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Anabolic Steroids, Ecstasy, Brain on drugs, and Inhalants How does it effect you? see below!

What Are They?


Ever wondered how those bulky weight lifters got so big? While some may have gotten their muscles through a strict regimen of weightlifting and diet, others may have gotten that way through the illegal use of anabolic-androgenic steroids. "Anabolic" refers to a steroid's ability to help build muscle and "androgenic" refers to their role in promoting the development of male sexual characteristics. Other types of steroids, like cortisol, estrogen, and progesterone, do not build muscle, are not anabolic, and therefore do not have the same harmful effects.

Anabolic-androgenic steroids are usually synthetic substances similar to the male sex hormone testosterone. They do have legitimate medical uses. Sometimes doctors prescribe them to help people with certain kinds of anemia and men who don't produce enough testosterone on their own. But doctors never prescribe anabolic steroids to young, healthy people to help them build muscles. Without a prescription from a doctor, anabolic steroids are illegal.

There are many different anabolic-androgenic steroids. Here's a list of some of the most common ones taken today: Andro, oxandrin, dianabol, winstrol, deca-durabolin, and equipoise.
[1] [5]

What Are the Common Street Names?

Slang words for steroids are hard to find. Most people just say steroids. On the street, steroids may be called "roids" or "juice." [2] The scientific name for this class of drugs is anabolic-androgenic steroids. But even scientists shorten it to anabolic steroids. [3]

How Are They Used?

Some steroid users pop pills. Others use hypodermic needles to inject steroids directly into muscles. When users take drugs without regard for their legality or their adverse health effects they are called "abusers." Steroid abusers have been known to take doses 10 to 100 times higher than the amount prescribed by a doctor for medical reasons. [1]

What Is the Scope of Steroid Abuse?

Most teens are smart and stay away from steroids. As part of a 2008 NIDA-funded study, teens were asked if they ever tried steroids—even once. Only 1.4% of 8th and 10th graders ever tried steroids and 2.2% of 12th graders. [4] However, among those who do abuse them steroid abuse is higher among males than females but is growing most rapidly among young women. Abuse is also well known to occur in a number of professional sports, including fields such as bodybuilding and baseball.

What Are the Effects?

A major health consequence from abusing anabolic steroids can include prematurely stunted growth through early skeletal maturation and accelerated puberty changes. This means that teens risk remaining short for the remainder of their lives if they take anabolic steroids before they stop growing. Other effects include jaundice (yellowish coloring of skin, tissues, and body fluids), fluid retention, high blood pressure, increases in LDL (bad cholesterol), decreases in HDL (good cholesterol), severe acne, trembling, and in very rare cases liver and kidney tumors. In addition, there are some gender-specific side effects:

  • for guys—shrinking of the testicles, reduced sperm count, infertility, baldness, development of breasts, increased risk for prostate cancer.
  • for girls—growth of facial hair, male-pattern baldness, changes in or cessation of the menstrual cycle, enlargement of the clitoris, and a permanently deepened voice.

Steroid abuse can also have an effect on behavior. Many users report feeling good about themselves while on anabolic steroids, but researchers report that extreme mood swings also can occur, including manic-like symptoms leading to violence. This is because anabolic steroids act in a part of the brain called the limbic system, which influences mood and is also involved in learning and memory.

Steroids can also lead to other changes in mood, such as feelings of depression or irritability. Depression, which can be life-threatening, often is seen when the drugs are stopped and may contribute to the continued use of anabolic steroids. Researchers also report that users may suffer from paranoia, jealousy, extreme irritability, delusions, and impaired judgment stemming from feelings of invincibility.

Can Steroid Abuse Be Fatal?


In some rare cases yes. When steroids enter the body, they go to different organs and muscles. Steroids are not friendly to the heart. In rare cases steroid abuse can create a situation where the body may be susceptible to heart attacks and strokes, which can be fatal. Here's how: Steroid use can lead to a condition called atherosclerosis, which causes fat deposits inside arteries to disrupt blood flow. When blood flow to the heart is blocked, a heart attack can occur. If blood flow to the brain is blocked, a stroke can result. [1]

Bulking up the artificial way—by using steroids—puts teens at risk for more than cardiovascular disease. Steroids can weaken the immune system, which is what helps the body fight against germs and disease. That means that illnesses and diseases have an easy target in someone who is abusing steroids. [5]

In addition, people who inject anabolic steroids may share non-sterile "works," or drug injection equipment, that can spread life-threatening viral infections such as HIV/AIDS or hepatitis, which causes serious damage to the liver.

