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What Is Huffing?

Adolescents and teens are especially susceptible to substance abuse, and addiction. Whether it’s because of the presence of addiction in the family unit, a biological predisposition, the “wrong” peer group, or some other factor, youths are natural followers, quick to do what they’re shown, told, or what’s natural and easy. So, it comes as no surprise when something as dangerous as huffing begins to make its rounds among the younger generations.

This has resulted in unprecedented rates of teen pregnancy, substance abuse and addiction among adolescents. There’s even been a spike in depression and suicide rates among adolescents and teens, though not solely due to substance abuse. 

When you look at the whole picture, it becomes apparent that adolescence is a period of heightened turmoil in general. That turmoil can become compounded and dangerous when substance abuse enters the mix.

Over the years, numerous drug trends or “fads” have become popular that involve a wide variety of substances administered through various methods. And sometimes today’s trend can become tomorrow’s epidemic. It’s quite common, perhaps even expected, for adolescents and teens to experiment with alcohol. Adolescents also commonly experiment with marijuana, as well.

However, for most teens, these represent phases, periods of experimentation that fade just as quickly and abruptly as they came. Of the many drug trends that have come and gone over the years, one called huffing seems to have persisted. 

What Exactly Does “Huffing” Mean?

The average household contains various harsh chemicals and noxious substances that give off toxic fumes. Most of these substances are kept in closed containers or don’t have a high enough concentration to dissipate very far beyond their containers. 

For the most part, keeping a reasonable, safe distance from such chemicals will prevent them from causing any harm to the people who use them. However, when individuals intentionally begin to inhale the fumes from these toxic chemicals to obtain a high, it’s called huffing. This practice is also known as inhalant abuse.

Although huffing often begins by directly inhaling the fumes of chemicals around the house, there are intoxicating inhalants that are often available concentrated in canisters. One example of this is nitrous oxide. Such substances don’t require one to heat or burn them before ingesting, but rather the individual only has to break the canister open and inhale the gas that’s released.

Other methods of administration can include inhaling gases that have been released in plastic bags or inhaling from directly out of aerosol cans while filtering the gas with a rag. While different methods of administration are meant to reduce the potential for harm, huffing is actually incredibly dangerous and makes individuals prone to severe respiratory injuries.

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Some inhalants are used for medicinal purposes, such as nitrous oxide that is used during dental and other localized surgeries. However, huffing refers to the illicit, recreational inhalation of dangerous chemicals for the purpose of becoming intoxicated. The effect achieved by huffing can vary depending on the amount inhaled and the actual substance that’s being huffed.

More often than not, theintoxication caused by huffing is much like being intoxicated due to the consumption of too much alcohol, causing loss of motor coordination, slurred speech, distorted perception, loss of balance and equilibrium, and so on. With some substances, users report briefly feeling an intense euphoria that’s comparable to a very mild opiate, but still, others can cause vivid hallucinations or emotional impairment and disturbances.

The substances often used for huffing range greatly and include such things as kerosene, gasoline, butane, propane, toluene and similar chemicals found in paint thinners, acetone in nail polish removers, aerosols and propellants, amyl nitrite and other substances known as “poppers,” nitrous oxide found in whipped cream canisters, and a number of others.

The Dangers of Huffing Toxic Chemicals

One of the most severe and dangerous risks of huffing is in developing hypoxia, which is characterized by the depletion of oxygen levels in the body—either locally or throughout the entire body—and can cause unconsciousness or even death very abruptly and unexpectedly. 

Additionally, some gases can cool dramatically when they are condensed into a can and stored at very high pressure. One such case of this is the compressed air used to dust computer keyboards. In these instances, the individual is at risk of developing frostbite as the very cold air is inhaled into the body.

When combined with smoking, several gases, even natural compounds, can explode due to being flammable or combustible, putting users at risk of severe burns, the loss of appendages, and other injuries. The intoxication caused by huffing often results in impaired coordination, impaired depth perception, and impaired judgment. These can result in accidental injuries or even deaths, such as in fatal car accidents.

Inhaling toxic chemicals and gases—proven to be as physically and physiologically addictive as many other mind-altering substances—is known to cause problems with one’s respiratory system, including infection and pneumonia. If individuals were to vomit as a result of intoxication while still huffing, they might inhale vomit, which can quickly cause death.

It’s difficult to determine the frequency with which huffing causes death. Many of the deaths thought to be caused by huffing are often documented as being due to cardiac arrest or failure, which can also be brought on by huffing. Individuals who inhale intoxicating fumes are also at risk of severe permanent brain damage that can result in limb spasms, hearing loss, and other conditions caused by damage to the brain and central nervous system.

What’s more, huffing also presents an ever-present danger of carbon monoxide poisoning, methemoglobinemia, bone marrow depression, lead poisoning, damage to the liver, myelin, apoptosis, and other life-threatening conditions.


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