The Danger of Teens & Inhalants

Are whipped cream and nail polish remover really dangerous? Experts say yes, based on recent huffing trends.
Why Kids Inhale

Good for you if you've talked to your kids about the dangers of drugs and alcohol. But you're not done yet. Many of the products you have around the house, such as correction fluid and aerosol hair spray, can be even more harmful than many illegal drugs if deliberately inhaled.

Misuse of seemingly innocuous household products is part of a growing and dangerous trend among teens and tweens that can have fatal consequences. Called huffing, sniffing, or dusting, it's on the rise even as overall drug use by teens continues to decrease. Last year, the Partnership for a Drug-Free America found that approximately one in four eighth-graders had tried huffing at least once (yes, you read that number right).

Some of the most common inhalants include:

  • compressed air computer cleaners
  • nail polish remover
  • correction fluid
  • butane lighter refills
  • aerosols such as hair spray, deodorant, even whipped cream

"Just look under your kitchen sink or in your cupboards," says Harvey Weiss, executive director of the National Inhalant Prevention Coalition in Austin, Texas. "There's a menu of products that can be misused."

Dangers of Huffing

Kids use household products to get high because those items are cheap and easily available. But while the products themselves are perfectly safe when used as directed, they can be fatal if used as inhalants. "Even a single use can cause death," says David Shurtleff, PhD, a division director at the National Institute on Drug Abuse in Bethesda, Maryland.

The worst-case consequences are cardiac arrest (known as Sudden Sniffing Death syndrome) or suffocation due to lack of oxygen, but cumulative injury can occur as well. "With prolonged use, you can damage just about any organ in the body, including the brain, heart, lungs, liver, and kidneys," Shurtleff says.

Continued on page 2:  Recognizing the Signs