Drugs A to Z

This resource has undergone expert review.

Resource Overview

Time Allocated

Partial lesson (under 45mins)





Inhalants: Factsheet

Year: Year 9–10, Year 11–12
Targeted Drugs:

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
  • Gases
  • Nitrites

Personal Stories

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 of Inhalants?

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.

The effects of inhalants can be immediate or long-term, as listed in the table below.


  • Increased heart rate
  • Feeling light headed and dizzy
  • Loss of inhibitions
  • Agitation
  • Loss of coordination and balance
  • Irritation to the eyes, nose and throat
  • Aggressive behaviour
  • Slurred speech
  • Headaches
  • Confusion and drowsiness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Hallucinations (e.g. seeing or hearing things that aren’t really there)
  • Suffocation
  • Seizures
  • ‘Sudden sniffing death’ syndrome.  

Inhaling these substances can cause heart failure within a few minutes.


  • Dependence (addiction)
  • Brain damage
  • Tremors
  • 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.


Evidence Base

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. 

  • Credit to the Home Office for quotes adapted from Talk to Frank.

Page last reviewed: 1 November 2019.