What are inhalants?
Inhalants, also known as volatile substances or solvents, are substances that are sniffed or breathed in through the nose and/or mouth to give the user an immediate high.
There are four main types of inhalants:
- Volatile solvents
- Aerosol sprays
"My son was sniffing aerosols. Not all the time but now and then. He was at my sister’s house and he inhaled an air freshener. He passed out and went into cardiac arrest which killed him instantly." —Natalie, 41
How many young people have used inhalants?
According to the 2017 Australian secondary schools' survey, approximately 1 in 8 (13%) Australian students (aged 12–17 years old) reported having used inhalants in the last year.
What are the effects?
Most inhalants have an immediate effect. The high usually only lasts for a few minutes. Users sometimes keep on sniffing to prolong the high — in some cases this can lead to loss of consciousness, brain damage, and even death.
Effects of inhalants vary, but may include:
- Increased heart rate
- Feeling light headed and dizzy
- Loss of inhibitions
- Loss of coordination and balance
- Irritation to the eyes, nose and throat
- Aggressive behaviour
- Slurred speech
- Confusion and drowsiness
- Nausea and vomiting
- Hallucinations (e.g. seeing or hearing things that aren’t really there)
- ‘Sudden sniffing death’ syndrome.
Inhaling these substances can cause heart failure within a few minutes.
- Dependence (addiction)
- Brain damage
- Problems breathing
- Loss of hearing and vision
- Increased risk of leukaemia from petrol sniffing
- Damage to the immune system, bones, nerves, kidney, liver, heart, and lungs.
This factsheet was developed following expert review by researchers at the Matilda Centre for Research in Mental Health and Substance Use, The University of Sydney, the National Drug & Alcohol Research Centre, UNSW. See detailed attachment for a list of sources for this information.
Page last reviewed: 8 May 2019.