Some science behind the scenes

Solvents, fuels, aerosols, cleaning products and Adhesives

Why do people abuse solvents, fuels, aerosols, cleaning products and adhesives? The answer is - from looking at the experiences on EROWID and other sites, - I do not know. It is true that all the products are ‘cheap’, but then there are so many alternative mechanisms they could use that are free. It is also the case that in a sense they have an ‘effect’ but then so does a kick on the head and most of these provide the equivalent of a kick on the head, as people experience nausea, vomiting and headaches from all the products – or worse. Some people are so ill, they pass out and die. They also often cause themselves permanent damage – the brain, to the liver, to the kidneys and so on.

In the so called ‘developed countries’ we use products which contain substantial amounts of these volatile organic solvents. Common household products which often contain organic solvents include

  • contact adhesives – we call them glues and they contain chemicals such as toluene, ethyl acetate, hexane, methyl chloride, acetone, methyl ethyl ketone and methyl butyl ketone
  • Aerosols used for spray paint, hair spray, air freshener and computer cleaners [known as dusters] – these may contain butane, propane, fluorocarbons, toluene again, and chlorofluorocarbons [CFCs]
  • Cleaning products – such as the chemicals used in dry cleaners or as spot removers – these contain tetrachloroethylene, trichloroethane, xylene, petroleum distillates and chlorohydrocarbons
  • Solvents – such as nail polish remover, paint remover, paint thinner, correction fluid and industrial solvents – these contain acetone, ethyl acetate, toluene, methylene chloride, and methanol.
  • Fuels such as lighter fluid and gasoline – that contain butane, isopropane, hexane, aliphatic hydrocarbons and tetraethyl lead

Believe it or not all these are abused.

One of the most serious long term affects is that it can permanently damage your facility to reason. Damage your sense of reason on a permanent basis, along with the function of memory and you are in deep trouble. The effects of this will be all too obvious from the examples – examples I have not specifically picked to support this, but simply examples chosen at random – mostly from EROWID, which does a sterling job of attempting to explain the danger of messing up your mind. If you mess up your mind you won’t know you have messed up your mind and as a consequence may continue to do it, until you die or are institutionalized as being paranoiac or psychotic or both.

Governments classify volatile substance abuse as a ‘significant public health problem’. But it is a far more significant problem for the person doing the sniffing. "Glue sniffing" has now been reported from practically every region of the world.

Looking at the statistics and observations, it would seem that volatile substance abuse is closely linked to the domain of ‘illicit’ drug use. The ‘illicit’ drugs are inaccessible because of cost and supply, the people know of no other mechanism to achieve relief from often appalling home lives or boredom, or depression or a myriad of psychiatric problems including chronic shyness. The problem is largely a mixture of ignorance [or maybe innocence] coupled with a problem of supply and demand. Volatile substances are the "drugs" of choice for many adolescents.

Health and law enforcement agencies cannot control this area. You cannot ‘ban’ the products shown [although from a completely different perspective there may be some value in banning them to help with controlling global warming, the depletion of the ozone level and the depletion of fossil fuel stocks].

The only way that we can stop children dying and permanently damaging themselves is by helping them with better alternatives – climbing up mountains, cycling for long distances, going on scary rides – all of which give you just as much of a high and a buzz of achievement.

There is every reason to start thinking that for those children who will never be academic or those who really dislike being indoors studying, or whose only current form of entertainment is TV or videos and computer games, that an alternative that really challenges them and gives them an endorphin rush may be far better for them. Let them experience fear, let them take risks and know death by staring it in the face, as opposed to from the haze of solvent vapours.

Let them find their higher spirit, but not through death by solvent abuse.

References

VOLATILE SUBSTANCE ABUSE - Practical Guidelines for Analytical Investigation of Suspected Cases and Interpretation of Results - R.J. Flanagan, P.J. Streete, J.D. Ramsey

Table 1. Some volatile substances which may be abused by inhalation

1. Hydrocarbons: Aliphatic

 

Acetylene
Butane1
Hexane2
Isobutane (2-methylpropane)1

Propane1

Aromatic

 

Toluene (toluol, methylbenzene, phenylmethane)

Xylene (xylol, dimethylbenzene)3

Mixed

 

Petrol (gasoline)4

Petroleum ethers5

Halogenated

 

Bromochlorodifluoromethane (BCF, FC 12B1)
Carbon tetrachloride (tetrachloromethane) Chlorodifluoromethane (FC 22, Freon 22)

Chloroform (trichloromethane) Dichlorodifluoromethane (FC 12, Freon 12)

Dichloromethane (methylene chloride)

1,2-Dichloropropane (propylene dichloride)?

