Huffing, sniffing, or bagging volatile substances at any level carries a risk of ‘sudden sniffing death syndrome'. If someone is passed out or isn't responding after using volatile substances, call 111 immediately.

Key things to know

Effects can last between 30 seconds to 5 minutes, but can be shorter

What to expect

Be aware that sudden sniffing death syndrome can occur at any level of use. Make sure the people around you know when to get help


Volatile substances are highly flammable. Avoid using around open flames and ignition sources

Safer using

Avoid using in confined spaces or near other hazards, due to risk of losing consciousness

Avoiding injury

Regular use over a long period of time can lead to long-term issues

Long-term effects

Nitrous Oxide (NOS) is not a volatile substance. See our separate NOS page for more info.

How do volatile substances (huffing) make you feel?

Volatile substances are depressants which slow down your brain and body functions. Most effects come on quickly and are very short-lived. How long the effects of volatile substances last varies, especially as many people ‘huff’ these substances repeatedly.  

They effects are different depending on: 

  • Your size and weight  
  • How often they are used (i.e. whether they are used repeatedly)  
  • Whether or not you are mixing them with other drugs or medicines  
  • How much fresh air you are able to breath while using.  
  • Physical exertion before or after use (such as running, fast walking, laughing)  

“When I came to, I was crying and freaking out. I had no idea where I was or who I was or even what I was or who I was with. I had no recollection of anything, it was like I was a newborn baby out of the womb. It took me about 10 mins to stabilize, it was not even awful or scary it was just the most intense and bizarre thing ever.”
- Reddit user

Pleasant effects Unpleasant effects

Pleasantly dizzy  

Feeling as if you are drunk  




Feeling tired  

Low mood  



Brain fog  



Blurred vision  

Muscle weakness


Pleasant effects Unpleasant effects

Stupor (feeling as though you are very drunk)  

Loss of sensation in your body* (may be pleasant for some people) 

Severe Headaches  

Intensely dizzy  

Stumbling or falling over  

Feeling very nauseous or vomiting  

Feeling very disoriented or confused  


Feeling very drowsy (or having trouble staying awake)  

Difficulty speaking  


Memory Loss  

Loss of sensation in your body

Pleasant effects Unpleasant effects

Repeated vomiting (and risk of choking on vomit)  

Acting violently  

Loss of consciousness  


Intense or scary hallucinations  

Inability to speak  

Inability to move your body  

Difficulty breathing  


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How can you be safer when using volatile substances (huffing)?


If you are using volatile substances for sniffing, huffing, or bagging, there are things you can do to keep yourself safer. However, it is important to note that sudden sniffing death syndrome can happen at any level of use of these substances. This occurs when the volatile substances cause the heart to stop and/or suffocation.  

Avoid using around open flames or ignition sources (including cigarettes). Volatile substances are extremely flammable, so it’s important to keep any open flame or ignition source that they may accidentally spill on far away from you when using. It also helps to ensure you are using these substances in a well-ventilated area. 

Avoid dangerous combinations with other drugs:  
The effects of taking volatile substances with other drugs – including over the counter or prescribed medications – can be unpredictable and dangerous. 

Volatile substances plus alcohol,benzodiazepinesor opioids put extra strain on the body and can affect your breathing. This may increase the risk of losing consciousness or suffocating. 

Avoid using in enclosed spaces. 
Using volatile substances in a small space or by placing a bag or blanket over the head can cause death by suffocation. Try to ensure you are in is a safe space- such as an outdoors or a roomy area with air flow. If space is limited where you are using, open windows, or doors to keep air flowing. Avoid having a bag, mask or blanket over your head or mouth and nose as this can increase your risk of suffocation. Ensure that you don’t use in a position where you could fall asleep with the canister near your mouth or nose.  

Avoid strenuous exercise after using.
Volatile substances reduce the oxygen being delivered to your body and this can cause the heart to stop or breathing difficulties and suffocation. Whilst anyone using volatile substances is at risk of sudden sniffing death syndrome, running, walking quickly, laughing or doing any sort of activity that puts strain on the body and heart can increase the risk of this occurring. Try to sit down somewhere comfortable with good air flow and rest after using.  

Avoid using alone.
Volatile substances can cause people to lose consciousness and so it's important to make sure you're using around people you trust. If someone around you loses consciousness when using volatile substances, call 111 and seek medical attention immediately. Place the person in the recovery position- or if they are not breathing, administer CPR.   

Create a safe space around you.
Making sure that you are comfortable and seated when using volatile substances can prevent injury. These substances can make your body feel numb and cause clumsiness and falling over. Make sure the area where you are using is not close to hazards, such as roads or ledges; if you lose consciousness in a dangerous area, you could get seriously injured.  

Keep volatile substance liquids from touching your mouth, nose, and skin.
The liquid in most volatile substances is poisonous and can cause burns or skin irritation if it touches you. Ensure that you don’t tilt cans of volatile substance when using. Avoid any contact of the liquid with your mouth, nose or skin - this can cause cold burns (cryogenic burns) in some cases, which can be dangerous and painful. Some people place a piece of gauze or a barrier over the nozzle of a can so if the can is tilted, the liquid does not go onto your skin.  

If you swallow any amount of liquid from a volatile substance, seek emergency medical attention immediately. Call 111. You or someone around you can also call the National Poisons Centre 0800 764 766.

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What do comedowns from volatile substances (huffing) feel like, and how can you feel better?

As volatile substances are depressants, they don’t have ‘comedowns’ in the same way as drugs such as meth of MDMA. However, you might experience physical or mental symptoms as the effects of these substances wear off. Generally, these feelings will last for 24-48 hours after using volatile substances.  

The most common effects are:

  • headaches  
  • nausea and vomiting
  • dizziness  
  • drowsiness
  • tiredness 
  • cramps 
  • hallucinations

If you have persistent headaches, tiredness, or feel very dizzy or drowsy, you can try:

  • Take a break from using 
  • Get plenty of rest and sleep 
  • Remember to eat and drink plenty of water 
  • Reach out and talk with friends and whānau for support 
  • Relax and do things that you enjoy taking your mind off not feeling well 
  • Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and other drugs 
  • Practise mindfulness and deep breathing and try writing down your thoughts and feelings 

If any of these symptoms intensify or don't go away, then call a doctor or Healthline 0800 611 116. They can talk you through the next steps. 

If your symptoms worsen or you are with somebody who:  

  • Experiences suicidal thoughts  
  • Acts very violently or aggressively  
  • Has severe or continual vomiting 
  • Experiences psychosis 
  • Has seizures 
  • Loses consciousness or becomes unresponsive  
  • Has difficulty breathing or stops breathing
  • Shows signs of suffocation such as gasping, confusion, pale skin, blue lips or fingertips and nosebleeds 

Call 111. These are signs that something more serious is going on. You or the people around you should act quickly. 

“Just as the effects intensify, they peak for less than a minute then the comedown begins and the effects wear off faster than they came on, leaving [me] with a slight headache, an uncomfortable feeling in [my] lungs, and a nauseous feeling in [my] stomach.”
 - Reddit user 

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What happens if you use too many volatile substances (huff too much)?

Some effects from volatile substances can happen no matter how much, or how often you use, such as ‘sudden sniffing death syndrome’. However, if you use volatile substances through sniffing, huffing or bagging several times in a session, or over a long period of time, you can increase your risk of experiencing other unpleasant effects. You may have headaches, feel dizzy, disoriented, nauseous, breathless or anxious.  


  • Focus on breathing – try taking slow, deep breaths. 
  • If you are able, call and talk to somebody you trust and ask them to help keep you calm. 
  • Do not huff more or have caffeine, alcohol or other drugs, as these can make you feel worse. 
  • Move to somewhere quiet – try to sit or lie down and do something relaxing. 
  • Drink water to stay hydrated. 

