Inhalants are substances which vaporise in air and which cause intoxication when inhaled. Inhalants are also called solvents or volatile substances. Many ordinary household products are inhalants. This includes glue, aerosol sprays, butane gas (from cigarette lighters), some cleaning fluids, felt-tipped pens, liquid paper, paint thinner, chrome-based paints and petrol. Inhalants can be inhaled directly from the container or sprayed into a plastic bag or onto a cloth before inhaling.
Most inhalants are depressants. Their effects are quite similar to those of alcohol or cannabis. Small amounts can have a very rapid effect. Inhalants reduce the user's inhibitions and can cause laughter and mild excitement or even euphoria. They can also cause anxiety. Some users engage in reckless or dangerous behaviour while under the influence of inhalants. The effects of inhalants usually last about an hour. The initial excitement often gives way to drowsiness. Hangovers or headaches often occur after the initial effects wear off.
Large doses of inhalants can lead to disorientation and loss of coordination as well as nausea and diarrhoea. Habitual use can cause flu-like symptoms such as sneezing, coughing and a runny nose. Habitual users of inhalants can also suffer nosebleeds, bloodshot eyes, anaemia, weight loss and sores around the mouth and nose. Some long-term users of inhalants become irritable, depressed, paranoid or aggressive. Long-term use of inhalants can damage internal organs, the brain and the nervous system, but this damage can be reversed by ceasing use. Long-term use of aerosols and cleaning fluids, however, can permanently damage the brain, liver and kidneys but such damage is rare. Using alcohol as well as inhalants can increase the severity of inhalant-related brain damage. There is little evidence of users developing a tolerance and withdrawal symptoms are very rare.
A few deaths from heart failure have occurred from the use of inhalants, though it is not clear why. Users inhaling from a plastic bag have suffered death by suffocation.
Using inhalants is not an offence anywhere in Europe. In Europe it is an offence to supply inhalants to anyone who, it is believed, intends to misuse them. There are some restrictions on marketing of products which are likely to be misused as inhalants. Many aerosol spray cans and other volatile substances carry a warning statement about the effects of inhaling them.