Effects of inhalants

The effects of any drug (including inhalants) vary from person to person. How inhalants affect a person depends on many things including their size, weight and health, also whether the person is used to taking it and whether other drugs are taken. The effects of any drug also depend on the amount taken.

There is no safe level of drug use. Use of any drug always carries some risk—even medications can produce unwanted side effects. It is important to be careful when taking any type of drug.

Immediate effects

The effects of inhalants may start to be felt immediately and can last for 45 minutes.

Low to moderate doses 

Some of the effects that may be experienced after taking inhalants include:

  • initial “rush” or “high”
  • feeling of wellbeing
  • lowered inhibitions
  • excited, euphoric, giggling and laughing
  • agitated, uneasy and aggressive
  • hallucinations and delusions
  • confusion and disorientation
  • impaired judgement
  • drowsiness
  • headaches
  • drowsiness
  • bloodshot, glazed eyes
  • blurred vision
  • nosebleeds
  • runny nose
  • sneezing
  • unpleasant breath
  • slurred speech
  • irregular heart beat
  • chest pain
  • nausea and vomiting
  • diarrhoea
  • slurred speech
  • impaired coordination and muscle control (ataxia).

Higher doses 

A higher dose of inhalants can increase the chances of:

  • feeling disorientated
  • decreased coordination
  • visual distortions
  • nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea
  • headaches
  • bloodshot eyes
  • increased confidence which can lead to risky behaviour
  • hallucinations
  • blackout, convulsions, coma.

Sudden sniffing death

“Sudden sniffing death” has followed the use of aerosol sprays, cleaning and correction fluids, and model aeroplane cement. It is believed that chemicals in these products can cause heart failure, particularly if the user is stressed or does heavy exercise after inhaling. This is very rare.

Coming down

As the effects of inhalants begin to wear off, a person may experience effects such as headache, nausea and dizziness. These effects can last for a number of days.

Long-term effects

People who use inhalants long-term may experience the following effects:

  • pimples around the mouth and lips
  • pale appearance
  • tremors
  • weight loss
  • tiredness
  • excessive thirst
  • loss of sense of smell and hearing
  • problems with blood production, which may result in problems such as anaemia, irregular heartbeat and damage to the heart muscle
  • forgetfulness and memory impairment
  • reduced attention and ability to think clearly and logically
  • liver and kidney damage
  • irritability, hostility, feeling depressed or feeling persecuted
  • chest pain or angina
  • indigestion
  • stomach ulcers.

Most long-term effects are not permanent and can be reversed if use is stopped. However, some inhalants such as cleaning products, correction fluid, aerosol sprays and petrol can cause permanent damage, especially if people use them heavily for a long period.

Some of the chemicals in inhalants may build up in the body. They can irritate the stomach and the intestines, and can cause damage to the brain, nervous system, kidneys and liver.

Other effects of inhalant use

Using inhalants with other drugs

The chances of an overdose are increased if inhalants are taken with other depressant drugs such as alcohol, benzodiazepines or opiates. Using inhalants with other depressants can affect breathing rate and the heart and blood vessels. Mixing drugs can also increase the risk of passing out and suffocating or choking on vomit.

Pregnancy and breastfeeding

Read about the effects of drugs on pregnancy and breastfeeding.

Driving

Read about the effects of drugs on driving.

For more information, please click on the Australian Drug Foundation's DrugInfo Clearinghouse web site link below.
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Last Reviewed: 24/02/2012

Reproduced with kind permission from the Australian Drug Foundation.



References

Australian Drug Foundation. Inhalant facts. Last updated 24 February 2012. http://www.druginfo.adf.org.au/drug-facts/inhalants (accessed Jan 2013).