Harm Reduction

Side effects vary according to the user and the substance and quantity used. It may include headaches, nausea and soreness of the throat. Extended use may cause unconsciousness.

Some other warning signs will include weight loss/gain, memory problems, respiratory problems, depression, displays of aggression and paranoia, anxiety and frustration. This cluster of psychiatric difficulties can lead to self harming and suicidal ideation. This is clearly a situation that requires professional help. Contact your local GP, specialist service or Release.

Solvent use represents a significant cause of death or injury among young people. In 1999, 73 people died as a result of volatile substances use. Causes of death or injury include:

Heart failure – solvent use may stop the heart instantly or cause it to beat irregularly. Sudden exercise after inhaling solvents increases the risk of heart failure.

Suffocation and asphyxiation - spraying aerosols or butane gas down the throat can cause swelling of the windpipe, leading to asphyxiation. When volatile substances are used in an enclosed space, there is a risk of suffocation due to lack of oxygen, especially if the user becomes unconscious. When users place their whole head in a bag containing a volatile substance, they incur a high risk of suffocation. Choking on vomit, especially when unconscious, is another significant risk.


Accidental injuries – users may become confused and disorientated. This creates a risk of accidents such as falling or drowning. Young people may use volatile substances in dangerous environments such as car parks, construction sites, railway embankments or river sides. Such places are hazardous and may be inaccessible to emergency services.

Burns – solvents can usually be highly flammable and therefore carry a high risk of serious burn injuries, especially when used near cigarettes or candles.


Are solvents addictive?

Solvents are not physically addictive. Users may, however, feel that they cannot do without them for a period of time after stopping use. These cravings will lessen with time.