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drug information

Inhalants and solvents

Volatile substances help

Inhalants are substances produced from organic chemicals. They are a depressant, which means they slow down brain functions and the activity of the central nervous system – affecting body mind and emotions.

To help support community solutions to the complex problem of volatile substance abuse, we have launched a new online resource. A must visit site for parents, teachers, social workers, retailers, and Police.

  1. What are they

    There are hundreds of inhalant products used to achieve a state of intoxication. All have different effects and carry with them different risks and consequences. There is no safe level of inhalant use.

    There are four categories commonly used to classify inhalant products:

  2. Health effects

    It is important to understand there is a large and varied range of products that can be abused. Intoxication levels and effects can differ depending on the method of use and the make up of chemical compounds present in different substances. The effects below are commonly experienced with a broad range of products. 

    Short-term effects

  3. Dependence, addiction and overdose risk

    Prolonged use of inhalants increases the likelihood of becoming tolerant, meaning a user's body adapts to the effects of inhalant use and needs more to achieve the desired high.

  4. Law and penalities

    As most inhalants in New Zealand are common household products, it is not practical to make them illegal.

  5. Drug trends

    Inhalant use in New Zealand is not widespread and research indicates that inhalants are tried and used by very few people. Those who do are generally young teenagers and most users fall in to the experimentation category. Inhalant abuse is episodic and largely a group activity especially for teenagers who are experimenting.

  6. Reducing the harm

    The Drug Foundation’s message is clear: no drug use is the safest drug use. However, we know there will be occasions when people ignore warnings and use drugs in a dangerous manner. To help keep communities safe we therefore provide information about proven methods of drug harm reduction.

  7. Information for parents

    If you think your child might be huffing, it is important to have a calm and open conversation with them about your concerns, including the implications of inhalant use. Be sure to stress that there is no safe level of inhalant use, that they should never sniff alone and always be in a safe place, and that they should never smoke or use any other drugs including alcohol when huffing.

    Signs of inhalant use include:

  8. How to get help

    If you feel you or anyone you know needs help, there are a number of treatment organisations you can contact in strict confidence.

  9. Sudden sniffing death

    Cardiac arrest, known as ‘sudden sniffing death’ is unique to inhalant users and highlights the significant risk associated with the abuse of inhalants. Immediately after use the user can experience arrhythmia, the irregular muscle contraction of the heart. If medical attention is not immediately sought the heart may lose the ability to effectively pump blood. This is a very rapid and unpredictable experience.

  10. Links

    A list of relevant links to further information and resources about inhalants and solvents: