Inhalant and solvents
Huff and puff and sniff
While a number of medications are inhaled in respiratory conditions and for other medicinal purposes, inhaling drugs for obtaining a ‘high’ is a recent development. These volatile compounds get instantly absorbed through the mucous membrane in the nose and the impact on the brain is instantaneous. While cannabis, nicotine, heroin and cocaine are also inhaled; these ‘inhalant’ drugs are not heated before huffing. They innately vaporize and this vapor is inhaled for the high. The process is colloquially known s huffing, puffing or sniffing.
On the rise
It is not surprising that dependence on inhalants is on the rise among homeless street children. These are inexpensive, readily available in workshops and garages, and do not carry legal liability for use. The inhalant is used with a tube, suction bag or simply a rag cloth from which the person sniffs through the nose or huffs through the mouth. Youngsters who use inhalants are likely to be aggressive and commonly have antisocial personality traits.
Organic solvents, varnish, lighter fluid, airplane glue, gasoline, rubber cement, cleaning fluid, spray paints, shoe conditioners, typewriter correction fluid, paint thinner, petrol, kerosene and a fusillade of substances are inhaled for recreational purposes. By chemical nature, these substances are volatile and their fumes contain psychoactive hydrocarbons. The hydrocarbons enter the blood stream within minutes of inhalation and reach the brain giving the rush or a high. Toluene is known to effects the dopamine pathways in the brain, similar to drugs of abuse and its impact has been simulated with that of alcohol.
A volatile inhalant gets absorbed through the lungs and reaches the brain. Effects are seen within 5 minutes and may last up to 30 minutes or several hours, depending upon the potency and quantity inhaled. There is an alcohol intoxication like picture with excitement, euphoria and a floating sensation. Longer and deeper inhalation may produce fearfulness, sensory misinterpretations, illusions, and hallucinations. Speech may become slurred and in-coordination sets in. In acute states, the behavior is aggressive and impulsive. Very high doses may lead to cardiac problems and instant death. Longstanding use of inhalants leads to forgetfulness and a dementia like picture due to sustained toxic brain damage.
Factory workers exposed to inhalants are known to have alterations in brain volume and electrical activity. MRI scans reveal loss of brain matter which usually occurs in advanced dementia. Loss of fine skills, incoordination, and subtle memory deficits appear in no time. Stomach ulcers, headaches, kidney problems, liver failure, heart attacks and asthma; all are commonly seen in unintentional inhalation too. Inhalants have significant physical impact.
MINDFRAMES: Reframing choices
Counseling and psycho-education are very important especially if children or teens present with this problem. Awareness, counseling and family therapy for inhalant afflicted individuals helps deviant teens and adults resume the appropriate track and adopt a drug free lifestyle. Substance dependence is an illness. People with diabetes, cancer and cardiac conditions get sympathy and understanding from their loved ones; sadly this is not the case with these drugs. The best person to help oneself is oneself. It makes sense to do it sooner than later.