The substance primarily associated with solvent abuse in the UK today is butane gas. Over half of all solvent abuse deaths involve the inhalation of butane.
What products contain butane gas?
Many household products contain butane. For example, cigarette lighter refills contain butane. Butane and propane are also used as the propellant in aerosols such as deodorants, hairsprays and so on.
Many aerosols in the UK carry the Solvent Abuse Can Kill Instantly (SACKI) warning on the back.
What are the effects of inhaling butane?
Butane is a depressant and users report a range of highs, including euphoria and hallucinations. The effect is short-lived. Chronic users will often continue inhaling to prolong the effect.
Is it addictive?
Butane can lead to a psychological addiction but it is not physically addictive.
What are the health risks of inhaling butane?
Over half of all deaths associated with solvent abuse are due to butane.
- Butane is highly flammable so there is a high risk of burns or explosions, particularly for smokers.
- Some butane users report suffering from slurred speech and slower reactions while they are using, but find that these symptoms do not continue once they stop. Other people feel that butane abuse has contributed to longer-term physical or mental health issues.
- Death from choking, suffocation, asphyxiation or a form of heart failure known as ‘sudden sniffing death syndrome’ (SSDS).
There is no ‘safe’ way to inhale butane gas that avoids the risk of SSDS.
Any inhalation may lead to death
It doesn’t matter how often someone has used solvents; there is always the risk of death. There is no such thing as a ‘safe’ way to do it that will take away the risk of death from heart failure.
Re-Solv strives to support people toward eliminating harm from gas and solvent use, which can only be achieved through abstinence from use. However we understand that for some people this may take time, and the following practice may reduce some risks:
- Don’t do it alone (have someone with you who can call an ambulance).
- Avoid spraying directly into the mouth.
- Never cover your face with a mask or plastic bag (this will lower the risk of suffocation).
- Don’t smoke or light cigarettes – these gases are highly flammable.
- Don’t mix with alcohol, any other drugs or prescribed medicines.
Don’t argue with, chase or excite someone who is high on gases/solvents. Raising their adrenaline levels may increase their risk of death.
See the Drugwise website for further information about the principle of Harm Reduction. Drugwise (external link)
There is more information on our page Symptoms and Risks of Solvent Abuse.
- Propane is associated with the same health implications and serious risk of death as butane.
- Nitrous oxide – see our nitrous oxide page here. Nitrous oxide
- Helium does not cause intoxication.
We also have a general solvent abuse leaflet available – just get in touch if you’d like printed copies. Solvent Abuse – The Lowdown (PDF)