who suspect that their child or teen may be using inhalant drugs may wish to be aware of the different types that are readily available. Examples of common household items that can be abused include nail polish remover, glues, and lighter fluid.

Nail polish remover is sometimes abused as an inhalant.
Nail polish remover is sometimes abused as an inhalant.

Substances which contain volatile solvents, such as nail polish remover, gasoline, lighter fluid, paint, paint thinner, rubber glue, and varnishes can cause intoxicating effects when inhaled. The high from such inhalant drugs is, however, short lived. Chemicals in such solvents, including benzene, methanol, isobutyl nitrate, and amyl nitrate, enter the brain quickly and initiate a quick rush. Users sometimes describe the high as causing their perceptions to become briefly distorted. Headaches, nausea, anxiety, and loss of coordination are also frequently experienced.

Inhalant drugs, like spray paint, can cause dangerous health issues.
Inhalant drugs, like spray paint, can cause dangerous health issues.

Household glues rank among the most commonly used inhalant drugs. Glue is often placed inside of a bag and the user then “huffs,” or deeply inhales, its fumes. The street term “bagging” is most likely derived from this practice. Occasionally, a person may unwittingly become high from household glue, such as when it is spread on the inside of a painter's mask. Similar instances of unplanned intoxication are possible with any household substance that may be abused as an inhalant drug.

Some people have been known to inhale glue to get high.
Some people have been known to inhale glue to get high.

Nitrous oxide, often referred to as laughing gas or buzz bomb, is a common inhalant. Dentists often use this type of drug when performing surgery in order to allow the patient to relax. One of the most common household dispensers of this drug is the ordinary store-bought whipped cream canister. As the dispenser is pressed down lightly enough so as to avoid actually dispensing any of its solid and liquid contents, nitrous oxide is released. This process is known as a “whippet” in street slang.

Inhalant drugs are associated with hippie culture.
Inhalant drugs are associated with hippie culture.

Many other types of inhalant drugs have their own street terms. In addition to being called bagging, the general use of inhalants is sometimes referred to as “glading,” and inhalants themselves are dubbed “air blast,” “discorama,” “hippie crack,” and “poor man's pot,” among other terms. Specific chemicals are sometimes given street names, as well. Toluene, a common chemical in inhalant drugs, is often called “tolly.” Users sometimes refer to dispensers of amyl nitrate as “poppers” and dispensers of isobutyl nitrate as “snappers.

The abuse of inhalant drugs has been linked to cognitive impairment and damage to vital organs. Glue and paint thinners have been known to cause kidney abnormalities, and the solvents toluene and trichloroethylene may damage the liver. In severe instances, death from asphyxiation and heart failure has been reported due to the abuse of inhalant drugs.

The use of inhalant drugs has become a serious problem among teens.
The use of inhalant drugs has become a serious problem among teens.

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