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Butane

What is Butane Gas?

Butane is a highly flammable, colourless, odourless gas. Butane is a hydrocarbon, found in household and
industrial products and is potentially intoxicating if deliberately inhaled.

How it’s misused

Butane is commonly misused by being inhaled directly through the mouth either from cigarette lighter refills,
canisters or aerosol sprays. 

Butane and the body

Butane is a central nervous system depressant which slows down the activity of the brain, affecting physical
and mental responses. When butane is inhaled the fumes are absorbed rapidly through the lungs into the
bloodstream. The chemicals are soluble in body fat and pass rapidly to the brain and organs, so they take
effect quickly. Although the initial high will last only a few minutes, the effects can continue for up to
40 minutes. Users may maintain the high by continuing to inhale the fumes.

Short-term effects

It is difficult to calculate the dosage of butane being consumed by users so effects can vary between
individuals. The immediate effects that users describe as desirable are a ‘drunk-like intoxication’ and a
‘euphoria’ or a ‘sense of well-being’.

Immediate side effects that may occur include:

Long-term effects that may occur include:

Dependence

Dependence is usually psychological rather than physical. However physical withdrawal has been reported
among some users. Tolerance to butane can develop quickly meaning that more of the substance is required
to get the same effect. Chronic users may become addicted to butane and experience withdrawal symptoms
or a hangover effect if they don’t use regularly. Withdrawal symptoms can continue for a number of days
when use ceases.

Withdrawal symptoms include:

Dangers

Deliberate inhalation of butane can instantly kill and there is no way to avoid this.

Sudden Sniffing Death Syndrome

Sudden Sniffing Death Syndrome (SSDS) is a cardiac condition where the person experiences ‘cardiac arrhythmia’
where the heart starts beating irregularly. Most deaths attributed to butane use are caused by SSDS. If the person
gets excited, startled or participates in any sudden physical activity after inhaling butane, the heart can fail to
pump blood.

People who deliberately inhale butane are also at risk of death due to:

Butane can also cause long-term health implications such as:

Treatment

Butane users should receive the same support as individuals using stimulants. Motivational Interviewing,
Solution Focused Brief Therapy and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy are effective for this group. Psychosocial
supports should be provided by key workers or counsellors. Butane users generally function well in stimulant
support groups.

Harm reduction information

It’s is safest not to inhale butane, but if you are going to use it, please consider the following:

What should you do in an emergency if someone is unconscious?

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