Glues, gases and aerosols
A wide range of glues, gases and aerosols contain volatile substances which, when breathed in or sniffed, get you high. Breathing in a volatile substance can make you feel uninhibited, euphoric and dizzy. But the effect they have on your heart can cause death, even if it’s your first time (known as Sudden Sniffing Death).
Abusing glues, gases and aerosols is sometimes called Volatile Substance Abuse (VSA) or Volatile Substance Misuse (VSM).
There are lots of glues, gases and aerosols which, when abused, can cause you harm. Many are normal household products - such as, gas lighter refills, aerosols containing hairspray, deodorants and air fresheners, tins or tubes of glue, some paints, thinners and correcting fluids, cleaning fluids, surgical spirit, dry-cleaning fluids and petrol.
Glues, gases and aerosols are breathed in or sniffed from something acting as a container or holder. There are several different ways to do this, but whatever method is used, it is difficult to control the dose and all methods are potentially fatal. The risk is greater if used in an enclosed space or if a plastic bag is used that covers both nose and mouth.
How long the hit lasts varies and some users tend to keep repeating the dose to keep the feeling going.
What are the effects of glues, gases and aerosols?
Glues, gases and aerosols contain volatile substances which are depressants, which means they slow down your brain and body’s responses and produce a similar effect to being drunk.
The effects can vary from person to person and depend on what specific glue, gas or aerosol has been used, but the common effects can include:
- Mood swings, aggressive behaviour, hallucinations, vomiting and blackouts.
- Feeling like being drunk with dizziness, dreaminess, fits of the giggles, and difficulty thinking straight.
- In the case of some glues, gases and aerosols, you can develop a red rash around the mouth.
- Getting a 'hangover' afterwards - such as a severe headache, feeling tired and/or feeling depressed.
What are the risks of glues, gases and aerosols?
Because glues, gases and aerosols are available as household products, some people think they are safe to use, but they’re not. Between 2000 and 2008, abusing glues, gases and aerosols killed more 10-15 year olds than illegal drugs combined. They can kill the first time they are used.
Here’s what else they could do to you:
- Inhaling glues, gases and/or aerosols can cause mood swings, aggressive behaviour, hallucinations, vomiting and blackouts.
- They can seriously affect your judgment and when you're high there's a real danger you'll try something dangerous.
- Squirting gas products down the throat is a particularly dangerous way of taking the drug. It can make your throat swell up so you can't breathe and it can slow down your heart and can cause a heart attack.
- Some users die from passing out and choking on their own vomit.
You risk suffocation if you inhale from a plastic bag over your head.
Long-term abuse can damage the muscles, liver and kidneys. While very long term use, such as ten years or more, can cause a lasting impairment of brain function (especially affecting how the brain controls body movement).
It can be hard to get the dose right. Just enough will give the desired ‘high’ – a little too much can result in a coma or even death.
Unsteadiness, disorientation/confusion and fainting can all contribute to the risk of accidents which are implicated in a number of the deaths.
Many products are flammable and there is a risk of burns and explosions, especially if someone is smoking nearby or if in an enclosed space.
Mixing with alcohol
Gases, glues and aerosols produce a similar effect to alcohol, so mixing them together can have serious consequences. The effects are increased and can lead to unconsciousness and death.
Because glues, gases and aerosols are easily available as household products, purity is not normally an issue. However, different glues, gases and aerosols will contain different ingredients and chemicals, some of which may also be harmful.
Household products come with a strong printed warning that humans should not take them in any way.
Can you get addicted to abusing glues, gases and aerosols?
Tolerance can build up within a few weeks in regular users, so you might need to use more to achieve the same effects. This reverts back to normal within a few days of stopping.
It may be possible to become psychologically dependent on volatile substances, meaning the users develop an increased desire to keep using despite any harms they experience, but the evidence on this is limited.
Withdrawal symptoms have been reported in regular users. When they stop their use they experience irritability and headaches.
Glues, gases and aerosols and the law
Glues, gases and aerosols aren't illegal, but this doesn’t mean that they are safe to use. It’s illegal in England and Wales for anyone to sell glues, gases and aerosols to people under-18, if they think they’re likely to be inhaling them to get 'high'.
Under Scottish law you can be prosecuted for 'recklessly' selling substances to any age group if you suspect they're going to inhale them.
It is illegal to sell petrol to anyone under the age of 16 or to supply gas lighter refills to anyone under the age of 18. This applies to the whole of the UK.
Did you know?
Like drinking and driving, driving while under the influence of drugs is illegal – with some drugs you can still be unfit to drive the day after using. You can get a heavy fine, be disqualified from driving or even go to prison.