Are Anabolic Steroids Addictive?

It is possible that some steroid abusers may become addicted to the drugs, as evidenced by their continued use in spite of physical problems and negative effects on social relationships. Also, they spend large amounts of time and money obtaining the drugs and, when they stop using them, they experience withdrawal symptoms such as depression, mood swings, fatigue, restlessness, loss of appetite, insomnia, reduced sex drive, and the desire to take more steroids. The most dangerous of the withdrawal symptoms is depression, because it sometimes leads to suicide attempts. Untreated, some depressive symptoms associated with anabolic steroid withdrawal have been known to persist for a year or more after the abuser stops taking the drugs. [1]

What Can Be Done to Prevent Steroid Abuse?

Research has shown that there is an effective program for preventing steroid abuse among players on high school sports teams. In the ATLAS (for guys) and ATHENA (for girls) programs, coaches and sports team leaders discuss the potential effects of anabolic steroids and other illicit drugs on immediate sports performance, and they teach how to refuse offers of drugs. They also discuss how strength training and proper nutrition can help adolescents build their bodies without the use of steroids. Later, special trainers teach the players proper weightlifting techniques. An ongoing series of studies has shown that this multi-component, team-centered approach reduces new steroid abuse by 50 percent and, at the same time, produces the kind of athletic performance that the teen desires. [1]

What Is the Bottom Line?

The bottom line is: Science proves that there are serious risks associated with the abuse of steroids and teens should never use anabolic steroids to help them bulk up.


1. National Institute on Drug Abuse.
NIDA Research Report-Steroid Abuse and Addiction
NIH Pub. No. 00-3721. Bethesda, MD: NIDA, NIH, DHHS. Printed 1991. Reprinted 1994, 1996. Revised September 2006. Retrieved May 2009.

2. National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Commonly Abused Drugs Chart
Bethesda, MD: NIDA, NIH, DHHS, 2000. Retrieved May 2009.

3. National Institute on Drug Abuse.
NIDA InfoFacts: Steroids (Anabolic-Androgenic)
Bethesda, MD: NIDA, NIH, DHHS. Revised June 2008. Retrieved May 2009.

4. National Institute on Drug Abuse.
NIDA InfoFacts: High School and Youth Trends
Bethesda, MD: NIDA, NIH, DHHS. Revised December 2008. Retrieved May 2009.

5. National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Mind Over Matter: The Brain's Response to Steroids
NIH Pub. No. 00-3858. Bethesda, MD: NIDA, NIH, DHHS. Printed 1997. Reprinted 1998, 2000. Revised December 2008. Retrieved May 2009.

6. National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Mind Over Matter: The Brain's Response to Drugs Teacher's Guide
NIH Pub. No. 020-3592. Bethesda, MD: NIDA, NIH, DHHS. Printed 1997. Reprinted 1998, 2002. Revised 2000. Retrieved May 2009.

7. Pope, H.G., Jr.; Kouri, E.M.; and Hudson, J.I.
Effects of supraphysiologic doses of testosterone on mood and aggression in normal men: A randomized controlled trial.
Archives of General Psychiatry 57(2):133-140, 2000.


What Is It?

Ecstasy Pill

Ecstasy is a slang term for an illegal drug that has effects similar to those of hallucinogens and stimulants. Ecstasy's scientific name is "MDMA," short for 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine, a name that's nearly as long as the all-night dance club "raves" or "trances" where ecstasy is often used. That's why MDMA is called a "club drug."

MDMA is synthetic-it doesn't come from a plant like marijuana does. MDMA users often make the drug in secret "labs"-in trailers, basements, and even kitchens-hidden around the country. Other chemicals or substances are often added to, or substituted for, MDMA in ecstasy tablets, such as caffeine, dextromethorphan (in some cough syrups), amphetamines, or cocaine. Makers of ecstasy can add anything they want to the drug. So the purity of ecstasy is always in question. [1]

What Are the Common Street Names?

Slang words for MDMA are ecstasy, E, XTC, X, Adam, hug, beans, clarity, lover's speed, and love drug. [1] [2]

How Is It Used?

