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NIDA. (2005, January 1). NIDA Community Drug Alert Bulletin - Inhalants. Retrieved from

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What Are the Health Hazards Associated With Inhalants?

Animal and human research show that most inhalants are extremely toxic:

  • Chronic exposure can lead to widespread and long-lasting damage to the brain and other parts of the nervous system. Nerve damage can be similar to that seen in individuals with neurological diseases such as multiple sclerosis.
  • Chronic exposure can produce significant damage to the heart, lungs, liver, and kidneys.
  • Prolonged abuse can negatively affect a person's cognition, movement, vision, and hearing.
  • Highly concentrated amounts of certain inhalants can lead to sudden sniffing death - heart failure and death can occur within minutes of repeated inhalations. Sudden sniffing death is particularly associated with the abuse of butane, propane, and chemicals in aerosols, and can result from a single session of inhalant abuse by an otherwise healthy person.
  • High concentrations of inhalants can cause death by:
    • Asphyxiation - vapors displace oxygen in the lungs
    • Suffocation - oxygen is blocked from entering the lungs when inhaling fumes from a plastic bag placed over the head
    • Convulsions or seizures - caused by abnormal electrical discharges in the brain
    • Coma - the brain shuts down all but the most vital functions
    • Choking - from inhaling vomit prompted by inhalant use
    • Fatal injury - from accidents, such as motor vehicle crashes, that occur while intoxicated