Ethyl chloride (monochloroethane) Fluorotrichloromethane (FC 11, Freon 11)

Halothane (2-bromo-2-chloro-1,1,1-trifluoroethane)

Tetrachloroethylene (perchloroethylene)

1,1,1-Trichloroethane (methylchloroform, Genklene)
1,1,2-Trichlorotrifluoroethane (FC 113) Trichloroethylene (“trike”, Trilene)

2. Oxygenated compounds

 

Butanone (2-butanone, methyl ethyl ketone, MEK)
Butyl nitrite6

Enflurane (2-chloro-1,1,2-trifluoroethyl difluoromethyl ether)
Ethyl acetate?

Diethyl ether (ethoxyethane)
Dimethyl ether (DME, methoxymethane)
Isobutyl nitrite (“butyl nitrite”)6

Isoflurane (1-chloro-2,2,2-trifluoroethyl difluoromethyl ether)
Isopentyl nitrite (3-methylbutyl nitrite, isoamyl nitrite, “amyl nitrite”)6,7

Methyl acetate

Methyl isobutyl ketone (MIBK, isopropyl acetone)
Methyl tert.-butyl ether (MTBE)

Nitrous oxide (dinitrogen monoxide, “laughing gas”)
Sevoflurane (fluoromethyl 2,2,2-trifluoro-1-(trifluoromethyl)ethyl ether)

1  Components of liquified petroleum gas (LPG) - gas intended for use as a fuel may contain 30-40 per cent unsaturates (propene, butenes)

2  Commercial "hexane" mixture of hexane and heptane with small amounts of higher aliphatic hydrocarbons

3  Mainly meta-xylene (1,3-dimethylbenzene)

4  Mixture of aliphatic and aromatic hydrocarbons with boiling range 40-200 oC

5  Mixtures of pentanes, hexanes, etc. with specified boiling ranges (for example 40-60 oC)

6  Abused primarily for its vasodilator properties

7  Commercial “amyl nitrite” mainly isopentyl nitrite but other nitrites also present

Table 2. Some products which may be abused by inhalation (See Table 1 for full chemical names of some compounds. Halocarbon shorthand nomenclature is summarized in Section 3.3).

Product

Major volatile components

 

Adhesives:

Balsa wood cement

Contact adhesives

Cycle tyre repair cement

Polyvinylchloride (PVC) cement

 

Woodworking adhesives

 

 

Ethyl acetate

Butanone, hexane, toluene and esters

Toluene and xylenes

Acetone, butanone, cyclohexanone, trichloro-ethylene

Xylenes

 

Aerosols:

Air freshener

Deodorants, antiperspirants

Fly spray

Hair lacquer

Paint

 

Butane, dimethyl ether and/or fluorocarbons

Butane, dimethyl ether and/or fluorocarbons

Butane, dimethyl ether and/or fluorocarbons

Butane, dimethyl ether and/or fluorocarbons

Butane, dimethyl ether and/or fluorocarbons and esters

Inhalational anaesthetics

 

Nitrous oxide, diethyl ether, enflurane, halothane, isoflurane

Topical analgesics

FC 11, FC 12, ethyl chloride

Cigarette lighter refills

Butane, isobutane, propane

Commercial dry cleaning and degreasing agents

 

Dichloromethane, FC 113, methanol,

1,1,1-trichloroethane, tetrachloroethylene, toluene,

trichloroethylene (now rarely carbon

tetrachloride, 1,2-dichloropropane)

Dust removers (“air brushes”)

 

Dimethyl ether, FC 22

Domestic spot removers and dry cleaners

Dichloromethane,

1,1,1-trichloroethane,

tetrachloroethylene, trichloroethylene

Fire extinguishers

 

Bromochlorodifluoromethane,
FC 11, FC 12

Fuel gases: “Butane” and “Propane”

Butane, butenes, isobutane, propane, propenes

Nail varnish/nail varnish remover

 

Acetone and esters

 

Paints/paint thinners

 

Acetone, butanone, esters, hexane, toluene, trichloroethylene, xylene

Paint stripper

 

Dichloromethane,

methanol, toluene

“Room odorizer”

Isobutyl nitrite

Surgical plaster/chewing gum remover

1,1,1-Trichloroethane

Typewriter correction fluids/thinners

1,1,1-Trichloroethane

Whipped cream dispensers

Nitrous oxide