MDMA is usually taken by mouth in a pill, tablet, or capsule. These pills can be different colors, and sometimes the pills have cartoon-like images on them. Some MDMA users take more than one pill at a time, called "bumping." [1] [2] [3]

How Many Teens Use It?

According to a 2005 NIDA-funded study, many smart teens are turning their backs on MDMA. Since 2001, the percentage of 8th-graders who have ever tried MDMA has dropped from 5.2% in 2001 to 2.8% in 2005. The drop for 10th-graders was from 8.0% in 2001 to 4.0% in 2005, and 12th-graders have had the greatest decrease, from 11.7% in 2001 to 5.4% in 2005. According to 12th-graders, MDMA also seemed to be less available in 2005, which is good; but fewer 8th-graders saw "great risk" in occasionally using MDMA, and that's not so good. It means that 8th-graders may not understand the health risks of using MDMA as well as they should. [4]

Is MDMA Addictive?

Like other stimulant drugs, MDMA appears to have the ability to cause addiction. That is, people continue to take the drug despite experiencing unpleasant physical side effects and other social, behavioral, and health consequences.

No one knows how many times a person can use a drug before becoming addicted or who's most vulnerable to addiction. Genetic makeup, living environment, and other factors probably play a role in a person's susceptibility to addiction.


What Are the Common Effects?

Ecstasy Pill

In general, NIDA-supported research shows that abuse of any club drugs can cause serious health problems and, in rare instances, even death. Many drug abusers take combinations of drugs, including alcohol, which may further increase their danger.

For most abusers, a "hit" of ecstasy lasts for 3 to 6 hours. Once the pill is swallowed, it takes only about 15 minutes for MDMA to enter the bloodstream and reach the brain. About 45 minutes later, a user experiences MDMA's peak level (high). It's downhill from there, unless the user "bumps" and takes more MDMA. But even if a person takes only one pill, the side effects of MDMA-including feelings of sadness, anxiety, depression, and memory difficulties-can last for several days to a week (or longer in regular MDMA users). [1] [2] [3]

Initial Effects

MDMA abusers might feel very alert or "hyper" at first. At raves, they can keep on dancing for hours at a time. They may also experience distortions in time and other changes in perception, such as an enhanced sense of touch. Some, however, can become anxious and agitated. Sweating or chills may occur, and MDMA abusers may feel faint or dizzy. [3]

MDMA abusers can also become dehydrated through vigorous activity in a hot environment. MDMA can interfere with the body's ability to regulate its temperature, which can cause dangerous overheating (hyperthermia.) This, in turn, can lead to serious heart, kidney, or liver problems-or, rarely, death. MDMA can be extremely dangerous in high doses, or when multiple small doses are taken within a short time period to maintain the high. Blood levels of the drug can reach very high levels, increasing the risk of hyperthermia and other health risks of MDMA. [3]

Other Effects On the Body

MDMA can also cause muscle tension, clenching of teeth, nausea, blurred vision, fainting, and chills or sweating. It increases heart rate and blood pressure.

Effects On the Mind

MDMA can cause confusion, depression, sleep problems, intense fear, and anxiety. In regular abusers, some of these side effects can last for days or weeks after taking MDMA.


MDMA can be dangerous in high doses. It can cause a noticeable increase in body temperature (hyperthermia), which also has been associated with dehydration. Hyperthermia can lead to cardiovascular problems, seizures, liver failure, and muscle breakdown that can cause kidney failure. These have been reported in some fatal cases at raves. [1]

MDMA has been shown to be neurotoxic (damage nerve tissue) in studies using animals. It's not yet known whether this drug is neurotoxic in humans. However, regular users of MDMA have demonstrated memory loss, and this may reflect damage to the neurons that release serotonin, which affects the ability to sleep and helps to regulate mood.

Long-term Effects

Although it is not yet known whether MDMA causes long-term brain damage in humans, or whether the effects are reversible when someone stops using the drug, a study of non-human primates showed that exposure to high doses of MDMA for 4 days produced brain damage that was evident 6 to 7 years later. The study researchers found that some of the damaged nerve fibers grew back, but not necessarily in the same parts of the brain. It's like cutting off a branch of a fruit tree: The tree is still alive and can sprout a new limb somewhere else, but it may not bear as much fruit as the old one.

Risks to the Brain

Brain imaging research in humans indicates that MDMA may affect neurons that use serotonin to communicate with other neurons. The serotonin system plays a direct role in regulating mood, aggression, sexual activity, sleep, and sensitivity to pain. [5] [6]


1. National Institute on Drug Abuse.
NIDA Community Drug Alert Bulletin-Club Drugs
Bethesda, MD: NIDA, NIH, DHHS. Retrieved March 2006.

