NurseAsk Nurse Lisa


What are Inhalants?

Inhalants are substances that are misused by people inhaling them. Although different inhalants cause different effects, they generally fall into one of four categories.

Volatile Solvents

Liquids that become gas at room temperature. They are found in:

  • paint thinner, nail polish remover, degreaser, dry-cleaning fluid, gasoline and contact cement
  • some art of office supplies, such as correction fluid, felt-tip marker fluid, glue and electronic contact cleaner


Substances under pressure that are released as a fine spray. They include:

  • spray paint, hair spray, deodorant spray, vegetable oil sprays, and fabric protector spray


Household or commercial products or used in the medical field to provide pain relief. They are found in:

  • butane lighters, propane tanks, whipped cream dispensers, and refrigerant gases
  • anesthesia, including ether, chloroform, halothane, and nitrous oxide (commonly called “laughing gas”).


often sold in small brown bottles and labeled as:

  • organic nitrates, such as amyl, butyl, and cyclohexyl nitrites and other related compounds
  • amyl nitrite, used in the past by doctors to help with chest pain and sometimes used today to diagnose heart problems
  • nitrites, now banned but can still be found being sold in small bottles labeled as “video head cleaner,” “room deodorizer,” “leather cleaner,” or “liquid aroma.”

People who use inhalants breathe in the fumes (also known as “huffing” or “sniffing” chemicals) through their nose or mouth.

Inhalants are usually products that can be bought in a convenience store or found at home or work. Inhalants are substances that contain dangerous chemicals that can affect a person’s mood and seriously harm their body. Products like these contain dangerous chemicals that slow down the central nervous system and can cause long-term damage to the kidneys and brain function.


Using inhalants cause death, even after just one use. Addiction to inhalants can happen. Using inhalants over and over again can cause mild withdrawal when stopped. Sometimes it is easy to tell if someone is using inhalants, signs of use include:

  • chemical odors on breath or clothing
  • paint or other stains on the face, hands, or clothing
  • hidden empty spray paint or solvent containers, or rags or clothing soaked with chemicals
  • drunk or disoriented actions
  • slurred speech
  • nausea (feeling sick) or loss of appetite and weight loss
  • confusion, inattentiveness, lack of coordination, irritability, and depression
  • purchase of excessive amounts of products used as inhalants

Depending on the type of inhalants used, the harmful health effects will differ. Different types of inhalants and their possible effects are described below:

Amyl nitrite, butyl nitrite (poppers, video head cleaner)

  • sudden sniffing death
  • weakened immune system
  • damage to red blood cells (interfering with oxygen supply to vital tissues)

Benzene (gasoline)

  • bone marrow damage
  • weakened immune system
  • increased risk of leukemia (a form of cancer)
  • reproductive system complications

Butate, propane (lighter fluid, hair and paint sprays)

  • sudden sniffing death from heart effects
  • serious burn injuries

Freon-difluoroethane substitutes (refrigerant and aerosol propellant)

  • sudden sniffing death
  • breathing problems and death (from sudden cooling of airways)
  • liver damage

Methylene chloride (paint thinners and removers, degreasers)

  • reduced ability to blood to carry oxygen to the brain and body
  • changes in heart muscle and heartbeat

Nitrous oxide, hexane (“laughing gas”)

  • death from lack of oxygen to the brain
  • altered perception and motor coordination
  • loss of sensation
  • spasms
  • blackouts caused by blood pressure changes
  • depression of heart muscle functioning

Toluene (gasoline, paint thinners, and removers, correction fluid)

  • brain damage (loss of brain tissue, impaired thinking, loss of coordination, limb spasms, hearing and vision loss)
  • liver and kidney damage

Trichloroethylene (spot removers, degreasers)

  • sudden sniffing death
  • liver disease
  • reproductive problems
  • hearing and vision loss

Get Help

For general resources about relationships, sex, wellness and more, please do a search on the Get Answers page.

Are you in immediate danger?

Call 911 or your local police. If not in an immediate threat, please view resources on the Get Care page.