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Key Information



Volatile Substances (Solvents)

Solvents cover a huge number of substances: gas lighter refills, aerosols containing hairspray, deodorants and air fresheners, tins or tubes of glue, some paints, thinners and correcting fluids, cleaning fluids, surgical spirit, dry-cleaning fluids and petroleum products. When inhaled, solvents have a similar effect to alcohol. They make people feel uninhibited, euphoric and dizzy.


Each form has a different scientific term.


Aerosols, Thinners, Volatile Substances, Solvents


The effects come on fast but are short lived and are very similar to that of alcohol intoxication. Users often feel light headed and dizzy. Some say they get dreamy and have hallucinations. Others feel sick and drowsy. As the effects wear off it may be a bit like a hangover.


All households have different substances which, when abused, can cause different effects. Solvents are sniffed from a cloth, a sleeve or a plastic bag. Some users put a plastic bag over their heads and inhale that way. Gas products can be squirted directly into the back of the throat which makes it difficult to control the dose.

HEALTH RISKS (long term) which includes withdrawal & tolerance:

Sniffing solvents can kill instantly. We have all read the warnings on the back of deodorant cans. Squirting butane gas or aerosols straight down the throat can be fatal. They can freeze the airways or cause heart failure. Suffocation is also a serious risk if the bag is put over the head. Users sometimes lose consciousness and some deaths have occurred from people choking on their own vomit. Long term, heavy use can damage the brain, liver and kidneys but this rarely happens. Tolerance can develop with regular use so that more is needed to get the same effects. There is no physical dependence but a few people can become psychologically dependent if they sniff every day.


Solvent misuse isn''t illegal. Although, it’s illegal in England and Wales for shopkeepers to sell you intoxicating substances if they think you’re likely to be inhaling them.  In Scotland the law is different but the effect is similar. Under Scottish law you can be prosecuted for ''recklessly'' selling substances to any age group if you suspect they''re going to inhale them.  Since October 1999, the law makes it an offence to supply gas lighter refills to anyone under the age of 18. This law applies to the whole of the UK.

  1. The experience (buzz or high) is like being intensely drunk for a short period.
  2. Abusing gases, aerosols or glue can cause sudden death, even on the first go. This is because breathing and heart rate are reduced and compromised.
  3. Users (when high) are more prone to accidents because their senses are affected. Accidents can occur in a number of ways. Some abusers become unconscious and choke when they inhale vomit, others are suffocated when they place a plastic bag over their heads and become too intoxicated to remove it or else become unconscious.
  4. A form of brain inflammation (encephalopathy) may arise from the lead compounds in leaded petrol. Many of these compounds are flammable. It is important too keep away from flames e.g. from firelighters and matches when inhaling. There have been severe burns caused by explosions and fires resulting from the misuse of butane. Repeated use of leaded petrol can cause lead poisoning.
  5. Long term heavy use, particularly of glue, can damage the brain, liver and kidneys. Regular use can also be habit forming and this can be difficult to break.
  6. Depending on what's being inhaled, you can hallucinate. This can last for up to 45 minutes.
  7. The hit is quite short so users tend to keep repeating the dose to keep the feeling going.
  8. It can give people a 'hangover' afterwards, giving them severe headaches and leaving them tired.
  9. Depending on the substance, it can leave a red rash around the mouth.
  10. Using solvents in combination with alcohol can lead to an increased risk of death.
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