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Article Summary

Damage Done By Inhalants to the User


The chemicals abused by inhalant users affect different parts of the brain, producing a variety of sensory and psychological disorders. Many inhalants are thought to dissolve the protective myelin sheath that surrounds neurons - brain cells - resulting in cell death (see brain diagram).

Cerebral Cortex

Cellular death here causes permanent personality changes, memory impairment, hallucinations and learning disabilities.


This is the center that controls balance and coordination. Inhalant-related damage results in loss of coordination and slurred speech. Chronic abusers experience tremors and uncontrollable shaking.

Ophthalmic Nerve

Toluene may affect this nerve causing sight disorders.


Some substances like nitrites and methylene chloride (paint thinner) chemically block the oxygen carrying capacity of the blood.


Repeated use of spray paint as an inhalant can cause lung damage.


Abuse of inhalants can result in "sudden sniffing death syndrome." This is due to a sudden and unexpected disturbance of the heart's rhythm. All inhalants can produce sudden sniffing death syndrome.


Halogenated compounds like trichloroethylene (a component of aerosol paints and correction fluid) have been linked to damage of this organ.


Inhalants containing toluene impair the kidney's ability to control the amount of acid in the blooThis is reversible when toluene leaves the body but, in the long-term, kidney stones may develop.


Chronic inhalant abuse can lead to muscle wasting, reduced muscle tone and strength.

Bone Marrow

Benzene, a component of gasoline, has been shown to cause leukemia.

Peripheral Nervous System

Chronic inhalation of nitrous oxide (whipped cream propellant) and hexane (found in some glues and camp stove fuels) results in damage to the peripheral nerves. Symptoms can include numbness, a tingling sensation or total paralysis.

Acoustic Nerve And Muscle

Toluene inhalation destroys cells that relay sound to the brain. Chronic abusers can become deaf.

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