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What are the signs and symptoms of inhalant abuse?

Inhalant Abuse, aka Huffing, involves inhaling volatile chemicals to get high. A volatile substance is a liquid which vaporizes at about room temperature. Almost any volatile substance can be huffed.

Huffing methods include: 

  • The volatile substance is soaked into a rag and inhaled
  • Sprayed into a plastic bag or paper bag and inhaled
  • Gases are inhaled directly from container in which they are compressed
  • Gas in introduced into a plastic or paper bag, balloon, or condom and inhaled.

Huffing gets the user high through hypoxia/anoxia from oxygen displacement. Loss of oxygen to the brain causes non-critical areas of the brain to shut down. The first non-critical area is the frontal lobe, which is the part of the brain behind the forehead. This part of the brain regulates inhibition and self-control. Shut off therefore produces silliness and euphoria. The high only lasts for one to three minutes. Huffing is popular with older children about ages 10 to 12, and early to mid- adolescents, ages 13-17. 

The list of commonly abused inhalants is again, nearly any volatile substance. Common examples are:  

  • Liquid paper/typing correction fluid.
  • Magic markers/felt tip pens
  • Toluene (Model air plane glue)
  • Air freshener
  • Metallic Paint (gold, copper, or silver)
  • NO2 (Nitrous Oxide) 
  • Poppers (Amyl Nitrite and Butyl Nitrite)
  • Benzene (Gasoline)
  • Diesel fuel
  • Aviation fuel
  • Turpentine
  • Kerosene
  • Paint thinner
  • Lacquer thinner
  • Ethyl alcohol
  • Butane
  • Propane
  • Freon

The effects of huffing

As multiple substances can be huffed, there will be some variation in the effects, but many commonalities. 

Common effects:

  • Cyanosis (blue lips and tongue, blue fingernail beds)
  • Hyper-salivation (drooling)
  • Sudden loss of consciousness
  • Hysterical laughter
  • Repetitive, senseless speech
  • Rough, gravelly guttural voice

Specific effects:

  • If huffing paint, the paint will likely be visible on the users face in a mask shape over the nose and mouth
  • If huffing paint thinner or lacquer thinner, there may be chemical burns on the users face. 
  • The obvious odor of the huffed substance, such as air freshener, gasoline or kerosene.
  • Black or white marks on the nostrils, from huffing felt tip pens or white out, respectively.
  • Short-term and long term-risks of using inhalants 

The brief duration of action of huffing leads to frequent dosing. This can cause ventricular fibrillation which is a dangerous irregular heart rhythm which can lead to cardiac arrest. Long term use of inhalants can cause irreversible brain damage, which actually starts the first time one huffs chemicals. The damage may not be apparent initially, as the brain will attempt to compensate for any damaged areas. Eventually, if huffing continues the damaged areas will surpass healthy brain tissues, and the effects of damage will gradually emerge. This will include: 

  • Difficulty with the ability to speak, concentrate, or pay attention
  • Difficulty learning new material
  • General cognitive impairment
  • Difficulty with emotional regulation

Conclusion

Huffing is an extremely dangerous practice which can result in long tem neurological or brain damage, and sudden death. The first time one huffs could be the last time.