Back in the 1990s, two workers were discovered lying comatose at the bottom of an empty pool. They were rushed to the hospital and later made a full recovery, but they couldn’t remember anything about how they’d gotten there or what they were doing.
For a while, they couldn’t even talk. Investigators later figured out that the fumes from the glue they’d been using to stick tiles to the floor of the pool had built up in the bottom of the hole.
Essentially, the two workers had been unknowingly sniffing glue for a while.
You’ve probably seen warning labels on things like glue and paint about this: deliberately inhaling the fumes – aka inhalant abuse – can be harmful or fatal.
The warnings are there because it’s dangerous and there are people who do it on purpose. But it’s really, really stupid way to try to get high.
Inhalants can make people feel good for a short period of time. But they can also cause choking, asphyxiation, seizures, comas… and death. The culprit here is usually a compound called toluene.
It’s a hydrocarbon, meaning that it’s made up of carbons and hydrogens, and it’s used in things like glue as a solvent. In the short term, toluene has a direct effect on the central nervous system. At first, inhaling it can cause a sense of euphoria as the toluene boosts the production of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that’s involved in pleasure and reward.
But it can also cause agitation, belligerence, apathy, vomiting, and other symptoms that are not as much fun. And it can be addictive. A high enough dose can lead to more severe symptoms like seizures or death. But even at lower doses, toluene can lead to some serious health problems, because it causes the sort of damage that stacks over time.
Among other things, chronic inhalant abuse can damage the sheath that protects nerves. Which as you can probably imagine, is really not great for the brain or the rest of the body. It can lead to all kinds of cognitive problems, and even dementia.That is on top of the heart, lung, liver, and kidney damage that can also come from chronic ingalant abuse.
So glue sniffing is addictive and causes all kinds of organ damage and sometimes death. It’s a very dumb way to get high. That is why they have the warning labels.