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Inhalants are vapours or gases that people inhale in order to get high without actually having to ingest (eat or drink) anything. Youth sometimes prefer this method of getting high because they feel its effects almost instantly. Many of the substances that are used as inhalants have real-life uses, and were never intended to be consumed (e.g. helium). There are several different types of inhalants:

Name Method of Use Effects

Volatile solvents

Definition: Chemicals that vaporize once they are exposed to air, (e.g. when taking the lid off of the bottle).

Examples: Paint thinners, felt-tip markers, glue, acetone (found in nail polish removers), etc.

Sniffed (from the container), huffed (pouring it on a rag then smelling it), or bagged (pouring it in a bag and breathing it in). (CPS)

  • Fantasies
  • Euphoria
  • Distorted vision
  • Alcohol-like symptoms (CAMH)


Definition: Chemicals that have strong smells. Because gases expand in the air, users will inhale more than they may intend to.

Examples: Ether, propane, laughing gas, chloroform, etc.

Sprayed into a bag or balloon and then inhaled. (CAMH)

  • Hallucinations
  • Higher tolerance for pain (CAMH)

Aerosol sprays

Definition: Air in a can or container that can then be sprayed (usually into a bag) so the user can inhale it.

Examples: Spray paint, hairspray, etc.

Sprayed into a bag or balloon and then inhaled. (CAMH)

  • Unconsciousness
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea (CODA)

Alkyl nitrites

Definition: Liquids that can be ingested or inhaled, and are usually used to help enhance a sexual experience.

Examples: Room deodorizers, liquid incense, etc.

Inhaling vapor through the nose or ingested through the mouth  (CAMH)

  • Relaxed muscles
  • Increased heart rate



Long term

Long term effects can have negative consequences on inhalant users. The effects may stay with the user for the rest of their lives. When inhalants are taken, the chemicals go straight to the brain, which can cause serious long term effects such as:

  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Disorientation
  • Nose bleeds
  • Paranoia (CAMH)
  • Coma
  • Weight loss
  • Hearing loss
  • Muscle spasms (CODA)

One very important thing to know is that getting high off of inhalants can cause Sudden Sniffing Death Syndrome (SSDS). If the user is startled by something, such as getting caught, an adrenaline rush can be triggered. This could then affect the heart and ultimately lead to heart failure and death (CODA).

Tolerance and Dependence

Many people are not aware that inhalants can become highly addictive once they have been taken for a while. Taking drugs for a significant amount of time can lead to dependence and increased tolerance. Tolerance means having to take a higher dosage of the drug in order to feel the same effects. This also means that users build up a dependency for the drug, which causes them to undergo withdrawal symptoms if they stop taking it. Users may experience psychological or physical withdrawals (CAMH); some signs of withdrawal are:

  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Headaches
  • Depression (CODA)

How to tell if someone has been using inhalants

These signs are the most common ones related to inhalant usage; however, it is important to note that they are not always going to be prevalent when someone is using.

  • Breath that smells like chemicals
  • Sores around the mouth and/or nose
  • Slurred speech
  • Acting intoxicated
  • Sudden inability to focus or concentrate on anything (CODA)


In Canada, inhalants are legal to purchase, mainly because the inhalants being used are actually in household products such as hairspray. However, purchasing or selling them for the purpose of getting high is illegal (CODA).

What You Can Do


If you think your friend might be huffing...

  • Try talking to them about it, and find out why they’re doing it
  • Let them know that you’re there for them and that you will give them the support they need
  • Inform them of the services that are available to them in your area (e.g. Kids Help Phone)
  • Talk to a parent, a trusted adult, or a guidance counselor

If you’re huffing...

  • Remember that there are lots of resources available to you
  • Talk to someone you care about and trust, such as a friend, parent, trusted adult, or guidance counsellor

If someone is asking you to try drug...

  • Respond with humour - say you don’t want to end up like “insert the latest celebrity to get arrested for a drug-related offence
  • Reference a health issue that may worsen (such as asthma or bronchitis)
  • Respond that real friends don’t make you do things you don’t want to
  • Make up an excuse that you need to go, or that you have something to do tomorrow, so you don’t want to feel like garbage
  • If you are really feeling pressured, focus on the things that mean a lot to you. Ask yourself how this decision could impact your life (in terms of getting into the college/ university/ apprenticeship program you want, making the sports team you are trying out for, staying in the school band/other clubs, your relationship with your girlfriend/boyfriend or your parents, etc.)
  • Tell them that you would rather focus on those things rather than drugs

Sometimes doing drugs can seem tempting, especially if they offer a quick and temporary escape from reality. But what needs to be remembered is that doing drugs will alter your mind and can seriously damage your brain as well as other important organs, such as your kidneys. There are lots of different realities to be had, but the drug-filled reality doesn’t have to be one of them. In times like these it is important to remember that there is no need to be scared, because you are not alone and there are plenty of resources available to you to get you (or the person you know) the help you need.


If you suspect a child may be using inhalants...

  • Try talking to them calmly about what is going on
  • Talk to the child’s immediate family, or if it is your child, talk to their paediatrician or doctor
  •  Learn more about rehabilitation and treatment options

Suspecting that a child is doing drugs is always going to be stressful, but you have to keep in mind that something may be driving the youth to doing drugs. This can be because of too much school stress (too much homework, not enough free time), because of the influence their social group has on them, or just because they are curious to see what drugs are like. In any case, it is extremely important to react in a calm manner to avoid startling youth who may be under the influence of inhalants, which can lead to further complications.