The Effects of Inhalants

Sudden Sniffing Death SyndromeWhat Inhalation Leads To...

The side effects of inhalants, when they're abused as drugs, vary enormously. What may give one person a short lived high may give another person a very quick death.

Despite having different uses and ingredients, the majority of inhalants have the same effect of slowing down the function of the body rather like an anaesthetic or alcohol. Depending on how much has been inhaled, most users immediately feel a bit of a high and they become less anxious or self conscious.

High doses, however, can lead to on unconsciousness or Sudden Sniffing Death Syndrome - particularly associated with butane, propane and aerosols. This can happen the first time someone abuses an inhalant or the 100 th time - it's rather like a game of Russian roulette.

More on Inhalant Effects...

An inhalant is basically a depressant of the central nervous system. When it suppresses the speech centre, talking becomes slurred. Depressing the co-ordination centre results in loss of balance and control and the affect on the vision centre leads to distorted vision.

There are exceptions to this - namely amyl and butyl nitrates. These so called party drugs work by widening the blood vessels and bringing an immediate rush to the brain. Sniffing nitrates makes the user feel very light headed. Some report a feeling of warmth and sensuality. The effects are short lived and usually only last a minute or so but these are enough to make them a popular drug for clubbers wanting a quick fix. A number of people get headaches after using nitrates and report nausea, coughing and dizziness but many users say the good outweighs the bad.

Nitrates aside, the short term adverse effects of abusing inhalants include dilated pupils, palpitations, breathing difficulties, disorientation, headaches, nausea and a chemical smell on the breath. In extreme cases they include death from suffocation or heart failure - in the UK and USA more than a third of deaths from inhalant abuse involve first time users. Death usually results from the user sniffing a very high concentration, often from a bag in which the fumes have been allowed to gather. Inhaling straight from an aerosol spray can may cause a freezing of the back of the throat and therefore the air passages leading to immediate suffocation.

Some first time users say they experience vivid hallucinations and a tingling sensation in their hands and feet. The jury's out on whether the latter is psychological or physical.

In the long term there are no good side effects. Constant abuse of inhalants can cause severe long term damage to the liver, kidneys, brain and blood. Some inhalants can lead to the body producing fewer of all types of blood cells, resulting in life-threatening aplastic anaemia. Some of these effects disappear after use is discontinued. Others, such as brain damage, are irreversible and some users never recover their full mental ability and concentration.

Long term use leads to tolerance and addiction, both physically and psychologically. If users want to stop they must expect to suffer withdrawal symptoms just like any other drug abusers.


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