Sara Bellum
March 22 2012

March 18–24, 2012, marks the 20th observance of National Inhalants and Poisons Awareness Week. The good news is that fewer teens are inhaling poisons and chemicals to get high, according to NIDA’s 2011 Monitoring the Future study. Use has been declining since about the mid-2000s, especially among 8th and 11th graders.

Still, even one person using an inhalant is too many. Here are some facts about inhalant use that you might not know.

Helium isn’t harmless. You may have seen people inhale helium out of a balloon at a party to make their voices sound funny. But doing so can be dangerous, and in rare cases it can even cause sudden death. This happened recently to a 14-year-old in Oregon who inhaled helium out of a tank.  

Inhalants can affect speech. Inhalants rob cells of oxygen, which can harm your brain. Using inhalants repeatedly can affect the hippocampus—a brain area that helps control memory—so that a person may lose the ability to learn new things or have a hard time carrying on a simple conversation.

Even if a person stops using, the damage may already be done. Some effects of inhalant use may never go away. These include hearing loss, limb spasms, and damage to the bone marrow and to the central nervous system (or brain).

Inhalants can be addictive. Although not very common, some people may become addicted to inhalants after long-term use.

And never forget about sudden sniffing death, which can result from irregular and rapid heart rhythms caused by sniffing inhalants. It can occur the first time or 100th time a person uses inhalants. Read other SBB posts that address inhalants.

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