Jan 23, 2006: Does education about inhalants increase the abuse of inhalants in preteens and teenagers?


Inhalant abuse is rampant in Tennessee.  In fact, our state ranks number 7th in the country for incidence of inhalant abuse. 

One of our pediatricians has asked an excellent question.  Exactly how much information should we give parents and teens about inhalants?  Will increasing their knowledge about inhalants increase the chance that they will use it?

First - our kids already know about inhalants.

One in five students in America has used an inhalant to get high by the time he or she reaches the eighth grade. Parents don't know that inhalants - cheap, legal and accessible products - are as popular among middle school students as marijuana. Even fewer know the deadly effects of “sniffing” “bagging” and “huffing”. It's like playing Russian Roulette. The user can die the 1st, 10th or 100th time a product is misused as an inhalant.

So although the kids know, we need to educate the parents. Tennessee Poison Center has a brochure, Inhalants Are Poisons, that is available in English and Spanish. The brochure explains inhalant abuse and its dangers. You can request copies of this brochure for your patients by calling our administrative office at 936-0760. 


Here are some recommendations from Poison Educators regarding talking to middle school students about inhalants:



  • Equate inhalants with poisons, pollutants, and fire hazards
  • Point out that everyday products can be poisons, pollutants, and fire hazards when used incorrectly.
  • Stress using products as they were intended to be used
  • Substitute “toxic effects” for “get high”
  • Say poisons, chemicals, toxins, fumes instead of inhalants or drugs
  • Emphasize reading product labels and following directions. Give examples of what “well ventilated” and “avoid concentrating fumes” mean.

Do not:

  • Group inhalants in with other drugs
  • Over exaggerate negative effects on the body
  • Talk about the “high” or “head rush”
  • Identify specific products used in abusing inhalants
  • Demonstrate how products are misused


I am interested in any questions you would like answered in the Question of the Week.  Please email me with any suggestion at Donna.Seger@Vanderbilt.edu.



Donna Seger, MD

Medical Director

Tennessee Poison Center