2. National Institute on Drug Abuse.
NIDA InfoFacts: MDMA (Ecstasy)
Bethesda, MD: NIDA, NIH, DHHS. Retrieved March 2006.

3. National Institute on Drug Abuse.
NIDA InfoFacts: Club Drugs
Bethesda, MD: NIDA, NIH, DHHS. Retrieved March 2006.

4. National Institute on Drug Abuse.
NIDA InfoFacts: High School and Youth Trends
Bethesda, MD: NIDA, NIH, DHHS. Retrieved March 2006.

5. National Institute on Drug Abuse.
MDMA/Ecstasy Research: Advances, Challenges, Future Directions A Scientific Conference
Bethesda, MD: NIDA, NIH, DHHS. Retrieved March 2006.

6. Scholastic and National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Heads Up: Real News About Drugs and Your Body
Retrieved June 2003.

Brain and Addiction

Introducing... Your Brain

Stress Brain

The brain is the command center of your body. It weighs about three pounds, and has different centers or systems that process different kinds of information.

The brain stem is the most primitive structure at the base of your brain. The brain stem controls your heart rate, breathing, and sleeping; it does the things you never think about.

Various parts or lobes of the brain process information from your sense organs: the occipital lobe receives information from your eyes, for example. And the cerebral cortex, on top of the whole brain, is the "thinking" part of you. That's where you store and process language, math, and strategies: It's the thinking center. Buried deep within the cerebral cortex is the limbic system, which is responsible for survival: It remembers and creates an appetite for the things that keep you alive, such as good food and the company of other human beings. [1], [2]

The cerebellum is responsible for things you learn once and never have to think about, such as balance when walking or how to throw a ball.

How Does Your Brain Communicate?

The brain's job is to process information. Brain cells called neurons receive and send messages to and from other neurons. There are billions of neurons in the human brain, each with as many as a thousand threadlike branches that reach out to other neurons.

In a neuron, a message is an electrical impulse. The electrical message travels along the sending branch, or axon, of the neuron. When the message reaches the end of the axon, it causes the release of a chemical called a neurotransmitter. The chemical travels across a tiny gap, or synapse, to other neurons.

Specialized molecules called receptors on the receiving neuron pick up the chemical. The branches on the receiving end of a neuron are called dendrites. Receptors there have special shapes so they can only collect one kind of neurotransmitter.

In the dendrite, the neurotransmitter starts an electrical impulse. Its work done, the chemical is released back into the synapse. The neurotransmitter then is broken down or is reabsorbed into the sending neuron. [1], [2]

Neurons in your brain release many different neurotransmitters as you go about your day thinking, feeling, reacting, breathing, and digesting. When you learn new information or a new skill, your brain builds more axons and dendrites first, as a tree grows roots and branches. With more branches, neurons can communicate and send their messages more efficiently. [1]

What Do Drugs Do to the Brain?

Some drugs work in the brain because they have a similar size and shape as natural neurotransmitters. In the brain in the right amount or dose, these drugs lock into receptors and start an unnatural chain reaction of electrical charges, causing neurons to release large amounts of their own neurotransmitter.

Some drugs lock onto the neuron and act like a pump, so the neuron releases more neurotransmitter. Other drugs block reabsorption or reuptake and cause unnatural floods of neurotransmitter. [1]

All drugs of abuse, such as nicotine, cocaine, and marijuana, primarily affect the brain's limbic system. Scientists call this the "reward" system. Normally, the limbic system responds to pleasurable experiences by releasing the neurotransmitter dopamine, which creates feelings of pleasure.

What Happens if Someone Keeps Using Drugs?

Stress Brain

Think about how you feel when something good happens-maybe your team wins a game, you're praised for something you've done well, or you drink a cold lemonade on a hot day-that's your limbic system at work. Because natural pleasures in our lives are necessary for survival, the limbic system creates an appetite that drives you to seek those things.

