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Inhalants

How are inhalants used?

Inhalants can be breathed in through the nose or the mouth in a variety of ways, such as—

  • "sniffing" or "snorting" fumes from containers;
  • spraying aerosols directly into the nose or mouth;
  • "bagging" — sniffing or inhaling fumes from substances sprayed or deposited inside a plastic or paper bag;
  • "huffing" from an inhalant-soaked rag stuffed in the mouth; and
  • inhaling from balloons filled with nitrous oxide.
Past-Year Inhalant Use Among 8th-, 10th-, and 12th-Graders, 1991–2011 Graph shows a decline from 1991 to 2011Source: University of Michigan, 2011 Monitoring the Future Study

Inhaled chemicals are absorbed rapidly into the bloodstream through the lungs and are quickly distributed to the brain and other organs. Within seconds of inhalation, the user experiences intoxication along with other effects similar to those produced by alcohol. Alcohol-like effects may include slurred speech; the inability to coordinate movements; euphoria; and dizziness. In addition, users may experience lightheadedness, hallucinations, and delusions.

Gender and Race/Ethnicity Differences in Past-Year Inhalant Use Among 8th-Graders, 2011 Male: 5.5%*, Female: 8.6%, White 7.1%, Black: 5.1%, Hispanic: 10.5%***Level of significance of difference between Male and Female = .05
** Level of significance of difference between Whites and Hispanics and Blacks and Hispanics = .001
Source: University of Michigan, 2011 Monitoring the Future Study

Because intoxication lasts only a few minutes, abusers frequently seek to prolong the high by inhaling repeatedly over the course of several hours, which is a very dangerous practice. With successive inhalations, abusers can suffer loss of consciousness and possibly even death. At the least, they will feel less inhibited and less in control. After heavy use of inhalants, abusers may feel drowsy for several hours and experience a lingering headache.

This page was last updated July 2012

How are inhalants used?

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National Institute of Drug Abuse (2012). How are inhalants used?. In Inhalants. Retrieved from http://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/inhalants/how-are-inhalants-used

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​Research Reports

This series of reports simplifies the science of research findings for the educated lay public, legislators, educational groups, and practitioners. The series reports on research findings of national interest.