Damage from inhaling gas fumes may happen accidentally, but many cases result from people looking for a quick "high." Gases found in household and commercial products may include butane lighters, propane tanks, whipped cream aerosols and dispensers, refrigerant gases, ether, chloroform, and nitrous oxide—also called laughing gas. Users inhale chemicals through the nose or mouth and sniff or snort fumes from containers or rags soaked in the gases. Intoxicating effects may last only a few minutes and many users repeatedly inhale gas fumes for an extended effect, leading to life-threatening situations.
Getting high from gas fumes and other inhalants leads to many unwanted consequences because of the many adverse changes in the body from gas vapors. The inhalants affect the brain and nervous system. Difficulty walking or speaking may become apparent. Agitation or dizziness may follow. The gases may result in slurred speech, loss of coordination, increased heart rate, hallucinations or delusions, nausea, vomiting, and losing consciousness, according to the TeensHealth website.
Inhalants rob the body of oxygen, causing hypoxia, which damages cells and tissues throughout the body. Gas fumes affect certain regions of the brain, especially when people use inhalants repeatedly. Memory becomes distorted and the person may have difficulty remembering things or even carrying on simple conversations, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Long-term inhalation of gas fumes breaks down myelin, which are fatty tissues that protect nerve fibers. The fibers normally communicate with other nerves. When they are damaged, the result may include muscle spasms and tremors that eventually affect walking, bending and talking abilities.
Inhaling gases and other chemicals can result in harmful and irreversible damage. Degenerative diseases of the nervous system and permanent limb spasms may result from inhaling gasoline, gas cylinders and whipped cream dispensers. Brain damage and muscle weakness may result. Some users suffer from a loss of sense of smell or hearing. Inhaling gasoline may also lead to bone marrow damage.
Gases found in aerosol sprays can cause sudden heart failure and death within minutes of inhaling the products, especially during repeated inhalation in a session. The butane, propane and chemicals in aerosols may result in a syndrome known as sudden sniffing death. Death from suffocation may also occur from depriving the lungs of oxygen. The user can suddenly lose consciousness and stop breathing. Some users inhale the gases from a paper or plastic bag in a closed-in area, increasing the risk of suffocation.