In the ongoing battle to keep our nation’s youth drug-free, we commonly overlook one of the greatest risks for addiction and drug-related fatalities: inhalants like huffing glue and the whippets drug.
Many anti-drug campaigns focus on substances such as alcohol, marijuana, and cocaine, and ignore the danger contained in common household products that are readily available at home or the local grocery store.
Because inhalants are easily obtained, they are the most commonly misused drug by teenagers. A 2015 study by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Association found the following:
- 684,000 or 2.7% of adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17 used inhalants in 2015
- Female adolescents were more likely to use these types of products to get high
- There was no statistical difference in the likelihood of misuse in rural vs. metropolitan areas
- Adolescents were abusing these types of seemingly innocuous products as drugs nationwide
What are Inhalants?
Inhalants Definition: Inhalants are commonplace items that are inhaled through the mouth or nose, and the substances produce chemical vapors that alter the mental state, creating a temporary high.
It’s difficult to categorize all the substances that can be used to achieve this affect, as mind-altering chemicals are present in a wide range of products. However, most of them fall under four general categories:
These are liquids that vaporize at room temperature. Examples of these include glue, gasoline, felt-tip markers, and paint thinners.
These are sprayable substances that contain propellants and chemicals such as hair spray, cooking oil, and spray paint.
Gases are most typically nitrous oxide which can be found in household commercial products or medical anesthetics. Gases can be obtained at medical supply stores or through empty canisters like whipped cream cans (whippets) or propane tanks.
Nitrites are slightly different than the other three types of inhalants as they dilate blood vessels and relax the muscles, as opposed to affecting the central nervous system. While Nitrites are now prohibited by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, they can still be readily found.
Common Types of Inhalants
Inhalants pose a great risk to our youth due to the fact that they are easily accessible. At any given time, most households have products on hand that can be abused as inhalants.
The most common types of inhalants used by adolescents include:
- Whippets Drug (nitrous oxide)
- Huffing Glue
- Felt tip pens/markers or magic markers
- Shoe polish
- Spray paints
- Gasoline or lighter fluid
- Computer cleaner/air duster
- Correction fluid, degreaser, or cleaning fluid
- Lacquer thinner and paint solvent
- Amyl nitrite, locker room deodorizers
- Lighter gases
- Halothane, ether
- Other aerosol sprays
What are Whippets (Whippet Drug)?
The top of the list above shows Whippets at the number one spot because it is quite popular with teens and young adults, and is easy to purchase. In fact, some reports show it as the most popular type of inhalant used by teenagers.
It is often spelled like “whippits,” or “whip-its,” but they all refer to the same thing, and the name comes from the fact they are used in whipped cream containers.
These reusable dispensers or chargers contain nitrous oxide – the laughing gas most people know from a visit to the dentist. While nitrous oxide is safe when administered by a medical professional, it can be very dangerous when used by teens to get high.
Users either inhale directly from whipped cream containers or use the dispensers to fill balloons and huff the nitrous from the balloons.
Most drugs affect specific regions of the brain to impact neurotransmitters or attach to receptors, such as opioids to opioid receptors. Whippets when used as a drug work in an entirely different way by depriving the brain of oxygen, thus causing a dizzy feeling sometimes accompanied by laughter, hence the name “laughing gas.”
Parents and teens should understand that misusing Whippets can be extremely dangerous for a number of reasons, the first of which is that depriving oxygen to the brain can cause damage to the central nervous system. Other organs like the lungs can also be impacted by even short-term use.
Whippets often cause users to faint or pass out temporarily due to lack of oxygen and many people will fall and hit their head or face, causing a concussion or a broken nose.
Even more serious is the chance that using whippets, or any form of nitrous oxide for prolonged periods, can result in a dependence to the drug.
Inhalant abuse and addiction is a problem for teens that requires proper treatment to overcome, and it’s unfortunate that so many find themselves addicted to this type of substance.
It shouldn’t need to be said, but huffing glue is a terrible way to get high. Yet every day, teens all around the country sniff glue as a way to escape their problems and share a buzz with their friends.
Various types of glue, as well as spray paints, paint thiners and nail polish removers, contain a chemical called Toluene that is one of the main stimulants of inhalant abuse.
Toluene, like other compounds in inhalants that can cause dizziness and other mind altering states, is very harmful to the brain, central nervous system, kidneys, lungs and liver.
This toxic substance can even cause headaches and cracked skin, which is sometimes evident around the mouths of users who huff glue from paper bags. The residue forms around the edges of the bag and sticks to the corner of the mouth when huffed, and is sometimes a visible sign that a teen has been huffing glue or other chemicals.
Short-Term Effects of Inhalants Like Whippets or Glue
People who use inhalants to get high will notice a variety of short-term side effects. Some of these usually aren’t problematic and may be unpleasant enough to deter teens from trying them again in the future.
Many of the symptoms mimic the flu and usually pass quickly, although others could have longer lasting implications.
Short-term effects of inhalants include (but are not limited to):
- Slurred speech
- Abdominal pain
- Lack of coordination
- Loss of consciousness
- Violent behavior
- Impaired judgement
Long-Term Effects of Using Inhalants
The long-term effects caused by inhalants are more serious in nature, and if continued, can cause severe health problems. These signs can be clues for parents to watch for, and if their child exhibits several of them at once, it could point to a dependence or path to addiction.
Long term effects of inhalants include (but are not limited to):
- Weight Loss
- Muscle Weakness
- Lack of coordination
- Damage to the kidneys, heart, and brain
Sudden Sniffing Death Syndrome (SSDS) and Hypoxia
The ultimate consequence for using inhalants is death. When an overdose occurs, the body goes into shock and the heart can abruptly stop beating.
This is known as Sudden Sniffing Death Syndrome, and the only way to prevent it is to avoid inhalant use altogether.
SSDS usually occurs when the body goes into cardiac arrest caused by a surge of adrenaline from the inhaled gases.
Hypoxia is another cause for concern as it can be dangerous or fatal in extreme cases. Hypoxia is the result of inhaling gases that displace oxygen in the lungs and the user essentially suffocates and dies.
Both of these dire circumstances sound scary and they should serve as a warning that using inhalants to get high can have deadly consequences and should be avoided at all costs.
Parents, teachers, friends and family members who notice any of the side effects listed above should talk to their child or friend and ask if they are having problems they want to discuss.
Many times teens use drugs to escape from their problems and inhalants are more readily available than harder drugs. Teens often don’t have much money either, so they use what they can find and afford.
Even though inhalants like whippets and huffing glue are not as addictive as many other drugs, they do have addictive qualities. As with most substance use disorders, the first step to receiving treatment is recognizing dependence.