There has been an increase in the abuse of inhalants by young children in Hermanus. Parents and teachers need to be vigilant as this is becoming an alarming trend.

“Inhalant abuse is really bad amongst primary kids and we’re noticing it entering high schools as well,” said Ann Wright, manager of the Sustainable Futures Trust.

“Parents are living in ignorance. BE ALERT. Inhalant abuse is happening at all schools. “Familiarise yourself with the tell-tale signs that your child is engaging in narcotics. Listen to your instincts; better safe than sorry,” she added.

Warning signs:

  • Plastic or paper bags emitting strong smells
  • the disappearance of household products
  • stains on sleeves, handkerchiefs or ties
  • a strong smell on the person's breath
  • cold symptoms that do not disappear ( runny nose, watery eyes).

There are well over a thousand items that can be targets of inhalant abuse.

In most cases, people who abuse inhalants find the substances in the garage or underneath the kitchen sink. They’re cheap and easy to find, so there are few impediments to experimentation.

Inhalants include chemicals found in products such as aerosol sprays, cleaning fluids, glue, paint, paint thinner, nail polish remover, amyl nitrite1 and lighter fuel. They are sniffed or “huffed” to feel intoxicated or ‘high.’

They can be sprayed into a plastic bag, poured into a bottle or soaked onto a cloth or sleeve before being inhaled. These volatile substances have psychoactive( mind- altering) properties when inhaled.  They are especially abused by young children and adolescents, and are the only class of substance abused more by younger than older teens. New users aged 9-14 most commonly abuse glue, shoe polish, spray paints, petrol and lighter fluid. New users aged 15-17 most commonly abuse a class of inhalants known as nitrites- as amyl nitrites, methamphetamine (TIK) or “poppers”

There is no safe level of any drug use- effects can vary depending on the batch or mixture- and because these Inhalants  are not seen as drugs, abuse is often already at a later stage when the problem is identified. This type of drug is easily available, inexpensive,  but the effects are just as dangerous and even more lethal than other drugs.

Short-term effects
Most inhalants act directly on the nervous system to produce mind-altering effects. Within seconds, the user experiences intoxication and other effects similar to those from alcohol.
There are a variety of effects that may be experienced during or shortly after use, including:

  • Slurred speech
  • Drunk, dizzy or dazed appearance
  • Inability to coordinate movement
  • Hallucinations and delusions
  • Hostility
  • Apathy
  • Impaired judgment
  • Unconsciousness
  • Severe headaches
  • Rashes around the nose and mouth
  • Prolonged sniffing of these chemicals can induce irregular and rapid heartbeat and lead to heart failure and death within minutes.
  • Death from suffocation can occur by replacing oxygen in the lungs with the chemical, and then in the central nervous system so that breathing ceases.

Long-term effects

  • Muscle weakness
  • Disorientation
  • Lack of coordination
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Serious and often irreversible damage to the heart, liver, kidneys, lungs, and brain
  • Coma
  • Memory impairment, diminished intelligence
  • Hearing loss
  • Bone marrow damage
  • Death from heart failure or asphyxiation (loss of oxygen)
  • Needing to use more and more to get the same effect
  • Dependence on inhalants
  • School drop out and severe social problems
  • Risky sexual behaviour-STD infections, HIV/Aids etc
  • Using inhalants with other drugs can cause unpredictable and very dangerous side effects: enormous strain on the body, effect breathing rate, may increase the risk of passing out and suffocating or choking or vomiting.

What are the types of  inhalants?

  • Volatile solvents:   glues, thinners, felt-tip marker fluids, petrol, nail polish remover
  • Gases:  butane lighters, propane tanks, whipped cream dispensers and refrigerants
  • Aerosol sprays:  the most prevalent in the home- spray paint, deodorant, hairspray,  vegetable oil and cooking sprays and static cling sprays
  • Nitrites: they are found in some room deodorizers and capsules that release vapors when opened

Are inhalants addictive?

  • Inhalants can be physically and psychologically addictive.
  • Users report a strong urge to continue using inhalants, especially after continued usage over many days.
  • Habitual users coming off inhalants suffer withdrawal symptoms which can include nausea, excessive sweating, muscle cramps, headaches, chills, agitation, with shaking and hallucinations.
  • In severe cases, withdrawal can cause convulsions.


  • Nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea
  • Irregular heart beat
  • Chest pain
  • Hallucinations
  • Blackouts, seizures and coma
  • Death



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