Huffing chemicals provides risky high

Take a rag, soak it with paint thinner or gasoline, then hold it over your face and take deep breaths. Take a paper or plastic bag, spray the contents from a can of aerosol deodorant or room deodorizer into it, then do the same.

None of that sounds very inviting but kids across the country do just that to get a high.

It is called huffing.

The Mayo Clinic on its website says the act can cause a sense of euphoria that lasts 15 to 30 minutes. However, that initial euphoria may be followed by dizziness, slurred speech, loss of coordination, loss of inhibition and hallucinations.

If the inhalant causes the heart to begin working too hard, a rapid, irregular heartbeat could trigger heart failure. Chronic inhalant abuse can cause severe brain, liver and kidney damage.

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, nearly 10 percent of adolescents 12 and older in the U.S. have used inhalants at some point. It might be something as simple as sniffing glue or nail polish, or as complicated as inhaling Freon from an air conditioning unit.

While students at local high schools interviewed this week said use of alcohol and marijuana is common, they had not heard much about huffing.

Still, when Columbus Police Sgt. Donald M. Bush speaks to students, he always brings up the subject.

Bush coordinates the department's Drug Abuse Resistance Education for the crime prevention division.

"Huffing is not a major problem here, but we know it goes on," he said. "We don't want to see one child's life ruined because of it."

Bush said teens like huffing because it is cheap and nothing illegal has to be purchased.

"They can get the stuff at any Walmart or grocery," he said.

Also, there is no telltale odor, unlike alcohol or marijuana.

Nor will parents notice any pills missing from the medicine cabinet.

Bush told of one student, a 15-year-old girl, who took a hair scrunchie, soaked it with inhalant and wore it around her wrist.

Bush said some children try huffing because they are depressed or lonely.

Teen Challenge International, a Christian boarding school in Seale, Ala., offers a 15-month education, counseling and training program for teenaged girls who have entered into a destructive lifestyle.

One of the girls said she and friends have done inhalants, including helium.

"It made our voices sound different," she said.

While it looks and sounds funny, experts say inhaling helium is dangerous.

It is toxic and can prove lethal because it cuts off the oxygen supply and can cause the lungs to rupture.

Inhaling the nitrous oxide from a can of a computer cleaner or whipped cream is common among huffers.

"If you take a can of whipped cream from your refrigerator and the content is watery, then your child is likely inhaling the nitrous oxide," Angie Kopec of Bradford Health Services said. "It is extremely toxic."

Symptoms parents should look for in their children include glassy eyes, a loss of appetite, drunken appearance, slurred speech and restlessness.

Professional drug counselor John Doheny III said parents must be strict and give their children this expectation: "No drug use will be tolerated."