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Dr. Steve Frisch, Psy.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice in
Chicago, Illinois and Northfield, Illinois.

You can contact Dr. Frisch, Psy.D. at drfrisch@aliveandwellnews.com  or at
(847) 604-3290.

Recover from chemical dependency as well as its toxic impact on family members. Raise your children to choose to be alcohol and other drugs free. Learn how to in Dr. Frisch’s, Psy.D. Recovery book series.

Facts About…


What is it called?

What does it look like?

How is it used?

Nitrous Oxide

Laughing gas or Whippets

Small 8-gram metal cylinder sold with a balloon or pipe propellant for whipped cream in aerosol spray can

Vapors inhaled

Amyl Nitrite

Poppers or Snappers

Clear yellowish liquid in ampules

Vapors inhaled

Butyl Nitrite

Rush, Bolt, Bullet, Locker Room, and Climax

In small bottles

Vapors inhaled


Aerosol sprays or cleaning fluids

Aerosol paint cans

Vapors inhaled



Cans of aerosol propellants, gasoline, glue, paint thinner

Vapors inhaled

Inhalants are volatile substances that produce chemical vapors that can be inhaled to induce a psychoactive, or mind-altering, effect. Although other abused substances can be inhaled, the term inhalants is used to describe a variety of substances whose main common characteristic is that they are rarely, if ever, taken by any route other than inhalation. This definition encompasses a broad range of chemicals found in hundreds of different products that may have different pharmacological effects. As a result, precise categorization of inhalants is difficult. One classification system lists four general categories of inhalants: 1.) Volatile Solvents, 2.) Aerosol, 3.) Gases, and 4.) Nitrites-based on the form in which they are often found in household, industrial, and medical products.

Volatile solvents are liquids that vaporize at room temperatures. They are found in a multitude of inexpensive, easily available products used for common household and industrial purposes. These include paint thinners and removers, dry-cleaning fluids, degreasers, gasoline, glues, correction fluids, and felt-tip marker fluids.

Aerosols are sprays that contain propellants and solvents. They include spray paints, deodorant and hair sprays, vegetable oil sprays for cooking, and fabric protector sprays.

Gases include medical anesthetics as well as gases used in household or commercial products. Medical anesthetic gases include ether, chloroform, halothane, and nitrous oxide, commonly called laughing gas. Nitrous oxide is the most abused of these gases and can be found in whipped cream dispensers and products that boost octane levels in racing cars. Household or commercial products containing gases include butane lighters, propane tanks, whipped cream dispensers, and refrigerants.

Nitrites often are considered a special class of inhalants. Unlike most other inhalants, which act directly on the central nervous system (CNS), nitrites act primarily to dilate blood vessels and relax the muscles. And while other inhalants are used to alter mood, nitrites are used primarily as sexual enhancers. Nitrites include cyclohexyl nitrite, isoamyl (amyl) nitrite, and isobutyl (butyl) nitrite. Cyclohexyl nitrite is found in room odorizers. Amyl nitrite is used in certain diagnostic procedures and is prescribed to some patients for heart pain. Illegally diverted ampules of amyl nitrite are called poppers or snappers on the street. Butyl nitrite is an illegal substance that is often packaged and sold in small bottles also referred to as poppers.

None of these are safe to inhale—they all can kill you. Inhalants are sniffed or huffed to give the user an immediate head rush or high. Inhalant use can cause a number of physical and emotional problems, and even one-time use can result in death.

Because inhalants affect your brain with much greater speed and force than many other substances, they can cause irreversible physical and mental damage before you know what’s happened. The immediate negative effects of inhalants include nausea, sneezing, coughing, nosebleeds, fatigue, lack of coordination, and loss of appetite. Deeply inhaling the vapors, or using large amounts over a short time, may result in disorientation, violent behavior, unconsciousness, or death. High concentrations of inhalants can cause suffocation by displacing the oxygen in the lungs or by depressing the central nervous system to the point that breathing stops.

