Hydro-carbon based substances give off vapours as they evaporate. When these vapours are inhaled the effects are similar to those of alcohol. Hydro-carbons are found in solvents (glue, paint, nail varnish, dry cleaning fluid, tippex and thinners etc); also in aerosols as propellant gases (hairspray, air-freshener etc); and also in fuels (petrol, lighter fluid etc).

Solvent use is not as new a phenomena as the media would have us believe and dates back to the 1950's and 1960's at the very least. The most common way to use solvents in this country at present is "glue sniffing", where an amount of glue is placed in the corner of a plastic bag and then either placed over the mouth and nose, or the whole head, and the vapours inhaled from the enclosed space. By far the most dangerous way of using solvents is to place an aerosol directly into the mouth and spray directly onto the back of the throat. This can freeze the throat as hydrocarbons are cold as they evaporate, and the user can suffocate.



When solvent vapours are inhaled, the vapours are absorbed through the lungs into the blood stream and quickly reach the brain. Part of the intoxicated effect is a result of feeling dizzy and disorientated through depressed breathing and heart rate and reduced oxygen intake. This can lead to unconsciousness from which, under normal circumstances, the user quickly recovers with no lasting harm. However, the user does run the risk of vomiting while unconscious and choking to death; or if the solvent has been inhaled in an enclosed space (eg with the plastic bag being placed over the head), there is the possibility of death through suffocation.

The experience of solvent use is very similar to that of being drunk. In the same way as with alcohol, solvents can emphasise the mood of the user, so that they may feel euphoria, or possibly aggressive as inhibitions are lowered, or possibly sick and drowsy. The effects have a fast onset and usually disappear between 15 -30 minutes after inhalation is stopped. After a heavy or prolonged session of use, the individual may sleep and experience a "hang over" the next day (headache, slight nausea etc).



Very little is known about the Long term effects of solvent use, but studies suggest that most of the effects are not permanent and will reverse once regular use is stopped.

Some studies have suggested that prolonged use of aerosols over several hours can cause irregular heart beat such that sudden exertion while intoxicated could increase the chances of heart failure. Other studies have suggested a variety of effects such as fatigue, memory and concentration loss, weight loss, depression, irritability, hostility, feelings of persecution, reduction of blood cells in bone marrow, and damage to brain, liver and kidneys. Although these Long term effects are possible, they are all very rare, particularly considering the relatively short length of time most users inhale hydro-carbons showing a tendency towards recreational use over periods less than one or two years.

Accidental death has occurred but is most often associated with environmental risks, such as being intoxicated near water, busy traffic, derelict buildings etc; with the risks associated with inhaling solvents in enclosed spaces; the risks of using aerosols in the mouth and nose; and the risks of using solvents in conjunction with other drugs, particularly alcohol.



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