Drug Abuse and Addiction: Drugs of Choice (cont.)

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 an attached paper or plastic bag or in a closed area greatly increases the chances of suffocation. Even when using aerosols or volatile products for their legitimate purposes (i.e., painting, cleaning), it is wise to do so in a well-ventilated room or outdoors.

Chronic abuse of solvents can cause severe, long-term damage to the brain, the liver, and the kidneys.

Harmful irreversible effects that may be caused by abuse of specific solvents include:

  • Hearing loss: toluene (spray paints, glues, dewaxers) and trichloroethylene (cleaning fluids, correction fluids)

  • Peripheral neuropathies, or limb spasms: hexane (glues, gasoline) and nitrous oxide (whipping cream, gas cylinders)

  • Central nervous system or brain damage: toluene (spray paints, glues, dewaxers)

  • Bone marrow damage: benzene (gasoline)

Serious but potentially reversible effects include:

  • Liver and kidney damage: toluene-containing substances and chlorinated hydrocarbons (correction fluids, dry-cleaning fluids)

  • Blood oxygen depletion: aliphatic nitrites (known on the street as poppers, bold, and rush) and methylene chloride (varnish removers, paint thinners)

Abuse of amyl and butyl nitrites has been associated with Kaposi's sarcoma (KS), the most common cancer reported among AIDS patients. Early studies of KS showed that many people with KS had used volatile nitrites. Researchers are continuing to explore the hypothesis of nitrites as a factor contributing to the development of KS in HIV-infected people.

Portions of the above information has been provided with the kind permission of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (www.drugabuse.gov)

Last Editorial Review: 7/7/2004

Health Solutions From Our Sponsors