The first time someone uses a drug of abuse, he or she experiences unnaturally intense feelings of pleasure. The limbic system is flooded with dopamine. Of course, drugs have other effects, too; a first-time smoker may also cough and feel nauseous from toxic chemicals in a tobacco or marijuana cigarette. [1]

But the brain starts changing right away as a result of the unnatural flood of neurotransmitters. Because they sense more than enough dopamine, for example, neurons begin to reduce the number of dopamine receptors. Neurons may also make less dopamine. The result is less dopamine in the brain: This is called down regulation. Because some drugs are toxic, some neurons may also die. [1] [3]

How Many Times Does Someone Have To Take a Drug To Become an Addict?

No one knows how many times a person can use a drug without changing his or her brain and becoming addicted.

A person's genetic makeup probably plays a role. But after enough doses, an addicted teen's limbic system craves the drug as it craves food, water, or friends. Drug craving is made worse because of down regulation.

Without a dose of the drug, dopamine levels in the drug abuser's brain are low. The abuser feels flat, lifeless, depressed. Without drugs, an abuser's life seems joyless. Now the abuser needs drugs just to bring dopamine levels up to normal levels. Larger amounts of the drug are needed to create a dopamine flood or high, an effect known as tolerance.

By abusing drugs, the addicted teen has changed the way his or her brain works. Drug abuse and addiction lead to long-term changes in the brain. These changes cause addicted drug users to lose the ability to control their drug use. Drug addiction is a disease. [1]

If Drug Addiction Is a Disease, Is There a Cure?

There is no cure for drug addiction, but it is a treatable disease; drug addicts can recover. Drug addiction therapy is a program of behavior change or modification that slowly retrains the brain. Like people with diabetes or heart disease, people in treatment for drug addiction learn behavioral changes and often take medications as part of their treatment regimen. [4]


1. National Institute on Drug Abuse.
The Brain: Understanding Neurobiology Through the Study of Addiction (
NIH Pub. No. 00-4871.

2. National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Brain Power! The NIDA Junior Scientists Program
NIH Pub. No. 01-4575. Bethesda, MD: NIDA, NIH, DHHS. 2000.

3. National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Mind Over Matter: The Brain's Response to Drugs Teacher's Guide
NIH Pub. No. 020-3592. Bethesda, MD: NIDA, NIH, DHHS. Printed 1997. Reprinted 1998, 2002. Revised 2000.

4. National Institute on Drug Abuse.
NIDA InfoFacts: Drug Addiction Treatment Methods
Bethesda, MD: NIDA, NIH, DHHS. Retrieved June 2003.


What Are They?

Image of male teen with red permanent maker over his head.  Sniffing markers can damage your brain.

Inhalants are breathable chemical vapors that produce psychoactive (mind-altering) effects. A variety of products common in the home and in the workplace contain substances that can be inhaled. Examples are some paints, glues, gasoline, and cleaning fluids. Many people do not think of these products as drugs because they were never meant to be used to achieve an intoxicating effect.

Although inhalants differ in their effects, they generally fall into the following categories:

Volatile Solvents, liquids that vaporize at room temperature, present in:

  • certain industrial or household products, such as paint thinner, nail polish remover, degreaser, dry-cleaning fluid, gasoline, and contact cement
  • some art or office supplies, such as correction fluid, felt-tip marker fluid, and electronic contact cleaner [1]

Aerosols, sprays that contain propellants and solvents, including:

  • spray paint, hair spray, deodorant spray, vegetable oil sprays, and fabric protector spray

Gases, that may be in household or commercial products, or used as medical anesthetics, such as in:

  • butane lighters, propane tanks, whipped cream dispensers, and refrigerant gases
  • anesthesia, including ether, chloroform, halothane, and nitrous oxide [2]

What Are the Common Street Names?

Common slang for inhalants includes "laughing gas" (nitrous oxide), "snappers" (amyl nitrite), "poppers" (amyl nitrite and butyl nitrite), "whippets" (fluorinated hydrocarbons, found in whipped cream dispensers), "bold" (nitrites), and "rush" (nitrites).

Who Abuses Inhalants?

Inhalants are often among the first drugs that young children use. In fact, they are one of the few classes of substances that are abused more by younger children than older ones. Inhalant abuse can become chronic and persist into adulthood.

Data from national and state surveys suggest that inhalant abuse is most common among 7th- through 9th-graders. For example, in the Monitoring the Future Study, an annual NIDA-supported survey of the Nation's secondary school students, 8th-graders regularly report the highest rate of current, past-year, and lifetime inhalant abuse compared to 10th- and 12th-graders.

How Are They Abused?

