The Volatile Chemicals

As with many drugs in recreational use, there are feds and fashion in inhalants-substances containing volatile chemicals that have psychoactive (and other) effects when inhaled. In the 1960s, the in substance in this category was model airplane glue. More recently a variety of other substances have been sniffed in quest a quick "high," including gasoline, furniture polish, insecticide, transmissin fluid, paint thinners, and more. All are highly toxic and can cause damage to vital organs such as lungs, kidney, liver and brain, and death.

Nitrous Oxide
Recreational use of nitrous oxide, discovered in 1773 and first used in dentistry in the 1849s, actually predates its medical use. Still employed as an anesthetic (it is also the propellant in whipped cream dispensers), among the least toxic inhalants. It is toxic, nevertheless, and death can follow if it is inhaled with insufficient oxygen.

What happens if a person takes nitrous oxide over a long period? Repeated, long-term use can result in nerve damage, muscle weakness, hearing loss, changes in heart rate, impotence, or life threatening anemia due to suppression of bone marrow production (possibly through inactivation of vitamin B12). A leading dental educator even warned in 1981 that dentists and their assistants should beware of long term low level exposure, checking their equipment for leaks and being sure to utilize efficient exhaust system.  A study of 60,000 dental workers, published by the American Dental Association the previous year, had found that people occupationally exposed to nitrous oxide had increased rates in the children of both males and females, and increases in the incidence of certain types of cancers.


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