Inhalant-Related Disorders

Amy Tao, M.D.


Inhalants of abuse are characterized by low vapor pressure and high volatility at room temperature, but there are large differences between different classes of chemicals, which include[1]:

  • Volatile anesthetics: i.e., isoflurane, chloroform, ether, halothane; enhances GABA and inhibits glutamanergic signals
  • Nitrous oxide: Street names include "laughing gas" and "whippets"; enhances opioid and GABA signals, inhibits NMDA glutamate receptors
  • Alkyl nitrites: i.e., computer duster spray, hair spray; street name "poppers"; stimulates release of nitric oxide and activation of cGMP causing vasodilation and smooth muscle relaxation, primarily used to enhance sexual experiences
  • Volatile solvents: i.e., nail polish remover, glue, paint thinner, gasoline; most commonly abused class of inhalants

Clues that may help to diagnose inhalant use disorder include[2]:

  • Behavioral changes such as isolation and/or deviation from normal activities at home, work, or school.
  • Over time, inhalants are used in greater quantities and for a longer duration despite efforts to decrease or quit.
  • There can be a craving, or drive, to use the inhalant.
  • Use is maintained despite detrimental effects on social, occupational and educational responsibilities, as well as physical and mental health.
  • Tolerance can occur, in that more inhalant use is needed to become intoxicated.

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Last updated: May 2, 2017