Jan 10, 2007
Adolescent drug use has fallen overall since the late 1990s, but the “recreational” use of solvents is on the increase. Solvent, or inhalant, abuse is now the fourth most abused drug among US teens according to NIDA.
Inhalants, which include volatile organic compounds such as butane and aromatic hydrocarbons (like toluene) activate the same areas of the brain as do other drugs of abuse. However, understanding their precise mode of action has not been clarified until now.
Toluene is found in paint thinners, varnishes and even nail polish remover and is commonly abused and new research shows that it stimulates dopamine release in specific regions of the brain known as drug reward pathways. The results, obtained by Arthur Riegel and colleagues at the Vollom Institute, in Portland, Oregon, suggest that the brain interprets inhalation of toluene as a rewarding experience which can result in continued abuse and re-abuse.The findings could help in developing strategies to prevent and treat addiction to substances containing toluene.
Surprisingly, researchers also found that toluene-containing substances are most effective at low concentrations. Since toluene is rapidly absorbed by the brain, this might explain why the preferred mode of delivery is by “huffing” or “sniffing”. Sniffing is frequently considered a harmless recreational or party drug but unlike other drugs, even a single session of inhaling the compound can disrupt heart rhythms enough to cause cardiac arrest and lower oxygen levels enough to cause suffocation. Not a good thing.
The research is published today in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology.