Glues, petrol and other solvents

In the 1980s and 1990s, glue was the most commonly abused product. This was due to the chemical ‘toluene’ which was used in glues (and a range of other cosmetic and commercial products) as a solvent.

In response, the UK glue industry removed toluene from everyday, household glues, so they are no longer abusable.

Petrol is also associated with solvent abuse although this is more widespread in Australia and Canada than in the UK.

What are the effects of inhaling petrol, glues or other solvents?

Everyday household glues no longer contain toluene and so are not abusable.

Inhaling petrol, solvents or trade/industrial glues containing solvents can cause effects ranging from dizziness to hallucinations. Very high concentrations can produce anaesthesia, unconsciousness and even death.

What are the health risks of inhaling petrol or solvents?

There are severe health risks involved in inhaling petrol, solvents, or trade/ industrial glues containing solvents.

In the short term, users may experience a range of symptoms, including nose bleeds, sores around the nose and mouth, nausea and vomiting, headaches, sinusitis, memory impairment, difficulties breathing, chest pain, fatigue, paranoia, anxiety and depression.

Repeated or chronic abuse can lead to long-term brain, lung, liver and kidney damage.

Harm reduction

There are severe health risks associated with inhaling these substances. In addition, there is always the risk of death from choking, suffocation, asphyxiation or a form of heart failure known as ‘sudden sniffing death syndrome’ (SSDS).

There is no ‘safe’ way to use these substances.

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).
  • Never cover your face with a mask or plastic bag (this will lower the risk of suffocation).
  • Don’t smoke or light cigarettes – volatile substances 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 increases their risk of death.

Published: June 2019
Review date: June 2020

Log in with your credentials

Forgot your details?