Inhalants are a class of drugs which are used as stimulants by 'snorting'. There are three basic classes of these drugs:
These are carbon based inhalants, hence the name 'organic'. These are definitely the most potentially dangerous of the inhalants. They're basically toxic. The organic solvents include:
The organic solvent chemicals are genuinely dangerous. Most of them have warning information on the labels as poisons. Some can be lethal, but arguably the real dangers are worse. The petrol based inhalants have some very nasty side effects. Nausea, loss of coordination through neural effects, heart palpitations, and reactions with alcohol are the best known.
Most inhalants are capable of causing psychotropic effects, including paranoia. Much more dangerously, the inhalants can affect the nerves that control breathing. An effect known as SSD, Sudden Sniffer Death, is believed to be related to this nervous system effect. SSD has been known to affect first time users, depressing the respiration. The victim basically suffocates.
Nitrites are vasodilators, expanding blood vessels. They're used to relieve angina and other heart conditions. The effect is a 'rush', affecting the central nervous system.
Those are also the problems with nitrites. Vasodilators aren't good things to be taking if you have an accident, or if you need to be focused and well coordinated. The nitrites are basically debilitating. They're not as lethal by nature as the organic solvents, but they're also not exactly safe, either. In combination with alcohol or other depressants, they're likely to make users pretty unable to deal with situations.
Also known as Laughing Gas, this is an old anesthetic, still used by dentists. It produces a 'dream' state like half way between consciousness and sleep. This gas isn't toxic of itself, but it's the sort of 'street drug' that doesn't make the user very safe or well coordinated on the street.
Inhalants and their effects around the world
The effects of inhalants around the world are genuinely horrific. Petrol sniffing is a serious problem in some of the poorest social groups in the world. The long terms effects are much debated, but cases of serious brain damage, kidney and liver damage are well documented.
The social problems affect kids as young as early teens, and solvent abuse in particular is common in slum populations. It's roughly the equivalent of having a population of 11-12 year old alcoholics. These kids require rehabilitation and in some cases medical treatment. The effect is more pronounced on kids, due to body mass size and smaller airways. Some experts consider the solvents to be addictive, adding another dimension to the problem of rehabilitation.
Inhalant abuse is well known in most countries. Among Australia's Aboriginals the petrol sniffing problem was so bad a new type of petrol was developed which is harmless when inhaled. In America, Europe and Africa solvents are a cheap alternative to more conventional drugs.