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QUESTION: What do nail polish, paint and glue have in common?

ANSWER: They can:

  • be found at home or school
  • be inhaled by people looking for a quick high
  • cause damage to the body including the brain
  • STINK.

Inhaling (also called "huffing" or "sniffing") chemicals is a problem for many people including teenagers. Inhalants are cheap and can be found everywhere - in kitchens, garages and schools. There are hundreds of different materials that can be abused by people who inhale these dangerous chemicals. Inhalants not only damage the nervous system, but other organs such as the lungs, liver, heart and kidney can be injured permanently.

Extremely Flammable
Harmful of Fatal If Swallowed
Vapors May Cause Fire

DANGER: Keep away from heat and flame. If swallowed or if excessive inhalation occurs resulting in abnormal reactions including dizziness or nausea, contact a physician. Intentional misuse by deliberately concentrating and inhaling contents may be harmful or fatal.

(From a warning label on waterproofing spray)


Variety of Inhalants


Chemical Content

Hair Spray

Fluorinated hydrocarbons; propane; isobutane


Nitrous Oxide

Nitrous Oxide

Cleaning Fluids

Chlorinated hydrocarbons; naphtha

Typewriter Correction Fluid

Trichloroethane; trichloroethylene

Nail Polish Remover

Acetone; aliphatic acetates; benzene


Hydrocarbons; tetraethyl lead

Glue; rubber cement

Toluene; acetone, benzene; xylene; ethanol; chloroform

Paint/Paint Thinner

Toluene; methylene chloride; benzene, ethanol

Lighter Fluid


Room Deodorizers

Amyl, butyl and isobutyl nitrite

Marker pens

Toluene; xylene


Effects of Inhalants on the Nervous System

When vapors are inhaled (1), they are absorbed through the lungs (2) and enter the bloodstream (3). Once in the bloodstream, the chemicals travel to the brain (4) and other tissues throughout the body. Most inhalants that are abused depress the functioning of the nervous system. However, the effects of each inhalant are difficult to determine because each product in made up many different chemicals and each person may breathe in different amounts of each chemical. Nevertheless, these chemicals do have significant effects on the nervous system.

Some of the effects of inhalants are simliar to those of alcohol. The immediate effects of inhalants include:

  • relaxation
  • slurred speech
  • euphoria
  • hallucinations
  • drowsiness
  • dizziness
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • DEATH - from heart failure or suffocating on plastic bags or vomit.

Long term use of inhalants can cause:

  • memory loss
  • concentration problems
  • visual disturbances; blindness
  • motor problems
  • peripheral nerve damage


Nervous System Targets of Inhalants

Inhalants may affect different parts the brain and nervous system and may cause a variety of sensory, motor, psychological and emotional problems. One major effect of inhalants is the destruction of the myelin sheath that surrounds neurons. This can result in problems in the normal transmission of impulses through neurons and cell death.

Specific areas of the brain targeted by inhalants include:

  1. Cerebral cortex: damage can cause changes in personality, memory loss, hallucinations and learning problems.
  2. Cerebellum: damage can cause problems in balance and movement.
  3. Hippocampus: damage may result in the memory problems.
  4. Visual System: damage to the peripheral nerves may cause visual disturbances.


Did you know?

Nitrous oxide was discovered in 1776 by Sir Joseph Priestley. In 1799, Sir Humphrey Davy suggested that nitrous oxide could be used during surgery to reduce pain.



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Jamestown Elementary School
342 S. Main Street
Jamestown, KY 42629  

Phone: 270-343-3966 
Fax: 270-343-3350