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What is Volatile Substance Abuse (VSA)?

Volatile substance abuse is the formal term for solvent abuse or ‘buzzing gases’. This means deliberately inhaling chemicals found in household products to get intoxicated. For example, inhaling a can of deodorant to get high.

In the 1980s and 1990s ‘glue sniffing’ was really popular. Household glues contained a chemical called toluene which is what was getting people high. Due to its popularity and the damage it can cause to the brain, lung, liver, and kidney damage, toluene has since been banned from UK consumer products – although it can still be found in some industrial or trade glues.

The household products used for VSA have changed over time, but the problem has not gone away.

The products commonly used for VSA are safe when used for the purpose they are made for and when following instructions for use.

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Nickname/Street names

Buzzing gasses, sniffing, tooting, huffing, bagging,

What is VSA?

Volatile substances come in many different household products. The most commonly used substances are:

  • Deodorant cans

  • Whipped cream canisters

  • Hairspray

  • Lighter refill gas

  • Some industrial glues

  • Acetone (found in some nail polish removers)

  • Laughing gas

Volatile substances depress the nervous system, so they slow everything down, and you feel the ‘high’. The effect can hit you within half a minute, and the effects are quick to wear off within about 30 minutes.

Products used for VSA are easy to get a hold of, cheap, and easy to hide because the effects wear off quickly. Volatile substance abuse is the most common form of substance abuse in the under 14’s, and there are a few reasons for this:

  • VSA is easy to hide from parents or carers because the effects wear off quickly.

  • There is no risk of a criminal record.

  • It is hard to stop people from using them because they are so accessible.

  • People using them think they are harmless but this not the case.