Inhalants are substances and medications that give off fumes that must be inhaled to receive the desired effects. Inhalants can be medications prescribed by your doctor or even normal, everyday items you can find around the house or at work. One example of an inhalant medication are nitrites, which help patients who are struggling with chest pain. Other substances such as aerosol sprays, gases, spray paints, markers, glues and cleaning fluids are also considered inhalants even though they must be misused for a user to feel a certain effect. These are items that are not intended to be inhaled.
Inhalants do not stay in the body long due to their extremely short half-life, though the time frame is different for everyone. Certain factors such as age, metabolism, organ functions, genetics and more all contribute to how quickly substances like inhalants can be removed from your body.
Young kids and teens misuse inhalants at the highest frequencies when compared to their older peers. Some highlighted facts about inhalant misuse in the United States, according to the Alliance for Consumer Education:
- More than 2.6 million kids between the ages of 12 and 17 misuse an inhalant each year to achieve mind-altering effects.
- By the time they are in the 8th grade, 1 in 4 American students has intentionally misused a household inhalant product.
- 59 percent of children know of their friends misusing inhalants by age 12.
- Inhalants are the 4th most-misused drug in the country, following alcohol, tobacco, and cannabis.
Because many household products are not intended to be used as inhalants, it is very difficult for the government to regulate such products and prevent them from getting into the hands of minors. Rather than relying on regulations, be sure to keep any of the inhalant products mentioned below in a secure space in your home so your children will not misuse them as inhalants.
The most commonly misused substances which are considered inhalants are: paint thinners or removers, dry-cleaning fluids, gasoline, lighter fluid, glue, electronic contact cleaners, felt-tip marker fluid, spray paints, hair or deodorant sprays, aerosol computer cleaning products, vegetable oil sprays, butane lighters, propane tanks, whipped cream aerosols or dispensers, video head cleaners, leather cleaners and room deodorizers.
Inhalants affect the brain by producing psychoactive, mind-altering properties after their fumes are inhaled. Misusing household items as inhalants can be very damaging and potentially cause brain damage, because when the fumes are inhaled they can cause the brain to lose oxygen. Some effects inhalant misuse has on the brain in the short term are slurred or distorted speech, lack of coordination, euphoria, and dizziness. More long-term effects of inhalant misuse on the body and brain are liver and kidney damage, hearing loss, bone marrow damage, loss of coordination and limb spasms and delayed behavioral development.
Many inhalants have very short half-lives given the short duration of time they affect the person inhaling the substance. While the half-lives of some inhalants which are misused are quite unknown, some medications such as nitrites have shown half-lives of between five to six minutes. Even though the half-life of inhalants can be very short, it is important to only take substances and medications for their exact purposes and to never inhale the fumes of household inhalant products.
There are multiple factors that influence how long inhalants stay in each person’s system, though the timeline differs due to everyone’s unique physiology. You may want to consider the following factors when estimating how long inhalants will stay in your body:
- Age: If you are younger, your body functions are more efficient. Therefore, the younger you are the faster inhalants will be removed from your system.
- Body height / weight / fat: Usually, if you are a bigger person you will need a higher dose of any medication to feel the same effects as someone smaller in size. This is the same for inhalants, so your body size as well as how much of the inhalant you consume contribute to how quickly it will leave your system.
- Metabolism: Your unique metabolism determines how quickly you process things like foods, medications, and substances like inhalants. If you have a slower metabolism, it is likely it will take a bit longer for inhalants to be removed from your system.
Because inhalants’ half-lives are usually in the range of minutes, it is unlikely the substances will be detected in your urine, hair, and blood for a long period. Usually, they will be removed within a few short minutes.
Mixing Inhalants with Alcohol
The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.