From: Exposure to Psychotropic Medications and Other Substances during Pregnancy and Lactation: A Handbook for Health Care Providers
Solvents (e.g., cleaning fluids, felt tip markers, gasoline, glue, paint thinners, room odourizers, VCR head cleaner), nitrites (e.g., room odourizers, VCR head cleaner), nitrous oxide
Nitrites: poppers, some sold under “brand” names such as Rush, Bolt, Kix
Nitrous oxide: whippets
Inhalants are chemical vapours or gases that can be sniffed (inhaled directly from the container), “bagged” (inhaled from a bag) or “huffed” (inhaled from a soaked rag held to the face). Inhalants (many of which are volatile solvents) usually take effect within minutes and produce an alcohol-like effect, but with more distortion of perception (i.e., of the shape, size and colour of objects, and of time and space).
Summary and Recommendations
- Women should avoid using inhalants during pregnancy.
- Women who use inhalants after childbirth risk these substances entering the breast milk and risk passive exposure of the baby to the substances. They should therefore refrain from breastfeeding while using inhalants.
Several case reports and animal studies have demonstrated a reduction in birth weight associated with the use of inhalants in pregnancy.1,2
While teratogenicity due to occupational exposure to organic solvents (i.e., relatively long-term exposure to lower concentrations) has been studied, the teratogenic potential of organic solvent abuse has not been comprehensively examined. In a meta-analysis of 10 studies of maternal solvent exposure, five showed major malformations.3 Several case reports and animal studies demonstrate that brief, repeated, prenatal exposure to high concentrations of organic solvents can cause neurodevelopmental delay and facial abnormalities similar to fetal alcohol syndrome.1,2
In a meta-analysis of 10 studies of maternal solvent exposure, five showed an increased risk for spontaneous abortion.3
In a study of 50 babies born to women abusing solvents, 24 babies showed neonatal abstinence syndrome.2
Long-term effects on the child
The long-term effects on the child are not clear; however, there is some evidence that prenatal exposure may cause long-term neurodevelopmental impairments, such as deficits in cognitive, speech and motor skills.1
The passage of inhalants into breast milk has not been extensively studied.
Withdrawal effects on the mother
Withdrawal symptoms for inhalants are similar to those for alcohol withdrawal, and may include insomnia, tremors, nausea, extreme confusion, anxiety and seizures.
- Jones, H.E. & Balster, R.L. (1998). Inhalant abuse in pregnancy. Obstetrics and Gynecology Clinics of North America, 25 (1), 153–167.
- Scheeres, J.J. & Chudley, A.E. (2002). Solvent abuse in pregnancy: A perinatal perspective. Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology Canada, 24 (1), 22–26.
- McMartin, K.I., Chu, M., Kopecky, E., Einarson, T.R. & Koren, G. (1998). Pregnancy outcome following maternal organic solvent exposure: A meta-analysis of epidemiologic studies. American Journal of Industrial Medicine, 34 (3), 288–292.
Exposure to Psychotropic Medications and Other Substances during Pregnancy and Lactation: A Handbook for Health Care Providers
General issues and background
Psychotropic medications and other substances: Properties, effects and recommendations
Index of drugs