NIDA Community Drug Alert Bulletin - Inhalants
What Are the Effects of Inhalant Use?

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Most inhalants act directly on the central nervous system (CNS) to produce psychoactive, or mind-altering, effects. They have short-term effects similar to anesthetics, which slow the body's functions.

  • Nearly all abused inhalants, other than nitrites, produce a pleasurable effect by depressing the CNS.
  • Nitrites make the heart beat faster and produce a sensation of heat and excitement.
  • Inhaled chemicals are rapidly absorbed through the lungs into the bloodstream and are quickly distributed to the brain and other organs.
  • Within minutes of inhaling, the user experiences intoxication along with other effects similar to those produced by alcohol. Alcohol-like effects include slurred speech, muscle weakness, belligerence, apathy, impaired judgment, euphoria, and dizziness. In addition, users may experience lightheadedness, hallucinations, and delusions.
  • Toluene can produce headache, euphoria, giddy feelings, and an inability to coordinate movements. Exposure to high doses can cause confusion and delirium. Nausea and vomiting are other common side effects.
  • Successive inhalations may make users feel less inhibited and less in control. Continued use of inhalants in sufficient amounts can produce anesthesia, a loss of sensation, and unconsciousness. After using inhalants heavily, abusers may feel drowsy for several hours and experience a lingering headache.
  • Many individuals who abuse inhalants for prolonged periods over many days report a strong need to continue using them. Compulsive use and a mild withdrawal syndrome can occur with long-term inhalant abuse. Long-term inhalant abusers may exhibit other symptoms, including weight loss, muscle weakness, disorientation, inattentiveness, lack of coordination, irritability, and depression.