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:
Paint thinners, glues, petrol, correction fluid
Deodorants, hairsprays, spray paints
Nitrous oxide (laughing gas), propane, fire extinguishers
Room deodorisers, leather cleaner
"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?
In 2014, approximately one in eight (11.4%) Australian students (aged 12–17 years old) reported having ever used inhalants.
What are the effects?
Most inhalants have an immediate effect and usually only give a high 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 NHMRC Centre of Research Excellence in Mental Health and Substance Use and National Drug & Alcohol Research Centre, UNSW. See detailed attachment for a list of sources for this information.