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Huffing Inhaling Toxic Substances Isn't New

By lindaoh on
Badge: Author | Level: 3 | Education & Learning Expertise:
Huffing from bags

Inhaling toxic substances is nothing new. "Huffing", (also known as "dusting", "sniffing or glue sniffing" and "chroming"), has been around for as long as glue, gasoline, paint and other toxic substances have been in existence. The term "dusting" was added after abuse of computer dusters was reported.

Ether abuse was first recorded in the 1800s and became more prevalent during the Temperance Movement. It was not proper for women to consume alcohol during this period so "medicinal" ether products such as the cough medicine, Hoffman's Drops, became popular because it contained ether and alcohol. Ether used as a recreational drug was a combination of ether, alcohol and ethanol.

During the latter part of the Prohibition era in the early 1930s ether was either sniffed or drunk; and in some towns became a substitute for alcohol. In the movie "Cider House Rules", Michael Caine's character is addicted to inhaling ether vapors which eventually kills him, most likely from excessive sedation

Glue, paint and gasoline abuse became more widespread in the 1950s. Anyone born in the 40s or early 50s probably remembers talk of model glue/cement sniffing. In the late 1970s glue sniffing was associated with the punk youth movement in the United Kingdom and North America. In the 1980s, with the gradual disappearance of propellants with CFC, chlorofluorocarbons (propellants that deplete the ozone layer), abuse of aerosol sprays became more prevalent. The CFC propellants were replaced with propane and butane which were more environmentally friendly.

Inhalants are classified by intended function, chemical structure or their effects on the body. Examples of the various abused substances used for a state of euphoria (similar to alcohol intoxication) are:

Solvents - paint thinner, gasoline, nail polish remover, felt-tip markers, glue, and other household products

Aerosol sprayscontaining propellants and solvents - deodorant, spray paint and hair spray

Gases - usually nitrous oxide (laughing gas)

Nitrites - chemicals such as those used in room deodorizers. These substances are usually used by adults for sexual enhancement, not a state of euphoria.

Street names for these substances are whippets, poppers and snappers. Methods used to inhale vapors or aerosol propellant gases are spraying the substance into a plastic bag and holding it over the mouth, breathing from a solvent-soaked rag or open container or directly from the aerosol can (dusting) as in the video clip.

The alarming facts about huffing are that the substances are not considered illegal in all states; and children are misusing these products because they can be found around the home or can be purchased relatively inexpensively and without restrictions.

This problem had become so widespread and serious that some restrictions have now been placed on the sale of some solvent-containing products to minors in many US States and Canadian cities. The target for these restrictions are products associated with sniffing, such as model cement.

Following are some of the signs of inhalant abuse that parents can watch for: drowsiness, belligerence, changes in academic achievement, mood changes or swings, depression, weight loss and lack of co-ordination. Huffers can develop a telltale "huffer's rash", sores or scratches around the mouth and an unusual body odor.

I have seen and read television programming and articles about young people that state that they are not worried about huffing because their friends do it all the time; and they're fine. 33% of deaths occur with the very first use of these substances due to cardiac arrest, asphyxiation, aspiration (choking on vomit) or suffocation (hypoxia). Statistics on death may be grossly under-reported because blood vessel rupture in the brain or heart attack may be reported as the cause of death, rather than the substance abuse itself.

Consequences can also include the following: hallucinations, loss of consciousness, hearing loss, brain, heart, liver, kidney or lung damage. Burns can result from the intentional inhaling of and subsequent unintentional igniting of flammable substances. Short-term users may also experience headaches, vomiting and nausea. Two million Americans, 12 years old or older, abused inhalants in 2008. Statistics are from the website, drugabuse.gov.

I knew about huffing but never gave it much thought...until I saw the "Allison" "Intervention" episode. I'm not a parent; but I was shocked and appalled by this program. It was then that I started to post information on this terrible trend on every website of which I'm a member.

I think that watching "Intervention" should be a course requirement for every young person over the age of 8 or 9. Barring that, I think that every parent and every young person should watch this powerful YouTube clip of the "Allison" episode all the way through. If one person is deterred from huffing or if one parent now has the information to identify his/her child as a huffer, my time and effort will have been well spent.

I urge you to watch the following YouTube video clip. If you cannot directly access this link, please copy and paste to your browser.


For more information and statistics on all types of substance abuse please visit: