Saturday, August 18, 2007

Solvents: Brief History, Law

What are solvents?

Most solvents are volatile substances, which means they give off a vapour and evaporate when in contact with air. The most common term associated with solvent abuse is "glue-sniffing", but glue is just one of many products that are "sniffed". A whole range of household items, such as aerosols, correcting fluid and nail polish, are abused.

The solvents effect

The hit from solvents is strong, can be felt almost instantaneously and lasts about half an hour:

  • people feel a sense of euphoria, and things seem very unreal. Users say it's like suddenly getting very drunk
  • the heart-rate and breathing shoot up, which makes people feel giddy and light-headed
  • it's common to find it difficult to stand up or walk properly
  • some users feel happy, dreamy or excited, and start giggling uncontrollably. Continuing to inhale beyond this point can lead to unpleasant hallucinations
  • also common is the feeling of invincibility. People have been known to leap out of windows or in front of speeding cars in the belief that they can survive anything. THEY CAN'T.

There are several ways in which solvents are abused and they all amount to inhaling the vapours they give off:

  • they are poured on to a piece of cloth or into a plastic bag (NEVER PUT A PLASTIC BAG OVER YOUR HEAD)
  • most dangerous, is spraying the aerosol straight into the mouth which can freeze up the throat and the air passages so that breathing stops. Someone doing this can die in a few minutes.

If you stop using solvents, your body won't suffer withdrawal symptoms because they're not physically addictive. Solvents can, however, be psychologically addictive. Heavy or long-term users feel they can't face life unless they're cloaked in a solvent haze. Solvent abuse becomes their only escape from what they see as a dull or hopeless life.

If you use solvents regularly, you'll build up a tolerance and need more to get the same effects, so there's an even greater risk of doing yourself harm.
Coming off solvents Withdrawal from solvents leads to powerful feelings of anxiety, depression and nervousness, but these effects will wear off.



What some people do on solvents

You may be seriously disorientated and confused as if you're really drunk. In this state, anything could happen. Solvent abusers have been killed by:

  • running into traffic
  • falling into a canal or river and drowning
  • accidentally starting a fire
  • literally "exercising to death". The adrenaline stimulated by solvent sniffing can make you hyperactive and cause you to overexert yourself, for example, by running for a long time or lifting something very heavy. And as your heart will already be working overtime, the extra strain could cause a heart attack. All these dangers are increased if you're hallucinating. You may be running away from a frightening vision or think you're able to do the impossible, such as stop traffic. This isn't a joke: these things have happened.


Death or serious injury can result from solvent abuse.
  • You may overexert yourself or have an accident, and some ways of using solvents can lead to suffocation and death in minutes.
  • The poisons, or toxins, in solvents also pose a real threat. Many of the chemicals attack body organs, particularly the liver and heart, leading to disease, organ failure and even death.
  • Solvents also cause your body to produce a lot of adrenaline, which gives you a burst of energy that increases your heart-rate dramatically. This sudden change may make you very sick and if you're sick while unconscious, you may choke to death, or it can put such a strain on your heart, that it stops suddenly and you may die.

There are other effects of solvent abuse that won't kill you, but won't thrill you either. Repeated use can lead to lots of physical and psychological side effects.

Skin rashes The skin around your mouth and nose becomes irritated.

It's common to become tired and have a thick head.

Weight loss and shakes You look terrible and feel even worse.

Liver and kidney failure The toxins poison these vital organs. If they fail you'll die.

Short-term memory loss You become forgetful and can't concentrate on anything.

Mood swings You'll be smiling one minute and aggressive the next.

Depression The only way to beat the depression is to kick the habit.

The Law
  • It's not illegal to possess or misuse solvents. It is, however, a criminal offence to supply (sell or give) a solvent for inhalation to a person who is under the age of 18. If the police see a group of you sniffing a solvent, they'll probably ask you to move along or detain you so that they can make enquiries about your welfare.
  • If your behaviour is at all threatening or aggressive after you've been using solvents, the police may arrest you.

Solvents dangers

Inhaling solvents is exceedingly dangerous so stay away from them if you can. However, if you do inhale solvents lower the risks:

  • never spray an aerosol or lighter refill directly into your mouth
  • never put a bag of solvent over your head
  • stay in a group: if something goes wrong, a friend can get help or calm you down
  • never use solvents frequently - even once a week is too often
  • avoid busy roads, rivers, railways and the tops of buildings so, if you hallucinate, you're less likely to injure yourself
  • don't overexert yourself: it's a bad idea to do any strenuous exercise after sniffing.

If you stop using solvents, any side effects will clear up. It's not a lost cause and you can get back to normal, so give it up.

If somehting goes wrong

bad trip
Your friend may begin to see or hear frightening things that aren't really there - this is known as hallucinating and may cause your friend to panic. Reassure her that the things she can see or hear are imaginary and will soon pass. Stay with your friend.

If your friend has serious burns, call an ambulance immediately. Meanwhile, try to cool the affected area with cold water and make your friend as comfortable as possible.

  • If your friend is breathing, place him in the recovery position. Call an ambulance. Tell the medical staff what your friend has taken - it could save his life. Be prepared to resuscitate your friend if he stops breathing.
  • If your friend vomits while unconscious, check that he's still breathing.

Get the solvent away from your friend immediately. Open any doors and windows.

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