The Facts About Inhalants

There is a serious danger out there affecting our children. We, as parents, do everything we can think of to protect our kids, but the danger is still there. While most of us have heard about it, we do not have much knowledge about it and think, My kid would never do that, or, it is really not that big a deal. However, we are fooling ourselves. I am talking about is inhalants, and in a recent survey by the Eagle River Youth Coalition, it was discovered that over 40% of middle school children in Eagle County have used them.

Inhalants are substances that have another purpose, but when inhaled or huffed, create a high. Examples of inhalants include paint, glue, markers, air fresheners, gasoline, household cleaners, fingernail polish or remover, compressed air (frequently used to clean computer keyboards), and even whipped cream cans. Basically, if it gives off fumes or uses a propellant to activate it, it can be used as an inhalant. The high is created by decreasing the amount of oxygen that gets to the brain. Inhalants are so popular because they are legal, cheap, easy to get and are not viewed as really being a drug.

As the above list illustrates, most of us have numerous inhalants in our homes. In fact, most of us would not think twice if we saw our child with one of these items. That is part of the reason they are used so often by our younger youth. Even if a child is caught with one of these items, it is unlikely that anyone will be upset or that he/she will get in trouble. Have you seen children sucking on cans of whipped cream? I have.

Inhalants can produce a very strong high. Users find themselves feeling light-headed, experiencing a sense of euphoria, dizziness, and sometimes slightly numbness. The sensation is very similar to that obtained by drinking alcohol. Signs of inhalant use include slurred speech, being uncoordinated, red or runny eyes, spots or sores around the mouth, and nausea.

Because they are things we all commonly use, we tend to think they are not dangerous. However, inhalants can and do kill, sometimes even first-time users. There are numerous children who have died by inhaling canned air. The propellant, a refrigerant like Freon, goes into the lungs and fills them leaving no room for air to get in. Death is caused because of this lack of oxygen and is officially termed a fatal cardiac arrhythmia.

Studies have now found that most of the damage done by drug abuse can eventually be repaired by the body if the individual stops using. This is not true of inhalants. While inhalants can cause all kinds of damage, one of the biggest is the damage it does to the myelin sheath. The myelin sheath is a fatty tissue that surrounds and protects nerve fibers. It helps the nerves carry messages, and allows them to do so more effectively. When it is damaged, muscle spasms, tremors, and even difficulty walking, bending, and talking can result. Diseases such as Multiple Sclerosis and Guillean-Barre Syndrome are some examples of diseases where the myelin sheath is damaged.

Inhalant abuse is scary. It is not uncommon for children as young as 8 to start using them. We as adults have a responsibility to ourselves, our community, and our children to learn about it and to have honest, direct conversations about the consequences. We can't afford to lose 40% of our children!

If you would like more information on inhalants and the danger they present here are some resources:,, and Talk with your children. If they are, or have previously used inhalants, get help. Talk with a local addictions counselor, your doctor, or a residential treatment center.

April Wilson, LSW, is a counselor at the Samaritan Counseling Center, a non-profit counseling center in Edwards, CO. April can be contacted at 970-926-8558.