Inhalants are a range of products that produce vapours which, when inhaled, may cause the person to feel intoxicated or 'high'.
Glue, gas, sniff, huff, chroming, poppers.
What do inhalants look like?
Inhalants come in a variety of forms, such as aerosols, liquids or semi-solids. Some of the most common are:
How are they used?
The drug is inhaled through the nose or mouth. It may be sprayed into a plastic bag, poured into a bottle or soaked onto a cloth or sleeve before being inhaled.
The effects of any drug (including inhalants) vary from person to person. How inhalants affect a person depends on many things including their size, weight and health, also whether the person is used to taking it and whether other drugs are taken. The effects of any drug also depend on the amount taken.
There is no safe level of drug use. Use of any drug always carries some risk—even medications can produce unwanted side effects. It is important to be careful when taking any type of drug.
The effects of inhalants may start to be felt immediately and can last for 45 minutes.
Low to moderate doses
Some of the effects that may be experienced after taking inhalants include:
A higher dose of inhalants can increase the chances of:
Most long-term effects are not permanent and can be reversed if use is stopped. However, some inhalants such as cleaning products, correction fluid, aerosol sprays and petrol can cause permanent damage, especially if people use them heavily for a long period.
Some of the chemicals in inhalants may build up in the body. They can irritate the stomach and the intestines, and can cause damage to the brain, nervous system, kidneys and liver.
Other effects of inhalant use
Using inhalants with other drugs
The chances of an overdose are increased if inhalants are taken with other depressant drugs such as alcohol, benzodiazepines or opiates. Using inhalants with other depressants can affect breathing rate and the heart and blood vessels. Mixing drugs can also increase the risk of passing out and suffocating or choking on vomit.
Pregnancy and breastfeeding
People who use inhalants regularly can develop dependence and tolerance to them, which means they need to take larger amounts of inhalants to get the same effect.
Evidence suggests that long-term use of inhalants can lead to a psychological dependence. People who are dependent on inhalants find that using the drug becomes far more important than other activities in their life. They crave the drug and find it very difficult to stop using it. People may find they feel an urge to use them when they are in specific surroundings or socialising with friends.
Giving up inhalants after using them for a long time is challenging because the body has to get used to functioning without them. Mild symptoms begin 24–48 hours after stopping use, and may last from 2–5 days. Symptoms may include:
- Headache, nausea, stomach pain
- Tiredness, shakiness, tremors
- Hallucinations and visual disorders, such as seeing spots.
What to do if you are concerned about someone’s inhalant use
If you are concerned about someone's drug use, there is help available. Contact the alcohol and drug information service in your state or territory.
What to do in a crisis
Always call triple zero (000) if a drug overdose is known or suspected—and remember that paramedics are not obliged to involve the police.
If someone overdoses or has an adverse reaction while using inhalants, it is very important that they receive professional help as soon as possible. A quick response can save their life.
Inhalants and the law
Inhalant use is not a criminal offence in any Australian state or territory.
In recent years, some Australian states and territories have revised police powers to intervene in inhalant use in two main ways. Police are authorised to:
- take away inhalants and related equipment
- pick up young people engaged in inhalant use and release them into the care of a responsible person or a place of safety.
It is also illegal in some states and territories for shopkeepers to sell products to someone if they believe they are to be used for inhaling.
Please note: This information does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon in this way. The information is correct at the time of publication. For information specific to your situation contact a legal aid service in your state or territory.
Read more about drugs and the law.
National drug policy
Australia’s national drug policy is based on harm minimisation. Strategies to minimise harm include encouraging people to avoid using a drug through to helping people to reduce the risk of harm if they do use a drug. It aims to reduce all types of drug-related harm to both the individual and the community.
Educational resources on inhalants
This information has been adapted from the pamphlet How Drugs Affect You: Inhalants, produced by the Australian Drug Foundation. For single copies of this pamphlet contact DrugInfo. Multiple copies are available from the ADF Bookshop.
Last updated: 10 January 2013