Inhalants can be breathed in through the nose or mouth in a variety of ways: [2]

  • "sniffing" or "snorting" fumes from containers
  • spraying aerosols directly into the nose or mouth
  • sniffing or inhaling fumes from substances sprayed or placed into a plastic or paper bag ("bagging")
  • "huffing" from an inhalant-soaked rag stuffed in the mouth
  • inhaling from balloons filled with nitrous oxide
Because intoxication lasts only a few minutes, abusers frequently try to make the high last longer by inhaling repeatedly over several hours.

Nitrites, a class of inhalants used primarily as sexual enhancers. Organic nitrites include amyl, butyl, and cyclohexyl nitrites and other related compounds. Amyl nitrite was used in the past to alleviate chest pain and is sometimes used today for diagnostic purposes in heart examinations. When marketed for illicit use, these nitrites are often sold in small brown bottles and labeled as “video head cleaner,” “room odorizer,” “leather cleaner,” or “liquid aroma.” [1]

What Are the Common Effects?

Image of male teen with correction fluid over his heart.  Sniffing correction fluid can stop your heart.

Most of us don't think of spray paint, glue, household cleaners, and the like as drugs because we're used to seeing such products under the kitchen sink, in the bathroom, or on the grocery shelves. Inhalants are easy to get, and children and adolescents are among those most likely to abuse these potentially toxic substances.

Initial Effects

The lungs rapidly absorb inhaled chemicals into the bloodstream, quickly distributing them throughout the brain and body. Within minutes of inhalation, users feel "high." The effects are similar to those produced by alcohol and may include slurred speech, lack of coordination, euphoria, and dizziness. Inhalant users may also experience lightheadedness, hallucinations, and delusions. [2] The high usually lasts only a few minutes.

With repeated inhalations, many users feel less inhibited and less in control. Some may feel drowsy for several hours and experience a lingering headache. [2]

Effects on the Brain

Inhalants often contain more than one chemical. Some chemicals leave the body quickly, but others can remain for a long time, absorbed by fatty tissues in the brain and central nervous system. [4]

One of these fatty tissues is myelin, a protective cover that surrounds many of the body's nerve fibers (neurons). Myelin helps nerve fibers carry their messages to and from the brain. Damage to myelin can slow down communication between nerve fibers. [2]

Long-term inhalant use can break down myelin. When this happens, nerve cells are not able to transmit messages as efficiently, which can result in muscle spasms and tremors or even permanent difficulty with basic actions like walking, bending, and talking. [3] These effects are similar to what happens to patients with multiple sclerosis—a disease that also affects myelin.

Inhalants also can damage brain cells by preventing them from receiving enough oxygen. [4] The effects of this condition, also known as brain hypoxia, will depend on the region affected. The hippocampus, for example, helps control memory, so someone who repeatedly uses inhalants may lose the ability to learn new things or may have a hard time carrying on simple conversations. [4] If the cerebral cortex is affected, the ability to solve complex problems and plan ahead will be compromised. And, if the cerebellum is affected, it can cause a person to move slowly or clumsily. [4]

Inhalants can be addictive. Long-term use can lead to compulsive drug seeking and use, and mild withdrawal symptoms.

Other Health Effects

Regular abuse of inhalants can cause serious harm to vital organs besides the brain, including the heart, kidneys, and liver. [2] Inhalants can cause heart damage, liver failure, and muscle weakness. [5] Certain inhalants can also cause the body to produce fewer blood cells, which may result in a condition known as aplastic anemia (in which the bone marrow is unable to produce blood cells). [5] Frequent long-term use of certain inhalants can cause a permanent change or malfunction of peripheral nerves, called polyneuropathy. [5]

Specific Effects by Type of Inhalant

Depending on the type of inhalant abused, the adverse health effects will differ. The table below lists a few examples.

