A volatile substance is a compound that gives off vapours or fumes at room temperature. Volatile substances are also commonly known as solvents or inhalants.
Last updated: 28 September 2005
What is a volatile substance?
A volatile substance is a compound that gives off vapours or fumes at room temperature. Volatile substances are also commonly known as solvents or inhalants. They include butane gas, aerosol sprays, petrol, glue, correction fluids, and paint thinners.
What are the effects of volatile substances?
The effects of volatile substances depend on the:
Immediate effects are very similar to those of alcohol and include feeling less inhibited, disorientated, and uncoordinated. The effects come on more quickly because the substances enter the bloodstream from the lungs instead of the stomach. The effects last for 1 to 5 minutes and are usually over within 30 to 60 minutes of sniffing. Hangovers and headaches often occur after the immediate effects wear off.
Research evidence suggests that short term use of volatile substances rarely cause permanent damage and effects are reversible if the person stops using inhalants.
The long term use of aerosols and cleaning fluids can damage the kidneys, liver and the brain, but this is rare. The long term use of leaded petrol can cause leukemia and various types of cancers because the lead accumulates in the body. Other physical effects of petrol sniffing can also include anorexia, seizure, and sudden sniffing syndrome.
Sudden Sniffing Syndrome
'Sudden Sniffing Syndrome' is caused by heart failure that may happen if a person does strenuous exercise or has a sudden fright straight after sniffing. However, this is rare and is usually associated with aerosols, butane gas, and cleaning fluid.
The harms most associated with volatile substances are in how and where they are sniffed. Deaths or accidents can occur as a result of sniffing in unsafe places, such as on a roof or by a railway line.
Dependency, tolerance, and withdrawal
Regular users can become dependent on volatile substances, as the substances become important in their daily lives.
The possibility of developing tolerance, that is, the need to use more to get the same effects as before, is very small.
It is also rare for withdrawal symptoms to occur when a person stops using. Very heavy users, however, may experience headaches, muscular cramps, and abdominal pain.
Volatile substances and the law
Inhaling volatile substances in Australia is not illegal. In NSW, it is not an offence to inhale or sell products containing volatile substances. There are, however, certain restrictions on the marketing of products which are likely to be misused. Some aerosol pain relief sprays, type correction, and lighter fluids are labelled with a warning statement.
Alcohol and Drug Information Service (ADIS) is a 24 hour confidential telephone counselling service. Phone: (02) 9361 8000 or toll free: 1800 422 599.
|Further information - Area Health Service Drug and Alcohol central intake telephone numbers|
|These centralised numbers are the first point of contact for people seeking assistance for drug and alcohol problems. Callers may be assessed by telephone and referred to relevant services within the Area.
Centralised intake lines operate Monday to Friday during business hours.
|Metropolitan Areas||Location||Number||Rural Areas||Location||Number|
|Northern Sydney/Central Coast||North Sydney||1300 889 788||Greater Southern||Greater Murray||1800 800 944|
|Central Coast||4394 4880||02 9425 3923|
|South Eastern Sydney/Illawarra||South East Sydney||02 9113 4444||Southern||1800 809 423|
|Illawarra||1300 652 226||Greater Western||Far West||1800 665 066|
|Sydney South West||South West Sydney||02 9616 8586||08 8080 1556|
|Central Sydney||02 9515 5311||Macquarie||1800 092 881|
|Sydney West||Wentworth||02 4734 1333||02 6841 2360|
|Western Sydney||02 9840 3355||Mid Western||1300 887 000|
|Hunter/New England||Hunter||02 4923 2060|
|New England||1300 660 059|
|North Coast||Area Health Service||1300 662 263|
|Mid North Coast||02 6588 2882|
|Northern Rivers||02 6620 7612|