Butane and other gases

Butane gas is the substance primarily associated with solvent abuse today. It is also the most dangerous and is associated with over half of all solvent abuse deaths.

What products contain butane gas?

Butane is found in any number of household products. For example, butane is the gas used in cigarette lighter refills. 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.
solvent abuse symbol

What are the effects of inhaling butane?

Butane is a depressant and users report a range of highs, including euphoria and hallucination. The effect is short-lived so chronic users will 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.

Harm reduction

It doesn’t matter how many years 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.

If someone still wants to continue using, the following advice may reduce the risk of other accidents:

  • 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.

There is more information on our page Symptoms and Risks of Solvent Abuse.

Other gases

  • Propane is associated with the same health implications and serious risk of death as butane.
  • Nitrous oxide – see our nitrous oxide page here.
  • Helium is not a volatile substance and does not cause intoxication.

We have a solvent abuse leaflet available which you can view here – just get in touch if you’d like printed copies.

Published: June 2019
Reviewed: September 2020
Review date: September 2021

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