By Alice || Edited by Go Ask Alice Editorial Team || Last edited Jul 07, 2023
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Cite this Response

Alice! Health Promotion. "Sniffing lighter fluid for a high (huffing)?." Go Ask Alice!, Columbia University, 07 Jul. 2023, https://goaskalice.columbia.edu/answered-questions/sniffing-lighter-fluid-high-huffing. Accessed 24, May. 2024.

Alice! Health Promotion. (2023, July 07). Sniffing lighter fluid for a high (huffing)?. Go Ask Alice!, https://goaskalice.columbia.edu/answered-questions/sniffing-lighter-fluid-high-huffing.

Dear Alice,

What are the effects of sniffing lighter fluid? I recently had a friend sit in a car to listen to music and smell lighter fluid. He tells me he gets a high from this. What are the effects of doing this? I would appreciate this to educate my friend.

Dear Reader, 

It sounds like your friend may have been “huffing”. This commonly used term describes inhaling chemical fumes, normally from household substances, in order to experience a sense of euphoria. An inhalant is any substance that’s only inhaled, not smoked, eaten, injected, or used in any other way. Solvents such as lighter fluid, gasoline, model airplane glue, paint thinner, varnish, nail polish remover, and even some types of cover-up products can all be potential inhalants. When inhaled, the pungent fumes from these chemicals cause a person to feel lightheaded and hot. Many inhalers of heavy solvents report altered states of consciousness, complete with visual hallucinations and vivid dreamlike experiences while awake. These are often the desired effects the user is trying to achieve. However, because these substances contain toxins, they may also cause people to experience dizziness and nausea. 

The compounds used in lighter fluid may vary, meaning that the amount of available research also varies. Butane, for example, is a colorless and highly flammable gas that can quickly vaporize to fuel lighters, torches, barbecues, and camping stoves. It’s also the most commonly used and abused inhalant. Other lighter fluids, however, are made of heavier mixtures and will remain in a liquid state at room temperature. Most inhalants have the same associated risks. 

Butane isn’t physically addictive, but it can become psychologically addictive when inhaled over time, just like many other solvents. Initially, huffing the gas leads to feelings of euphoria and hallucinations—reactions that often lead the user to inhale more. However, adverse reactions such as dizziness, slurred speech, or a lack of control over body movements can occur. Long-term inhalation of solvents can also lead to serious health complications such as kidney damage, hearing loss, brain damage, comas, seizure, or even death. Although not a direct cause of huffing, people who abuse inhalants may be more likely to struggle with anxiety, depression, and alcohol abuse. That being said, how severely a person is impacted by inhaling solvents depends on a variety of factors. A person’s size, weight, and general health as well as how much they inhale, how much fresh air they breathe, and the strength of the substance can all impact the effects of inhaling solvents. 

If your friend continues huffing, it’s recommended that they do so in a space that’s more open as a lack of fresh air increases the risk of suffocation. They may also want to avoid using inhalants when alone in case of a medical emergency. It’s also a good idea to avoid inhalants when taking medication or using other substances as harmful interactions between drugs can occur. To avoid ingesting these chemicals through the mouth, it’s also recommended to avoid lighting cigarettes around inhalants. Finally, if you’re around someone who’s using inhalants, you might try to avoid exciting or irritating them as a rush of adrenaline could increase their risk of death. 

Treatment options are also available if your friend becomes concerned by their inhalant use or wants support in quitting. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help people recognize, avoid, and cope with situations or feelings that may make them more likely to use inhalants. Some people also find success in creating motivational incentives, for example, a person may treat themselves to a small reward for every block of time (be it a day, week, or month) that they go without huffing. 

It’s kind of you to worry about how huffing may impact your friend’s health. Talking with your friend about the many long-term downsides of using inhalants may encourage them to explore other safe and natural highs, such as exercising and meditation. Hoping this response provided you with the information you were searching for to have a productive conversation with your friend.

Additional Relevant Topics:

Substance Use and Recovery
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