Title: Inhalants: Why to Pass on Gas
Author: Jennifer James
Publisher: Do It Now Foundation
Publication Date: February 2011
Catalog Number: 143

..The Nose Knows

There are a lot of smells in
the world. Think about it: There’s the smell of wet grass in
the park and popcorn at the movies, the jumbled-up mix of ocean
and pizza and suntan lotion at the beach, the smell of Christmas
trees in December, and rain on a summer day.

Those are all pretty cool smells.

There are other smells, too,
and not all of them are totally cool. We won’t go into detail
about them, because we’ve all caught a whiff of some pretty funky
odors at one time or another, and the less said about them, the

On the other hand, we do need
to take a closer look at one set of smells that’s stirred up
big problems for thousands of young people: the group of chemicals
called inhalants.

They’re called inhalants
because they’re inhaled (or sniffed) into the body, where they
cause a lot of weird changes in the body and mind, just like
alcohol and other drugs.

That’s what this pamphlet is
all about. In it, we’ll talk about how inhalants work — and
why they’re not a gas, or something to sniff at.

Because in this whole world of
good smells and bad smells, inhalants are a set of chemicals
that can make life stink.

..Introducing Inhalants

So what are inhalants? They’re
a lot of things — more than 1,400 different things, at last
count — that cause giddiness and intoxication when they’re sniffed.

For the record, though, inhalants
fall into three main groups. These are:

  • Solvents
  • Aerosols
  • Nitrites and nitrous oxide

The solvents group includes such
“everyday” chemicals as glue, gasoline, lighter fluid,
cleaning compounds, paint thinner, and typewriter correction

Aerosols include the propellant
gases found in hairsprays and deodorants, cooking oils, spray
paint, and air fresheners.

Nitrites are a group of chemicals
related to the heart stimulant amyl nitrite and an anesthetic
gas sometimes used by dentists, nitrous oxide, or “laughing

Even though the chemicals used
as inhalants are made for legitimate reasons and are often legal,
one purpose that none of them is intended for is being inhaled
for fun.

But lots of people — especially
kids — do just that. And when they do, problems often start
blowing their way, sometimes right in their faces.

..Facts & Effects

Different as they are, inhalants
are a lot alike in the way they act in the body. Each changes
the way the brain works by cutting the flow of oxygen and replacing
it with the chemical that’s being sniffed.

Other effects are usually pretty
similar, too. A person may feel drunk, numb, and dizzy — all
at once.

If that sounds pretty cool, remember
that inhalants are alike in one more important way: They cause
major problems for people. Irreversible ones, sometimes.

Here’s how it works: As soon
as they’re sniffed, inhalants spring into action, rushing into
the lungs and bloodstream.

From there, they zip to the brain
(where they zap normal functions) and the heart, kidneys, and
liver, where they mess things up to their little heart’s content.
(If they had a heart.)

That’s when the real problems
kick in.

What sort of real problems?

Take your pick: big ones, little
ones, temporary ones, permanent ones — inhalants can cause ’em

..Problem Parade

Examples of little problems (if
you can call them that) include slowed reflexes, double vision,
and ringing in the ears.

Bigger problems include delusional
thoughts and hallucinations and the risk of permanent damage
to the brain and other body organs.

And there are bigger problems,
still — suffocation, for example.

That happens when glue sniffers
pass out with their faces buried in glue-filled plastic
bags. If no one notices, they never come back up for air.

Aerosols pose similar risks.
They can coat the lungs with so much gunk that the alveoli (the
tiny air sacs in the lungs that process oxygen) can’t work. For
an unlucky sniffer, it’s like drowning on dry land.

Then there’s long-term damage.
Body organs don’t like the poisonous effects of inhalants —
and die a little every time they’re exposed to them just to prove

And if your body doesn’t die
enough so that you notice it today, there’s always tomorrow.
Your odds of serious problems will be better then, thanks to
a process called tolerance.

That means that sniffers have
to keep using more and more of their favorite chemical to keep
achieving the same effects.

And we haven’t even gotten to
overdoses yet.

In fact, overdose is the biggest
danger linked to most inhalants because it happens so quickly,
without warning. It isn’t like some other kinds of drug overdose,
which can develop slowly, even over a period of hours.

Sniffing overdoses happen all
at once, without warning. And way too often, things stay that
way. Permanently.

..Reasons to Pass on Gas

So if sniffing is so bad, why
do people do it?

One reason is that inhalants
are easy to get. That’s one reason that they’re used more often
by younger kids than older teens and adults, who can usually
get alcohol or other drugs more easily.

But why do kids do them?

For two reasons, mostly: Some
don’t know any better. And others don’t care.

Some seem to think that, since
the products that inhalants come in are legal, sniffing must
not be a big deal.

They’re wrong. Because sniffing
is a big deal, one that’s dangerous and addictive.

That means that people who try
it for fun (or out of curiosity) sometimes keep on doing it because
sniffing just takes over and they forget how to chill out without

Still others do it to be cool
or because they gotta try everything they think there is to try.

They might start out because
their friends do it or because they think it makes them look
bad (good bad, not bad bad — but sometimes, they look that way,
too) to do something so dangerous-and risky.

Maybe they think that getting
messed up on chemicals proves that they’re cool or grown-up-or
something. But it doesn’t. It just proves that they’re as messed
up as some messed-up adults.

As if there’s a big need for
more of those.

..Stinking Thinking

Still, no matter how many reasons
people have for sniffing, there’s one better reason for not sniffing
and here it is: Sniffing messes people up — sometimes for keeps.

That’s why we think it’s a good
idea (Good idea? Make that a great idea) to think
about the things we’ve talked about in this pamphlet and make
up your mind about sniffing now.

Your decision is just too important
to stumble into or put off until one of your friends decides
for you.

That could leave you holding
the bag — or getting zipped up in one.

Think about it. We’re betting
that if you consider the real facts, you’ll come to the conclusion
(like we’re about to) that life is a lot cooler than any gunk
you can squeeze from a tube or snort out of a can.

Any other conclusion would just
be another example of stinking thinking.

This is one in a series of publications
on drugs, behavior, and health by Do It Now Foundation.
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