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Inhalants - sniffing or chuffing

inhalants; sniff; sniffing; choofing; glue; fumes; petrol; solvents; cleaners; chemicals; safety; brain; damage;


Inhalants are chemicals that people sniff (or 'choof'). Most of the people who sniff inhalants are young, often under 14 years old, because they are too young to buy alcohol or more expensive drugs. 

Young people can be very badly harmed by inhalants.

What are inhalants?

  • Inhalants (in-hay-lants) are products that give off fumes or vapours at room temperature, and that can make someone feel 'spaced out' or 'out of it'.
  • These products are usually labelled as solvents (strong cleaners) or volatile (vol-a-tile) substances (that means they can disappear into the air quickly). It also means that product may explode or catch on fire easily.
  • Many of these products can be found in almost every house. Petrol is a substance that some people inhale.
  • Most of them act as depressants, which means they slow down the brain so that the person cannot react quickly to a situation which could be dangerous.

Inhalants are breathed in (sniffed) through the nose or mouth. Some young people breathe them from a plastic bag - this is very dangerous, as plastic can suck onto the face and cause the person to suffocate (ie. die from lack of air).

How they work

  1. The inhalant is breathed in.
  2. The fumes move straight into the lungs, and the chemicals get into the bloodstream and then go to the brain.
  3. These chemicals slow down the messages coming from the brain through the nervous system.
  4. The person feels strange, floaty and 'out of it'.
    feeling floaty and 'out of it'

Short-term effects on the body

Although the effects on the body are immediate, the exact effects can be different from one person to another, and can last for several hours.

The effects depend on whether the person is a first time or a habitual or regular sniffer, how and where they take it, how much they take, their mood, their health and whether they are using other drugs such as alcohol.

Some people who have used inhalants say they have had these effects:

  • feeling 'spaced out' and not sure where they are
  • feeling excited and confident
  • everything looks blurry
  • feeling like they want to sleep
  • not being able to talk properly
  • not able to move normally
  • feeling like they don't care
  • sometimes just laughing for no real reason
  • feeling light-headed
  • feeling sick and throwing up
  • sneezing, coughing or dribbling
  • feeling really thirsty
  • eyes hurting in the light
  • becoming unconscious
  • having epileptic fits
  • having headaches or feeling hung-over afterwards.


  • feeling powerfulSometimes people can feel really powerful and this can lead to them taking risks which harm themselves or others.
  • Some people have died because they had a sudden fright or have done really hard exercise after using inhalants. If you are with someone who is affected by inhaling, it is important not to startle them or chase them.
  • Others have died from suffocation after falling asleep with a bag over their mouth and nose.
  • Some people have died because they didn't notice they were in a dangerous place or situation.

There is no safe way to inhale, and death is a risk, no matter how much the person has used them
inhalants can cause death

What happens over time?

When inhalants are used over a longer time, they can affect the body, the brain and the well-being of the users.

  • More damage is done to the brain – they have memory loss, confusion, anger, thinking problems, extreme tiredness, clumsiness, headaches.
  • They don't want to do anything.
  • They lose friends and only hang out with others who are also into 'sniffing'.
  • Damage is done to the body – heart, lungs, liver, kidneys.
  • They can get lead poisoning from sniffing petrol if it has lead in it.
  • They lose weight because they lose interest in food.
  • They get sores around the mouth and nose.
  • They get nosebleeds and sore eyes.

They become addicted to sniffing.

  • More inhalant is needed to get the effect.
  • They cannot do without it and cannot stop thinking about it.
  • They suffer withdrawal symptoms when they try to give up. (See the topic Addiction – when you just can't stop, if you want to know more.)

Why do people use inhalants?

People who use drugs, do so for many reasons. Kids who 'sniff' may start inhaling because:

  • depressantsthey like the feelings they get when they use the drugs
  • they are bored and don't know what to do to feel good
  • they think it's 'cool'
  • there is peer group pressure
  • they want to look 'tough' in front of mates
  • they find it exciting to be 'out of control'
  • they are rebelling against their family or authority
  • it's easier to get and cheaper than alcohol
  • they don't realize that it is addictive
  • they don't know or understand what damage it can do to their lives, and the lives of all who care for them.

When someone you love is 'sniffing'

If someone is addicted to a drug then the only person who can decide to give up is the person who is addicted. This is not easy.

You may be able to help if you:

  • tell them you care about them, but don't 'tell them off'
  • listen to them when you ask why they are using inhalants
  • give them 'build-ups' about all the good things they do and say
  • encourage them when they try to give up
  • don't get angry if they slip back, but say things like, "this can't be easy - you haven't given up yet, but you can try again."
  • encourage them to join in and do stuff with you and your friends
  • ask how you can help
  • be their friend, but don't be a 'user' yourself
  • tell a trusted adult - this is not 'dobbing' - it could save your friend's life.

If your friend is hurt or won't wake up, GET HELP to get them to hospital, or to a doctor. Call 000 for an ambulance if you live in Australia.

Dr Kim says

Dr KimBe careful not to get overcome by the fumes yourself. Make sure that you and the person are in a safe place (not in the middle of the road).

If someone is unconscious, check whether the person is breathing. Is the chest moving? Can you hear or feel breathing from the mouth?

Pull the person into the fresh air. Pull any plastic bags or cans away from their heads and send someone for help.

Have you done a First Aid course? Many schools and sports groups in Australia hold First Aid training for year 6 and 7 kids. It's a good idea for everyone to know how to help someone in an emergency. (See the topic First aid - basic - what is it?, if you want to know more.)

Many schools have a first aid course for the upper primary kids. Does yours?

Don't sniff petrol

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We've provided this information to help you to understand important things about staying healthy and happy. However, if you feel sick or unhappy, it is important to tell your mum or dad, a teacher or another grown-up.


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