Sniffing glue as an intoxicant was a phenomenon virtually unknown in the United States until 1959,. when stories published in the Denver Post served as an unintended introduction and lure. Most of these stories concerned toluene, the active ingredient in model-airplane glue commonly used by youngsters. Newspaper accounts informed readers that sniffing could get them high, and pictures were provided demonstrating how to inhale glue. Toluene: was purported to cause severe brain damage and death. In reality, such damage is generally found only in extreme industrial situations where workers are exposed to fumes on an all-day basis for extended periods of time, or where substantial quantities of the chemical are swallowed.

Soon after journalistic accounts first appeared, glue sniffing; rose to epidemic proportions in Denver. As newspapers across the nation jumped on the bandwagon by further publicizing; sniffing, similar epidemics broke out in other urban areas., By 1966, thousands of arrests had resulted.

Medical authorities were claiming that toluene would not only permanently dull the brain and possibly kill the inh4lar but also that it could cause murderous impulses, burned-out nose membranes, gall-bladder perforations, bone-marrow destruction, kidney damage, sexual promiscuity, homosexuality, damage to the respiratory organs and liver, blindness; robbery, and rape.

Interest in glue sniffing prompted many youngsters to experiment with inhalation of a variety of petroleum-based products as well. By 1971, newspaper stories had also aroused curiosity toward aerosol propellants, sprayed into paper bags or balloons, then inhaled to yield a floating high comparable to that produced by nitrous oxide.

A broad range of inhalants, each capable of producing a deliriant high, are used by a small, devoted following of young people across the nation -primarily male minority-group members between the ages of eight and sixteen. These vapors are found in common products such as airplane glue, model cement, varnish, varnish remover, cigarette lighter fluid, charcoal lighter, transmission fluid, gasoline, paint, enamel, lacquer, paint thinner, hair spray, deodorant, window cleaner, spot remover, dry-cleaning agents, glass chillers, fingernail polish and remover, and spray-on cooking lubricants.

Sniffing, or “huffing,” fumes from these or related substances produces effects similar to those caused by alcohol, as well as hallucinations when ingested in high doses. Effects can euphoria, numbness, restlessness, confusion, excitement disorientation, and loss of coordination. Repeated inhalation may cause giddiness, dizziness, distortion of space and time, alterations in color perception, and feelings of omnipotence or great strength. If overdone, nausea, vomiting, unconsciousness, fatigue, muscular weakness, stomach pain, weight loss, tremor, ataxia, itching, fear, loneliness, guilt, neuritis, peripheral and cranial nerve paralysis, delirium, and coma may follow.

With all the scare stories in print, one might wonder why children use such substances. First and foremost, because they create a “high” pleasing, euphoric, inebriated feeling — by depressing the central nervous system. Second, they are easy to obtain while other intoxicants such as alcohol and marijuana are difficult for young children to get. Finally, ‘many children do not believe the information about sniffing which emanates from establishment sources.

As far as the purported dangers of inhalants are concerned – particularly those attributed to the use of toluene-most stories have been gross exaggerations and distortions. Reported deaths have almost always proved to be indirectly – related to use of toluene, and generally have from causes such as asphyxiation in plastic bags during inhalation. While no one is presently endorsing glue sniffing as safe, serious damage does not seem to occur until relatively high doses are taken over a prolonged period of time. Even then, most adverse effects may be reversed by discontinuing use.

Normal sniffing dosage is one or two tubes per several hour session, producing a high for fifteen minutes to a few hours. Inhalation of vapors from a bag or balloon is the most common method, although users may also sniff solvent soaked rags or handkerchiefs to produce the desired result.

Tolerance can develop with weekly use over a period of, about three months, requiring increasingly higher doses-to produce the same effect. In rare instances, huffers have been known to use as many as twenty to forty tubes per session. Physical addiction is unknown, although psychological dependence can possibly develop in extremely frequent users.

While stories about: glue sniffing have been based, for the most part, upon false or exaggerated information, some other – inhalants can cause real problems. Lead poisoning may result from inhaling vapors found in paint, transmission fluid, and other lead-based petroleum products. Some believe that freon, a common aerosol propellant, may freeze the lungs and larynx when inhaled, causing respiratory arrest. Oily sprays, such as Pam, can coat the inside’ of the lungs and-result inasphyxiation. Inhalants sometimes speed the heart to a point’ where it cannot handle extreme physical stress. Running, playing, and engaging in other strenuous activities after deeply inhaling solvents or aerosols have resulted in heart failure and death.

Breathing sufficient amounts of oxygen along with an inhalant generally minimizes the’ possibility of death. Even when too little oxygen is provided, the user normally becomes unconscious long before a lethal level can be reached. Unconsciousness prevents the huff from inhaling more vapor and thus acts as a natural barrier to overdose. If loss of consciousness results, fresh air- should be provided. When the overdoser awakens he should be calmly “talked down” in a . well-ventilated, relaxed environment, free of bright lights and loud noise, until he has fully recovered.    Contrary to popular belief, permanent brain damage resulting from glue sniffing has not been proved, although some authorities contend this danger may exist for those who are heavy or regular indulgers,

At present, there are no federal laws pertaining to sale or possession of glue, aerosols, solvents; and related substances, Some states and municipalities have statutes prohibiting sale to minors.

Is sniffing a real problem or a manufactured one? Only additional research will answer the question. It does appear, however, that dangers related to it have been largely exaggerated over the years. When used excessively, some inhalants   do present the potential for real danger. As with all drugs, only when we present our young people with a truthful, accurate picture of inhalants can we expect them to adopt a sensible, rational attitude toward their use.

(For additional inhalant information, see Chloroform; Ether; Nitrous Oxide.)

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