Ask the Docs: About Inhalants

Have you ever inhaled helium from a balloon to make your voice higher? Well, according to scientists, that's a really bad idea. The National Institute on Drug Abuse gave students from across the country that chance with their annual “Chat markersDay” – a live online chat between teens and NIH scientists. Check out more student questions and doctor answers about inhalants below.


Question: jhadjandjand, Postville Community Schools asked:

What happens if you snort scented markers?


Dr. Emily Einstein answered:

Scented markers are a type of inhalant that can be very harmful. People occasionally snort these for the "high" that they can produce, but inhalants are potentially addictive and the chemicals in them can cause brain damage (loss of brain tissue, impaired thinking, loss of coordination, limb spasms, hearing and vision loss), liver and kidney damage, and (rarely) can cause death. For more facts on inhalants, check out


Question: HDumont, Kingswood Regional Middle School  asked:

Is sniffing glue bad?


Dr. Belinda Sims answered:

Hi HDumont. YES! Sniffing glue or other volatile chemicals like gasoline, paint, permanent markers, and other aerosols are extremely dangerous. These drugs clearly damage the brain, and the damage may be irreversible. Even when you are using a volatile chemical for its intended purpose, you should always wear a protective mask. There's more info here:


Question: James, Ardsley High School asked:

What is worse spray paint or sharpie?


Dr. Jeff Schulden answered:

Both are horrible! Sniffing concentrated fumes from chemical substances like these can cause many health problems, including liver and kidney damage, hearing loss, or bone marrow damage….Inhalants can also cause brain damage by cutting off oxygen flow to the brain. They can damage your heart and occasionally can be fatal. To read more about inhalants, check out:


Question: Queer, Walter Johnson High School asked:

Is it dangerous to inhale helium from a balloon to make your voice higher??


Dr. Ruben Baler answered:

Yes, this practice is dangerous. There are reports of kids dying after doing this.


Question: Aye, Ardsley High School asked:whipped cream can

I heard sucking the gas out of whipped cream cans makes you high is this true and why? 


Dr. Belinda Sims answered:

Hi Aye, yes, it is true, but it can be very dangerous. Cans of whipped cream contain the gas nitric oxide (nitrous). Although nitrous is used medically as a supplement to anesthesia, inhaling nitrous can be very dangerous outside of medical use. One reason is that nitrous competes for oxygen in your blood, so the high you get is really because you are starving your brain and body for oxygen. If you don't have enough oxygen in your body, you can die. Another dangerous result is that you can get dizzy and fall down, risking broken bones, concussion, or other injuries.


Question: Emorejon, Sugar Land Middle School, asked:

How fast can you die from inhalants?

Dr. Will Aklin answered:

Inhalants are drugs that you breathe in, which mean they take the place of oxygen. They can cause sudden sniffing death, which is when the heart beats fast and irregularly and suddenly stops. They also can cause suffocation, which is when air is blocked from getting into the lungs. And they can also cause a person to go into a coma. All of this means that you can die very quickly from inhalants - in a matter of minutes. For more info, see:


Check out the full "Chat Day" transcript on NIDA's website.