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Article Summary

What Are the Effects of Inhalants On the Body?

We all know that inhalants such as glue, paint thinner and gasoline can have severe negative impacts on the body, but the continued widespread abuse of these substances suggests that many people still fail to truly understand the catastrophic short- and long-term consequences of inhalants.

To understand the true dangers it's vital that we understand the relationship between inhalants and the body; that we understand not just the danger of instant death through inhalant abuse, but also the long-term health problems that abuse can cause.

Immediate Health Problems

The majority of inhalants have an almost instant effect on the nervous system, producing a wave of intoxication that can mimic that of alcohol. Slurred speech, dizziness and a lack of coordination are all immediate effects that match those of alcohol consumption.

However, inhalant abuse acts on the brain and body in a much more damaging way. Though the risk is relatively small, even a single episode of inhalant abuse can cause a fatal condition known as Sudden Sniffing Death. Some inhalants cause an extreme sensitivity to adrenaline, and if the user experiences a sudden rush of the hormone they may go into potentially fatal cardiac arrest. Sudden Sniffing Death can occur on the first use of inhalants or the thousandth, and there is no way to predict when it will happen.

Similarly, butane abuse can cause instant death by causing a laryngospasm (an uncontrolled muscular spasm of the laryngeal cords). When butane is sprayed directly into the throat it can cool instantly to sub-zero temperatures, triggering a spasm that can prevent breathing for long enough to cause death. Such rapid cooling of inhalants can also cause frostbite in the mouth, nasal passage, throat and lungs, leaving dead tissue that could potentially lead to infection and death.

Abuse of heavier-than-air gases that are capable of displacing oxygen in the lungs can cause death by suffocation. When gases such as argon or tetrafluoroethane are inhaled they can settle in the lungs, preventing oxygen from passing into the bloodstream. However, since both of these gases block the mechanism by which reflexive breathing is triggered the user can suffer from hypoxia without ever realizing he isn't taking in oxygen. Argon is, in fact, such a reliable killer that it's commonly used in assisted suicide to suffocate the patient in a painless manner.

Long-Term Health Problems

As if it wasn't enough that inhalants can kill instantly, protracted use can cause widespread and extensive health problems that can kill in later life.

1. Brain Damage

Various inhalants can cause a wide variety of psychological disorders and physical brain damage. Most importantly, many inhalants damage the protective myelin sheath that covers neurons, disrupting signal pathways and causing everything from diminished intelligence to pronounced personality changes.

Damage to the cerebral cortex can render inhalant users permanently unable to retain memories, and can also cause a wide range of learning disabilities and auditory, visual and even tactile hallucinations.

Damage to the cerebellum can cause uncontrollable shaking, slurred speech and loss of coordination that can persist throughout life, and nerve damage in the brain can cause blindness, deafness and anosmia (loss of the sense of smell).

2. Body

With continued use inhalants will cause severe damage to every organ, the nervous system and the vascular system. Inhalant abuse can reduce lung capacity, killing off healthy tissue to the point at which users find it impossible to breathe without assistance.

Chronic abuse can also reduce the efficiency of the liver and kidneys as a result of the stress of filtering toxins from the body. While kidney damage should result in kidney stones in the worst case, the liver can become damaged beyond repair due to inhalant abuse. Unfortunately, drug abusers are rarely selected as suitable candidates for organ transplants.

In addition to organ damage, inhalant use can cause muscle wastage, the destruction of bone marrow and the onset of leukemia. It can also damage the central nervous system, with symptoms ranging from numbness and tingling in the extremities all the way to total paralysis in the worst case.

Inhalants- a Death Sentence

It's vital that potential abusers of inhalants understand that the risks are not limited only to the immediate risk of death. Inhalant abuse can have far-reaching effects that can destroy good health for the rest of an user's life, continuing even after the user has seen the error of his ways and ended his destructive habits. The simple fact is that inhalants and the body don't mix.

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