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Solvents and inhalers

Aerosols, glue, cans or gas, paint thinner, nail polish remover, lighter fuel, Tip-Ex thinner...

Written by SpunOut | View this authors Twitter page and posted in health

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Remember: All drugs, including the misuse of prescribed medication, can pose serious health risks, up to and including possible death.

Chemical name: Volatile Substances

What are they?
Solvent misuse is the deliberate inhalation of gases, chemical fumes or vapours in order to get a "high" or "buzz" similar to the intoxication produced by alcohol. The fluid can be inhaled from a soaked cloth or directly from the can.  Many common household and industrial products, which are perfectly safe when used correctly, can be abused.

The four main categories are:

  • Adhesives and thinners (glues, paint thinners, nail polish remover).
  • Dry cleaning products (dry-cleaning fluids, paint stripper, typewriter correcting fluid and thinners, printing industry solvents, shoe dyes and conditioners).
  • Aerosols (hairspray, room and body deodorant sprays, paints, painkilling and insect sprays).
  • Fuels (petrol, lighter fuel, domestic and camping gas cylinders).

Effects - what happens when you take solvents?

  • The experience is like being intensely drunk for a short period.
  • Breathing and heart rate are depressed.
  • Users often feel dizzy, giggly and dreamy and can become aggressive.
  • Some users can feel nervous, may vomit, hallucinate, experience blackouts, tiredness and lack of concentration.
  • The effects are short lived. Like alcohol you get a hangover afterwards.

Other dangers:

  • Abusing gases, aerosols or glue can cause sudden death, even on the first go. This is because breathing and heart rate are reduced and compromised.
  • Substances sprayed into the mouth may cause fluid to flood the lungs, and may stimulate the nerve at the back of the throat to cause the heart to slow to a fatally low level.
  • When sniffing there is a risk of suffocation.
  • Users (when high) are more prone to accidents because their senses are affected. Some abusers become unconscious and choke when they inhale vomit, others are suffocated when they place a plastic bag over their heads.
  • A form of brain inflammation (encephalopathy) may arise from the lead compounds in leaded petrol. Many of these compounds are flammable. There have been severe burns caused by explosions and fires resulting from the misuse of butane. Repeated use of leaded petrol can cause lead poisoning.


It is an offence for any person to sell, or offer any substance to someone who is under 18, which they believe is likely to be abused as a drug.

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Published Feb­ru­ary 20th2013
Last updated Sep­tem­ber 28th2015
Tags drugs
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