Glues, Gases and Aerosols

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A wide range of glues, gases and aerosols contain volatile substances which, when breathed in or sniffed, get you high. Breathing in a volatile substance can make you feel uninhibited, euphoric and dizzy. But the effect they have on your heart can cause death, even if it’s your first time (known as Sudden Sniffing Death).

Most glues, gases and aerosols have the same effects and the same risks, but there are a very small number  – poppers and laughing gas – which have slightly different effects and/or levels of risk.

Abusing glues, gases and aerosols is sometimes called Volatile Substance Abuse (VSA) or Volatile Substance Misuse (VSM).


There are lots of glues, gases and aerosols which, when abused, can cause you harm. Many are normal household products -  such as, gas lighter refills, aerosols containing hairspray, deodorants and air fresheners, tins or tubes of glue, some paints, thinners and correcting fluids, cleaning fluids, surgical spirit, dry-cleaning fluids and petrol.

How are glues, gases and aerosols taken?
What are the effects of glues, gases and aerosols?

Glues, gases and aerosols contain volatile substances which are depressants, which means  they slow down your brain and body’s responses and produce a similar effect to being drunk.

The effects can vary from person to person and depend on what specific glue, gas or aerosol has been used, but the common effects can include:

  • Mood swings, aggressive behaviour, hallucinations, vomiting and blackouts.
  • Feeling like being drunk with dizziness, dreaminess, fits of the giggles, and difficulty thinking straight.
  • In the case of some glues, gases and aerosols,  you can develop a red rash around the mouth.
  • Getting a 'hangover' afterwards -  such as a severe headache, feeling tired and/or feeling depressed.
What are the risks of glues, gases and aerosols?

Because glues, gases and aerosols are available as household products, some people think they are safe to use, but they’re not. Between 2000 and 2008, abusing glues, gases and aerosols killed more 10-15 year olds than illegal drugs combined. They can kill the first time they are used.

Here’s what else they could do to you:

  • exclamationmarkInhaling glues, gases and/or aerosols can cause mood swings, aggressive behaviour, hallucinations, vomiting and blackouts.
  • They can seriously affect your judgment and when you're high there's a real danger you'll try something dangerous.
  • Squirting gas products down the throat is a particularly dangerous way of taking the drug. It can make your throat swell up so you can't breathe and it can slow down your heart and can cause a heart attack.
  • Some users die from passing out and choking on their own vomit.
  • You risk suffocation if you inhale from a plastic bag over your head.
  • Long-term abuse can damage the muscles, liver and kidneys. While very long term use, such as  ten years or more, can cause a lasting impairment of brain function (especially affecting how the brain controls body movement).
  • It can be hard to get the dose right. Just enough will give the desired ‘high’ – a little too much can result in a coma or even death.
  • Unsteadiness, disorientation/confusion and fainting can all contribute to the risk of accidents which are implicated in a number of the deaths.
  • Many products are flammable and there is a risk of burns and explosions, especially if someone is smoking nearby or if in an enclosed space.

Mixing with alcohol
Gases, glues and aerosols produce a similar effect to alcohol, so mixing them together can have serious consequences. The effects are increased and can lead to unconsciousness and death.

Can you get addicted to abusing glues, gases and aerosols?

Tolerance can build up within a few weeks in regular users, so you might need to use more to achieve the same effects. This reverts back to normal within a few days of stopping.

It may be possible to become psychologically dependent on volatile substances, meaning the users develop an increased desire to keep using despite any harms they experience, but the evidence on this is limited.

Withdrawal symptoms have been reported in regular users. When they stop their use they experience irritability and headaches.

lawiconGlues, gases and aerosols and the law

Glues, gases and aerosols aren't illegal, but this doesn’t mean that they are safe to use. It’s illegal in England and Wales for anyone to sell glues, gases and aerosols to people under-18, if they think they’re likely to be inhaling them to get 'high'.

Under Scottish law you can be prosecuted for 'recklessly' selling substances to any age group if you suspect they're going to inhale them.

It is illegal to sell petrol to anyone under the age of 16 or to supply gas lighter refills to anyone under the age of 18. This applies to the whole of the UK.

lightbulbDid you know?

Like drinking and driving, driving while under the influence of drugs is illegal – with some drugs you can still be unfit to drive the day after using. You can get a heavy fine, be disqualified from driving or even go to prison.

Drugs & Alcohol

Legal Highs

Legal Highs’ are substances which produce the same, or similar effects, to drugs such as cocaine and ecstasy, but are not controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act.

They are considered illegal to sell, supply or advertise for “human consumption” under current medicines legislation. To get round this sellers will refer to them as research chemicals, plant food, bath crystals or pond cleaner.

There are a large number of legal highs, but here are a few key facts:

  • Just because a drug is legal to possess, it doesn’t mean it’s safe.
  • It is becoming increasingly clear that ‘legal highs’ are far from harmless and can have similar health risks to drugs like cocaine, ecstasy and speed.
  • Risks of ‘legal highs’ can include reduced inhibitions, drowsiness, excited or paranoid states, coma, seizures, and death.
  • These risks are increased if used with alcohol or other drugs.
  • It is likely that drugs sold as a ‘legal high’ may actually contain one or more substances that are actually illegal to possess. What you may think is a legal high that you can’t get in trouble for having, could be something completely different, and in fact a class B drug.

Worried About Someone?

Not all drugs are addictive, and everybody that uses drugs doesn’t become dependent. When drug use becomes problematic it can lead to addiction and signs this has happen can include:

  • The need for regular use.
  • Constantly have drugs in their possession.
  • Strange and ‘out of character’ behavior
  • Mood Swings
  • Physical changes like Weight loss
  • Sometimes people don’t recognise their drug use has become a problem. They refuse to believe that they are addicted or dependent. If you think you think a friend has a problem and you want to help them, think about how you're going to approach it and what you’re going to say?

    It could be a sensitive subject for them and you don’t what to looking like you’re getting. They may not listen to you at first but don’t let this put you off. The best thing that you can do is to be there for them, to support and encourage them to change. You can also help by keeping your friend away from situations that can trigger or expose them to drug use.

    Some people are able to overcome their issues with drugs before any serious harm has been done to them, or their family and friends. Other users have to hit rock bottom before they can see the harm and damage they are doing and start addressing their drug use.