Solvent Abuse, or “glue-sniffing”, the deliberate inhalation of fumes given off by volatile substances in order to get intoxicated or “high”. The inhaled chemicals cause the lungs to produce extra fluid, which can lead to suffocation and death. They can also slow or stop the heartbeat, or cause the heart to fibrillate, leading to cardiac shock. A sniffer can inhale their own vomit or have an accident while intoxicated. At least one teenager dies every week in the UK from solvent abuse. Also known as volatile substance abuse, solvent abuse killed four times as many teenagers in the UK in 1997 as did heroin. A wide range of substances are abused in this way, the most common being glues (adhesives), gas lighter fuel, aerosols, and cleaning agents.
Most solvent abusers are on average younger than drug users; prevalence rates of between 2 per cent and 12 per cent of 13 to 16 year olds have been estimated. Sniffing is often a lone activity, but is also indulged in groups, as it can be seen to be “fashionable” for a short time in a particular school or area. IMMEDIATE EFFECTS The short-term effects are similar to being drunk-including dizziness, feelings of euphoria, and slurred speech. These effects appear within minutes and last for about an hour after sniffing stops. Headaches and poor concentration may result for a further day. Fifty per cent of abusers report having hallucinations; higher doses can result in unconsciousness. Tolerance develops, so that after a time larger quantities are required to achieve the same effect.
LONG-TERM EFFECTS The long-term consequences of regular abuse are unknown, partly because most research on long-term effects has focused on studies of prolonged, low-dosage exposure to solvents in industry, rather than on the higher concentrations involved in abuse of solvents. So far, studies of solvent abusers have failed to show permanent damage attributable solely to solvents. The majority of sniffers have abused solvents experimentally on a few occasions with only one in ten becoming a regular abuser. Physical dependence does not seem to occur, but psychological dependence can develop in a minority of young people, usually where there are already other problems.
In this group, sniffing may be seen as a solution to boredom or an escape from reality. Sniffing is not illegal nor is the substances used. As solvents are contained in household items, their dangers are often overlooked and legislation to restrict sale of such items is difficult. However it is an offence in the United Kingdom for a person to supply solvent-based products to someone under the age of 18 where it is believed that the products will be abused.
TOBACCO USES – SMOKING AND DISEASE Smoking can be divided into two categories: active (actively smoking oneself) and passive (inhaling smoke because of proximity to a smoker). Cigarette smoking is the prime, but not the only, culprit; pipe and cigar smoking, while less hazardous than cigarette smoking, are not without risk. Smokeless tobacco (chewing tobacco, tobacco pouches, and snuff dipping) has now emerged as a major cause of oral disease and death from oral cancer.
The average 20-a-day smoker is estimated to inhale tobacco smoke about 70,000 times a year. It is therefore not surprising that, with such abuse, a number of diseases, many of them fatal, are associated with smoking. These include cancer (particularly of the lungs, larynx, oral cavity, pharynx, oesophagus, pancreas, cervix, kidney, and bladder); coronary artery disease; cerebrovascular disease (strokes, intracerebral haemorrhages); and COAD (chronic obstructive airways disease, comprising chronic bronchitis and emphysema).
COMPONENTS OF TOBACCO SMOKE
The composition of tobacco smoke when inhaled has been the subject of much investigation. Even the presence of filter tips does not fully protect the smoker from the hazardous effects of some of the agents listed below. Smoke contains over 4,000 chemicals; 43 of them are carcinogenic (cancer promoting). These include chemicals such as polycyclic hydrocarbons, beta naphthylamines, and also nitrosamines, which have been long recognized as carcinogenic in lower animals. It also contains cellular irritants such as ammonia, formaldehyde, and oxides of nitrogen. Carbon monoxide, which avidly binds to haemoglobin and reduces its oxygen-carrying capacity, is also present. The major component, however, is nicotine, which has a variety of effects on the sympathetic nervous system in humans. It is highly addictive-comparable to heroin and cocaine-and produces an increased heart rate; raised blood pressure; and increased discharge of sympathetic nerves in the autonomic nervous system.
Smoking tobacco can cause CARDIOVASCULAR DISEASE, LUNG CANCER and PERIPHERAL VASCULAR DISEASE STIMULANTS
Stimulants are a name given to several groups of drugs that tend to increase alertness and physical activity. The groups include pharmaceuticals such as amphetamines and the street drugs commonly called “uppers” or “speed,” and cocaine. The more widely abused stimulants are amphetamines and cocaine. Cocaine has limited commercial use and its sale and possession are strictly controlled. Amphetamines are sometimes prescribed by physicians, and their availability makes them prime candidates for misuse.
Used properly, amphetamines increase alertness and physical ability. They are often prescribed to counter the effects of narcolepsy, a rare disorder marked by episodes of uncontrollable sleep, and to help children with minimal brain dysfunction. Amphetamines increase the heart and respiration rates, increase blood pressure, dilate the pupils of the eyes, and decrease appetite. Other side effects include anxiety, blurred vision, sleeplessness, and dizziness. Abuse of amphetamines can cause irregular heartbeat and even physical collapse. A common form of abuse of amphetamines is by people who use them to counter the effects of sleeping pills (barbiturates) taken the night before.
This roller coaster effect is damaging to the body. While amphetamine users may feel a temporary boost in self-confidence and power, the abuse of the drug can lead to delusions, hallucinations, and a feeling of paranoia. These feelings can cause a person to act in bizarre fashion, even violently. In most people, these effects disappear when they stop using the drug. Amphetamines are stolen or acquired through scams involving pharmacists or physicians who are duped into writing prescriptions for the drugs.
These illegally acquired drugs are either sold as is or reduced to yellowish crystals that can be ingested in a number of ways, including sniffing and by injection. Another means of illegal sale of amphetamines involves “look-alike” drugs produced in illicit laboratories. One danger in these look-alikes is that the potency may vary from batch to batch. A person accustomed to using a weak look-alike may unwittingly suffer an overdose taking the same volume of a stronger look-alike.