If someone you know is involved in huffing and they won't stop on their own, it is time for a huffing intervention. Huffing is a form of drug abuse, whereby the individual inhales certain chemicals and substances to get high. Inhalants are not the types of drugs one would normally heat up and inhale like crack or marijuana, but are volatile substances which can be inhaled such as common household cleaners. While most inhalant drugs common household or industrial chemical products, there are a small number of pharmaceutical drugs which can be used illicitly to huff, such as nitrous oxide. Most substances which are used to huff are simply not intended to be inhaled at all, and certainly not used by a human to get high over an extended length of time.
Examples of things which can be huffed are:
Volatile solvents – Such as gasoline, paint thinner, markers, white-out, nail lacquer, nail lacquer remover and glue.
Aerosols - Sprays which contain propellants and solvents including hair spray, cooking spray, paint, deodorant, etc. Inhalant abusers are particularly inclined to huff on silver or gold spray paint for example.
Gases – Nitrous oxide which is used in medical settings, also known as "laughing gas", is commonly huffed and can be easily dispensed from whipped cream cans for example. The gases found in propane tanks and cigarette lighters can also be huffed.
Nitrites – "Popping" is the act of taking a sealed capsule or a small bottle of amyl nitrites or alkyl nitrites, commonly found in air freshener or video head cleaner for example, and popping it open and inhaling the nitrites inside with the intention of achieving a sense of euphoria but more commonly to enhance sexual pleasure. Surprisingly, nitrite "poppers" are readily available in adult bookstores and on the Internet.
Individuals who huff will inhale the vapors directly from the container, put the substance in a plastic bag and inhale it, or put the substance on a rag and inhale it. Chemicals such as gasoline or paint thinner are commonly huffed straight from the container, while nitrous oxide gases from aerosol cans are commonly sprayed into plastic bags and huffed. Some huffers will filter the aerosolized particles from hair spray cans or cooking spray through a rag and inhale it that way. Once these substances are huffed, the lungs rapidly absorb them and they enter the blood stream fairly quickly causing an intense high.
The effects of huffing can be so intense that they can resemble a high from intravenous drug use. The intensity of a huffing high can vary depending on what and how much has been inhaled. A huffer who has inhaled cement glue might feel something similar to alcohol intoxication, while someone who has huffed a stronger inhalant such as gasoline or a strong solvent might experience a high similar to an LSD trip. Most substances used to huff are asphyxiant gases, meaning the user is experiencing the high because they are being deprived of oxygen. Some inhalants however work just like recreational drugs such as heroin or cocaine, and directly affect the same areas of the brain that create a high that is experienced with illicit drug use.
Regardless of what is huffed, that act of inhaling such dangerous and volatile chemicals can lead to serious health consequences and even death. One major risk is lack of oxygen, which can easily occur when huffing from a plastic bag. When huffing a gas which is in a high pressures container, the user is at risk of frostbite when the contents are abruptly released. Many inhalants are at risk of exploding or catching on fire, especially if the user is also smoking. There are of course the risks associated with the high users experience from huffing, as this puts them as risk of risky behavior and impaired judgment which can lead to accidents and risky sexual behavior.
There are health risks involved with huffing such as cardiac failure or arrest as well as brain damage, damage to the central nervous system and liver and kidney damage. Death can result from huffing as a result of extremely high concentration of fumes. There is the risk of death from huffing if the individual becomes unconscious and then aspirates their own vomit, ultimately causing suffocation and death. This can easily occur due to the excessive sedation that an individual can experience when huffing. There is also the risk of a syndrome known as "sudden sniffing death", which is caused by a combination of the gases inhaled and the sudden surges of adrenaline that some users experience, causing a fatal cardiac arrhythmia. Due to the fact that huffing usually takes place when someone is alone or with a group of individuals who are themselves intoxicated, these risks are very real and many individuals have died as a result of huffing.
While huffing is most common among teens and young adults, it is not uncommon in the adult population and anyone who huffs is at risk of addiction to inhalants and the resulting social and health consequences. Because of the risks associated with huffing, including permanent brain and vital organ injury and death, it is important that individuals who abuse inhalants in this manner get the help they need as soon as possible. There is no way of knowing how an individual will react to a substance, and someone can huff just once and die. So don't be fooled by thinking these substances are any less dangerous or destructive than other illicit street drugs, because this is simply not the case.
A huffing intervention is a coming to together of family, friends and other loved ones who are concerned for the individual and want them to get the help they need. The best thing to do is to contact a professional interventionist, who can help guide huffing intervention participants through the process and help them get their loved one in rehab and treated. The huffing intervention will be a forum to communicate to the addict how much they are loved and that there is a solution to addiction and it can start today.