Solvents, Inhalants and Volatile Substances Characteristics and Effects

Since ancient times people have inhaled the vapours of perfumes, ointment and burning spices as part of their religious ceremonies. Solvent misuse, as we know it, emerged during the 1950s in the USA and has since spread to most parts of the world.

Three main types of inhalant are organic solvents, volatile nitrates and nitrous oxide.

Some of the most common inhalants include glue, aerosol spray cans, paint thinner, petroleum products, chrome based paint, felt pens.

Inhalation is either through the mouth or nose. Often the product can be sprayed into a plastic bag or soaked onto a rag and then inhaled or it is inhaled directly from the container.

Inhalants are absorbed through the lungs into the blood stream, which then carries the chemicals rapidly to the brain. They slow down the activity of the brain and central nervous system.

Intoxicating effects are often quick acting (7 to 10 seconds), intense and short lived lasting no more than 30 to 60 minutes (some inhalants only last 2 minutes).

Effects can include excitement, dizziness, stupor, disorientated and uncoordinated, visual disturbance and slurred speech. Prolonged use, particularly leaded petroleum products, can lead to brain, liver, kidney, and especially lung damage. Death can arise from respiratory arrest and cardiac irregularities.

Organic solvents are often readily available, inexpensive and are commonly used by young people in their first few years of secondary schooling.

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