If your symptoms worsen or you are with somebody who:  

  • Has severe vomiting  
  • Has very pale or blue skin or fingertips 
  • Develops an irregular heartbeat or high temperature  
  • Has chest pains 
  • Is experiencing disturbing hallucinations. 
  • Has a seizure 
  • Loses consciousness  
  • Starts acting violently or aggressively  
  • Is having difficulty breathing, or stops breathing  

Call 111 immediately. These are signs that something more serious is going on. You or the people around you should act quickly. 

If someone has swallowed any amount of a volatile substance you should seek medical attention immediately, as this can be very dangerous. Call 111. You should also seek urgent medical attention if someone has spilled it on their skin and are experiencing redness, rashes or burning. 

“I was a big inhalant person, and my favourite was spray paint, but the thing is, my anxiety would get so bad because the risk of rapid inhalant death syndrome.”

- Reddit user

What are the long-term effects of volatile substances (huffing)? 

The long-term effects you may experience from huffing, sniffing or bagging volatile substances  can depend on many factors. This includes what volatile substances you use, how often you use and how much you use.  

The long-term effects can cause difficulty in concentration on day-to-day activities, even when you are not high. Long-term use can cause nose bleeds, blood shot eyes, persistent cough, tiredness, bad breath and sores around the mouth and nose. In some cases, it can also cause muscle weakness, difficulty thinking clearly, weight loss, persistent shortness of breath and changes in your mental health and mood.  

Continued heavy use of volatile substances can cause permanent brain, heart and respiratory damage as well as kidney liver and nerve damage and hearing loss.

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How do you manage withdrawal from volatile substances (huffing)?

See the 'Making changes' page for more information on how to Manage withdrawal from drugs and alcohol.

Tolerance can build up within a few weeks of using volatile substances. You might find after using for a while that you need more and more to achieve the same ‘high’. If you’ve used volatile substances for a while, you may experience withdrawal effects if you decide to take a break.  

Withdrawal from volatile substances can affect people both physically and mentally. It can come on quickly and last for a few days to a few weeks.  

You might:  

  • Experience cravings to use volatile substances  
  • Feel nauseous or experiencing vomiting 
  • Have a runny nose or watery eyes  
  • Experience low mood  
  • Feel anxious  
  • Have headaches  
  • Have a fast or irregular heartbeat  
  • Experience hallucinations  
  • Feel restless or agitated  
  • Have difficulty sleeping or insomnia  
  • Find it hard to focus on tasks or work

You can try:   

  • Lean on a support network of friends,family,and professionals.
  • Stick to a routine: waking up, eating well, keeping activeand rewarding yourself with things that bring you joy  
  • Practicemindfulnessby writing down your feelings, doing breathing exercises or meditating  

If your symptoms worsen or don't go away, or you have ongoing insomnia, have heart palpitations, or hallucinate or have suicidal thoughts, call a doctor or Healthline (0800 611 116).

You can talk to your doctor about: 

  • other medicines to help you get through withdrawal 
  • rehab or withdrawal clinics in your area – visit Health Point to see what services are available 

If you feel severely emotionally distressed, have chest pain, experience psychosis, feel dehydrated or have a seizure, these are signs you could be experiencing severe withdrawal or that something serious is going on. You or the people around you should act quickly. Call 111. 

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How can volatile substances (huffing) affect your daily activities?

Even small amounts of volatile substances can affect your work and daily activities. The effects of volatile substances come on quickly, but they also disappear quickly too. However, the aftereffects of volatile substances can last for a few hours. If you use these substances regularly, you might find that they impact your concentration or make you feel drowsy or dizzy, even when you are not high. 

Volatile substances can cause disorientation, dizziness, falling or tripping over, light-headedness and breathlessness. It is unsafe to drive or operate any heavy machinery when using volatile substances. They can also make you feel aggressive, agitated, anxious and detached from reality, which can make interacting with others difficult.

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Are volatile substances (huffing) illegal?

Volatile substances are a large category and many of these substances have household uses. Substances such as butane, deodorant, glue, petrol and fly spray are often used for sniffing, huffing or bagging.  

These substances are not illegal to purchase. However, some products may have age restrictions on buying them in stores.  

To find out more about the law around legal and controlled drugs see Drugs and the law.

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