Solvents and aerosol sprays also decrease the heart and respiratory rates and impair judgment. Amyl and butyl nitrite cause rapid pulse, headaches, and involuntary passing of urine and feces. Long-term use may result in.

Long-term use can cause weight loss, fatigue, electrolyte imbalance, muscle fatigue, hepatitis, or brain damage. Repeated sniffing of concentrated vapors over time can permanently damage the nervous system.

Inhalants starve the body of oxygen and force the heart to beat irregularly and more rapidly—that can be dangerous for your body.

People who use inhalants can lose their sense of smell, experience nausea, nosebleeds, and develop liver, lung, and kidney problems. Chronic use can lead to muscle wasting and reduced muscle tone and strength.

Pathfinder’s Checklist
How inhalants affect you.

1.) Inhalants affect your brain.
2.) Inhalants affect your heart.
3.) Inhalants can cause sudden death.
4.) Inhalants damage other parts of your body.
5.) Inhalants can kill you instantly.

Pathfinder’s Checklist
Short-term affects of inhalants.

1.) Heart palpitations
2.) Breathing difficulty
3.) Dizziness
4.) Headaches

Pathfinder’s Checklist
Risks associate with consuming inhalants even one time.

1.) Sudden death
2.) Suffocation
3.) Visual hallucinations and severe mood swings
4.) Numbness and tingling of the hands and feet

Pathfinder’s Checklist
Risks associate with prolonged consumption of inhalants.

1.) Headache, muscle weakness, abdominal pain
2.) Decrease or loss of sense of smell
3.) Nausea and nosebleeds
4.) Hepatitis
5.) Violent behaviors
6.) Irregular heartbeat
7.) Liver, lung, and kidney impairment
8.) Irreversible brain damage
9.) Nervous system damage
10.) Dangerous chemical imbalances in the body
11.) Involuntary passing of urine and feces

Pathfinder’s Checklist
Death from consumption of inhalants can occur in at least five ways.

1.) Asphyxia—solvent gases can significantly limit available oxygen in the air, causing breathing to stop
2.) Suffocation—typically seen with inhalant users who use bags
3.) Choking on vomit
4.) Careless behaviors in potentially dangerous settings
5.) Sudden sniffing death syndrome, presumably from cardiac arrest

 Pathfinder’s Checklist
Possible signs that a friend or a loved one is consuming inhalants..

1.) Slurred speech
2.) Drunk, dizzy, or dazed appearance
3.) Unusual breath odor
4.) Chemical smell on clothing
5.) Paint stains on body or face
6.) Red eyes
7.) Runny nose

Pathfinder’s Checklist
What you should know about inhalants.

1.) Get the facts. Inhalants can kill you the very first time you use them.

2.) Be aware. Chemicals like amyl nitrate and isobutyl nitrate ("poppers"), and nitrous oxide ("whippets") are often sold at concerts and dance clubs. They can permanently damage your body and brain.

3.) Know the risks. Chronic inhalant abusers may permanently lose the ability to perform everyday functions like walking, talking, and thinking.

4.) Look around you. The vast majority of teens aren't using inhalants. According to a 1998 study, only 1.1 percent of teens are regular inhalant users and 94 percent of teens have never even tried inhalants.

Frequently Asked Questions About Inhalants

Q. Since inhalants are found in household products, aren't they safe?
A. No. Even though household products like glue and air freshener have legal, useful purposes, when they are used as inhalants they are harmful and dangerous. These products are not intended to be inhaled.

Q. Doesn't it take many "huffs" before you're in danger?
A. No. One "huff" of an inhalant can kill you. Or the 10th. Or the 100th. Every huff can be dangerous. Even if you have huffed before without experiencing a problem, there's no way of knowing how the next huff will affect you.

Q. Can inhalants make me lose control?
A. Yes. Inhalants affect your brain and can cause you to suddenly engage in violent, or even deadly, behavior. You could hurt yourself or the people you love.



Recover from chemical dependency as well as its toxic impact on family members. Raise your children to choose to be alcohol and other drugs free. Learn how to in Dr. Frisch’s, Psy.D. Recovery book series—From Insanity to Serenity.

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