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How Are Household Aerosol Sprays Abused?

Products that are inhaled through the mouth and/or nose to produce mind-altering effects are termed inhalants.Many common household products are used for the purposes of getting high, especially by children and adolescents.

Products that are inhaled through the mouth and/or nose to produce mind-altering effects are termed inhalants.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) publishes the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), which reported that close to 10 percent of the American population (of those aged 12 and older) have abused an inhalant drug at least once in their lifetime as of 2015. Almost 70 percent of those using them for the first time in the year leading up to the 2010 national survey were under the age of 18, NIDA further indicates. These products are commonly used by younger children, as 8th graders use them at higher rates than high school seniors.

Inhalants include a type of product called aerosols, which contain solvents and propellants. These products contain chemicals that are stored in a pressurized container, often a can of some kind; when activated, generally by the press of a button, they are propelled out. These products include hairspray, paints, fabric protector, cooking sprays, cleaning products, deodorant, and room deodorizers or air freshening sprays. They are cheap and easily accessible as most people have a variety of aerosols already in their homes.

These drugs are abused by a variety of methods, including:

  • Huffing
  • Snorting or sniffing
  • Bagging
  • Spraying

With huffing, a rag or washcloth is soaked with an aerosol inhalant product and then pressed to the mouth to be breathed in. Individuals will hold the soaked rag to their face and breathe deeply to inhale the fumes.

People may also soak their collars, cuffs, or shirtsleeves with these products to continually huff throughout the day.

    Aerosol sprays can also be sprayed into the air and then snorted or sniffed into the nose, or sprayed into a paper or plastic bag before inhaling the fumes, practice termed bagging. They may also be sprayed into another container, like a soda can, and then inhaled from that. When an aerosol spray is sprayed directly into the mouth or nose, it is called spraying. With this method, individuals may place the nozzle of the spray directly into the mouth before depressing the button to propel the chemicals.Aerosol spray abuse may be physically recognizable, as these products often leave a residue behind on a person’s clothes, mouth, nose, or face. They can also cause rashes on the face or skin. Empty spray bottles, smelly rags, empty paper or plastic bags, and a lingering chemical odor may be further evidence of inhalant abuse.

    All of these methods of inhalant abuse send the mind-altering chemicals quickly into the bloodstream, creating a sense of euphoria that, according to Mayo Clinic, typically lasts about 15 minutes to a half-hour.

    Aerosol sprays are inherently poisonous and inhaling them can be dangerous. The National Capital Poison Center warns that even one-time abuse of an aerosol inhalant can cause “sudden sniffing death,” which is caused by a lack of oxygen to the brain, leading to an irregular heartbeat and other complications. Abusing aerosol sprays can have both sudden and long-term consequences, including organ, nerve, muscle, and brain damage. It can also lead to addiction.

    All substance abuse is dangerous, but one of the most immediately life-threatening forms is inhalant abuse. These chemicals are not for human consumption; they are instead designed as cleaners, paints, lubricants for machine parts, and for other uses. They are toxic to the human body and can cause immediate death after even one instance of abuse.

    It is important to understand more about household aerosol sprays and other kinds of inhalants to prevent this dangerous form of substance abuse.

    What Is ‘Dusting’?

    People who abuse inhalants have several terms for the experience, depending on what product is being abused and how it is being inhaled. Dusting specifically refers to spraying aerosol keyboard cleaner into a bag or onto a cloth and then inhaling it. Dusting hit a peak of popularity among adolescents ages 12-17 in 2008, according to an article from the Seattle Times, when 2.1 million kids used an inhalant, often computer keyboard cleaner, to get high.

    What’s the Difference between a Solvent and a Propellant?

    While solvents and propellants are common household chemicals, often used for cleaning or air freshening, they are applied differently when used as recommended. Solvents dissolve liquids or solids, like paint, grease, or dirt stains, for the purpose of cleaning; propellants are a wider range of chemicals, which are propelled out of their container using pressure. Propellants include aerosol sprays, spray paint, or air freshener.

    A person struggling with inhalant abuse may apply these chemicals to a rag, dump them into a bag, or apply them to a surface, and then sniff the fumes. Propellants may, in a very dangerous manner, be applied directly into the nose or mouth.

    What Is a ‘Whippet’ or ‘Whip-It’?

    The generally accepted spelling for this illicit abuse of nitrous oxide is whippet, but it is sometimes found under the spelling whip-it, since the canisters are found in whipped cream cans. Steel cylinders full of nitrous oxide power industrial or restaurant whipped cream canisters, so these containers may be cheap or easy to find. Nitrous oxide is also associated with sedatives for dental work, sometimes called laughing gas.

    The contents of the canister are expelled into the person’s mouth, forcing the gas into their lungs so they experience a rapid, short-lived euphoria. This is a very dangerous process, and many people have been hospitalized for abusing nitrous oxide in this manner.

    What Kind of Comedown Happens with Aerosol Abuse?

    Anecdotal evidence suggests that coming down from abusing inhalants, including aerosols, is similar to an alcohol-induced hangover. Sometimes, the symptoms of aerosol abuse seem like a serious cold or the flu. Residual effects from inhaling toxic substances include:

    • Hoarseness, sore throat, or trouble speaking
    • Symptoms like asthma or allergies, including difficulty breathing through the nose or mouth
    • Coughing a lot for no discernible reason
    • Rashes or redness on the face, especially around the nose or mouth
    • Loss of appetite
    • Nausea and vomiting