Inhalants, like most of the other drugs you have studied in this course, have been used throughout societies and cultures for thousands of years in an attempt to obtain mind-altering effects. These drugs also fall into the general category of depressants in that brain activity (as measured by EEG) is significantly slowed down with their use. The first readily documented accounts occurred in the late 1700’s with the use of nitrous oxide and ether as pain-reliving analgesics that also produced a mild sense of euphoria, a sense of wellbeing, and a period of sedation.
The aftermath of their use, however, can include nausea, vomiting and sensory confusion. Another significant concern with inhalants in that they dilute the amount of available oxygen for respiration when individuals cover their mouths and inhale other, noxious substances. Ether also has the dubious distinction of also being highly flammable. Beginning in the 1950’s, other substances, including glue and aerosol solvent chemicals, began to be abused, heralding in the modern area of what we typically know as common inhalants.
What makes the use of inhalants appealing to children and teenagers?
Most substances used as inhalants are inexpensive, readily available and because they are found in common household products, don’t need to be hidden covertly from others like other illicit drugs. Unfortunately, because these substances are absorbed rapidly through the lungs, inhaling these substances produce a quick “high” which can be very reinforcing to the user and lasts about an hour with withdrawal symptoms that are relatively mild when compared to other drugs such as alcohol.
Because of the ease of purchase and accessibility, this form of drug abuse is most commonly found in children and teenagers and chronic abuse, when it does occur, is most likely to be found among poor and disadvantaged children who are experiencing significant psychosocial problems. Perhaps the best outcome research that we have to date on inhalants is that many individuals stop using them after a period of time and that there use appears to be developmental and peer-influenced in nature. The long-term physical effects are not readily understood.