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Drug Information



What are solvents?

Solvents are substances such as glue, lighter fluid, petrol, aerosols and nail-varnish remover.

How are they used?

If substances give off vapours or gases at room temperature then they can be inhaled through the mouth or nose. Plastic bags are sometimes used to sniff glue, although this increases the chance of suffocation. Aerosols can be sprayed directly into the mouth, which can cause the throat to freeze and lead to suffocation They can also be sprayed onto a cloth or material before inhaling which reduces the risk of suffocation.

What are the effects?

Inhaled solvent vapours are absorbed through the lungs and rapidly reach the brain. Body functions like breathing and heart rate slow down. The experience people get when they misuse solvents is similar to being drunk. Feelings of dizziness, unreality, and a sense of euphoria are common, although some people only experience feelings of sickness and drowsiness. Users often feel unsteady on their feet and injuries may occur as a result of this. Unlike alcohol use, solvent users often experience hallucinations.

The effects of solvents occur rapidly and wear off within 15-45 minutes if sniffing is stopped. Users may experience a mild hangover, with symptoms such as headaches and poor concentration. With heavier, more frequent use the hangover effects can include forgetfulness, fatigue and lack of concentration. Weight loss and depression can occur; liver and kidney function can also be affected.

Sniffing solvents can affect the heart and physical exertion or fright whilst under the influence can cause heart failure. Every year about 100 young people die as a result of using solvents. These deaths can be as a direct result of the solvents’ effect on the body, especially if lighter fluid is used. Deaths can also result from indirect causes such as choking on vomit whilst unconscious, accidents as a result of being in an isolated or dangerous place and suffocation through a plastic bag placed over the mouth and nose.

Legal Status

Under the Intoxicating Substances (Supply) Act 1985, it is an offence to supply or offer to supply solvents to persons under the age 18 if the supplier has reason to believe that they intend to misuse them. Under the Cigarette Lighter Refill (Safety) Regulations 1999 it is an offence to sell butane refills to anyone under the age of 18, regardless of whether the retailer is aware of its intended use.


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