Examples of Effects by Type of Inhalant [1]

Inhalant Examples Effects
  • Spray paint
  • Glue
  • Dewaxer
  • Fingernail polish
  • Hearing loss
  • Damage to spinal cord or brain
  • Liver and kidney damage
  • Cleaning fluid
  • Correction fluid
  • Hearing loss
  • Liver and kidney damage
  • Glue
  • Gasoline
  • Limb spasms
  • Blackouts
Nitrous Oxide
  • Whipped cream dispensers
  • Gas cylinders
  • Limb spasms
  • Blackouts
  • Gasoline
  • Bone marrow damage

Butane (found in cigarette lighters and refills) makes the heart extra sensitive to a chemical that carries messages from the central nervous system to the heart. This chemical, noradrenaline, tells the heart to beat faster when someone is in a stressful situation. [4] If the heart becomes too sensitive to noradrenaline, it can affect the heart's rhythm, with potentially lethal consequences. [4]

Nitrite abuse has other health risks. Unlike most other inhalants, which act directly on the central nervous system, nitrites enlarge blood vessels, allowing more blood to flow through them. Inhaled nitrites make the heart beat faster and produce a sensation of heat and excitement that can last for several minutes. Nitrites can also cause dizziness and headaches. Nitrites are more often used by older adolescents and adults (primarily to enhance sexual pleasure and performance), and their abuse is associated with unsafe sexual practices that can increase the risk of contracting and spreading infectious diseases, such as HIV and hepatitis. [2]

Lethal Effects

Prolonged sniffing of the highly concentrated chemicals in solvents or aerosol sprays can induce irregular or rapid heart rhythms and can lead to heart failure and death within minutes of a session of prolonged sniffing. [2] This "sudden sniffing death" is particularly associated with the abuse of butane, propane, and chemicals in aerosols. [2]

High concentrations of inhalants also can cause death from suffocation by displacing oxygen in the lungs and then in the central nervous system so that breathing ceases. Deliberately inhaling from a paper or plastic bag or in a closed area, for example, greatly increases the chances of suffocation.

While high on inhalants, users also can die by choking on their own vomit or by fatal injury from accidents, including car crashes. [2]

If Inhalants Are Harmful, Why Do Kids Use Them?

Many kids think inhalants are a harmless, cheap, and quick way to "catch a buzz." Because many inhalants can be found around the house, kids may not even think they are harmful. But the chemicals in the inhalant vapors can change the way the brain works and cause other complications in the body. What kids often don't know is that, in some cases, the harmful effects of inhalants can be irreversible.

Are Inhalants Addictive?

Some individuals, particularly those who abuse inhalants heavily and for a long time, report a strong need to continue using inhalants. Compulsive use and a mild withdrawal syndrome can occur. Additionally, recent research in animal models has shown that toluene can affect the brain in a similar manner as other drugs of abuse (i.e., amphetamines). Toluene increases dopamine activity in reward areas of the brain, and the long-term disruption of the dopamine system is one of the key factors leading to addiction.

How Can I Tell if Someone Is Abusing Inhalants?

A person who is using inhalants might have chemical odors on their breath or clothing; paint or other stains on their face, hands, or clothing; nausea or loss of appetite; weight loss; muscle weakness; disorientation; or inattentiveness, uncoordinated movement, irritability, and depression.

What Should I Do if I Know Someone Is Using Inhalants?

When someone has a drug problem, it's not always easy to know what to do. If someone you know is using inhalants, encourage him or her to talk to a parent, school guidance counselor, or other trusted adult. If the person prefers, there are also resources that are anonymous — for example, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK. They don't just talk about suicide; they can help with a lot of issues, including drug abuse, and can connect this person with a professional close by. In addition, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (CSAT) offers a National Drug and Alcohol Treatment Service that provides free and confidential information on hotlines and counseling services. CSAT's toll-free phone number is 1-800-662-4357; treatment centers by state can also be located at


1. National Institute on Drug Abuse.
NIDA InfoFacts: Inhalants
Bethesda, MD: NIDA, NIH, DHHS. Revised April 2006. Retrieved March 2007.

2. National Institute on Drug Abuse.
NIDA Research Report: Inhalant Abuse
NIH Publication No. 00-3818. Bethesda, MD: NIDA, NIH, DHHS. Printed 1994. Reprinted 1996, 1999. Revised March 2005. Retrieved March 2007.

3. University of Michigan, Institute for Social Research.
2005 Monitoring the Future Study (funded by NIDA). Data tables.
Retrieved March 2007.

4. National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Mind Over Matter: Inhalants
NIH Pub. No. 03-4038. Bethesda, MD: NIDA, NIH, DHHS. Printed 1997. Reprinted 1998, 2000, 2003. Retrieved March 2007.

5. National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Mind Over Matter: Teaching Guide. Inhalants
NIH Publication No. 00-3592. Bethesda, MD: NIDA, NIH, DHHS. Printed 1997, 1998. Revised 2000. Retrieved March 2007.

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