inhalants are common household products that give off mind-altering chemical
fumes when sniffed. Common inhalants include: paint thinner, fingernail
polish remover, glues, gasoline, cigarette lighter fluid, nitrous oxide, and
fluorinated hydrocarbons found in aerosols.
The chemical structures of these inhalants are diverse which makes it
difficult to make generalizations about their effects. They can change
brain chemistry and permanent damage to the brain and central nervous
system. Inhalant users are at risk for Sudden Sniffing Death (SSD), which
can occur when the inhaled fumes take the place of oxygen in the lungs and
central nervous system. Basically, the inhalant user suffocates.
Because inhalants enter the bloodstream quickly and are distributed
throughout the brain and body, they have direct effects on the central and
peripheral nervous systems. Brain-imaging techniques (magnetic resonance
imaging or MRI) have shown marked structural changes in the brains of
chronic inhaling abusers.
These include a reduction in size of parts of the brain including the
cerebral cortex, cerebellum and brainstem. These changes cause neurological
and behavioral symptoms such as cognitive and movement difficulties.
When they enter the body, inhalants are particularly attracted to fatty
tissues such as myelin, which insulates and protects axons and helps speed
up nerve conduction. Inhalant can destroy myelin which interferes with the
flow of messages from one nerve to another. When myelin is destroyed, the
axons themselves can also degenerate.