According to new data obtained by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, the use of inhalants is on the rise. The number of grade eight student users has jumped by eighteen percent; and the figures from those in the sixth grade are even more shocking, with reports of a drastic forty four percent increase in users over the last two years.
Inhalant abuse, or “huffing” as it is more commonly referred to, has become common practice among teenagers. It involves inhaling (or “huffing”) fumes from your everyday run-of-the-mill household products, such as glue, cleaning products or paint. This huffing produces a high that is similar to the effects of alcohol. For teens, this can seem appealing for the simple fact that the products are easy to obtain (school and/or home) and the effect on the brain is immediate. But this, unbeknownst to most of the users, is where the problems begin...
The inhalants contain a plethora of chemicals, all of which absorb into the lungs and then distribute throughout the body. Some leave the body quite rapidly; others, however, remain there for longer periods. The high is felt almost instantaneously and the user may begin to experience slurred speech, lack of coordination, dizziness or feelings of elation – similar to the effects of alcohol.
Unlike alcohol, however, inhalants do much more extensive and long-term damage to the body. Inhalants have the capacity to break down myelin, the protective layer (or sheath) that surrounds the nerves. The myelin sheath is imperative to proper functioning for it helps the nerve fibres relay information to and from the brain. Multiple Sclerosis (MS), for example, is a disease caused by damage to the myelin. The effects of huffing, and its inability of the nerves to carry information to the brain, can therefore produce similar damage to that which is characterized by MS. Muscle spasms, tremors or even difficulty walking, bending, and talking could result.
Long-term use of inhalants can also cause heart failure, liver damage and muscle weakness. The fumes can also cause permanent damage to the brain and spinal cord. Furthermore, one’s ability to solve complex problems and think ahead is also affected due to the damage done to the cerebral cortex. Butane, another type of inhalant found in cigarette lighters and refills, makes the heart extra sensitive to noradrenaline, the chemical responsible for telling the heart to beat faster in a stressful situation. When this over-sensitivity occurs, however, a normal jolt of noradrenaline may cause the heart to temporarily shift its rhythm and consequently stop pumping blood through the body. This often proves fatal for inhalant users.