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Understanding Inhalants

Not every form of drug abuse requires an illegal controlled substance. Inhalants, for instance, provide a psychoactive or mind-altering effect for the abuser, and the high stems from the chemical vapors in household, medical and industrial products. Despite the typical distribution or use method, it is challenging to categorize inhalants because of the range of chemicals, products and pharmacological effects. Therefore, most experts agree on a classification system and separate the inhalants into four categories.


Aerosols are solvents that contain propellants. These inhalants are among the most readily available and attainable, as they can be purchased at nearly any grocery or department store. This category includes deodorant and hair sprays, spray paints, cooking sprays and fabric protector sprays.


While not as approachable as aerosols, gases are another common category for inhalants. While there are household products available that provide a high for users, like butane lighters and propane tanks, other examples include medical anesthetics, like halothane and chloroform. One of the most popular inhalants in this category is nitrous oxide, and while many may believe it is hard to come by, you can find the gas in whipped cream dispensers. While all gases can be lethal if routinely abused, refrigerants and other regulated substances are among the deadliest.

Volatile Solvents

Liquids that vaporize at room temperature are classified as volatile solvents. These substances include paint thinners or removers, glues, gasoline, felt-tip markers, correction fluids, degreasers and dry-cleaning fluids. The dangerous thing about this category of inhalants is that they are inexpensive. These products are also standard and readily available for household and commercial use, meaning that access is not restricted.


Unlike most of the other categories on this list, nitrites are prohibited by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. These substances were used as treatment against heart pain but are now abused as sexual enhancers.

Unlike other inhalants, nitrites do not act on the central nervous system. Instead, they relax the muscles and dilate blood vessels. Because of their past medical use, people can assume incorrectly that nitrites are regulated and hard to obtain. However, you can still find nitrites labeled as room odorizers, leather cleaners, video head cleaners and liquid aromas.

Inhalants are among some of the most abused substances because of their availability and legal definitions. While inhalants are not regulated under the Controlled Substances Act, many states prohibit the sale of commonly abused products to minors. If you have more questions about the legal consequences of inhalant abuse or distribution, contact a criminal defense attorney, like from the Morales Law Firm.


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