A Dutch teen’s death is serving as a brutal reminder of the dangers of huffing household products in search of a high. The 19-year-old’s case, detailed in BMJ Case Reports, said he had struggled with ketamine and cannabis addiction and relapsed in July, resorting to putting a towel over his head and inhaling spray from a deodorant can.
According to the report, the teen quickly became agitated and hyperactive and then went into cardiac arrest. Paramedics attempted CPR and used a defibrillator six times to revive him. He was then placed in a medically induced coma, but the teen’s brain activity never recovered and he was taken off life support nine days later.
“After the brain damage the patient did not have enough brain function to sustain life,” Dr. Kelvin Harvey Kramp, of the Maasstad Hospital in Rotterdam, said, according to Reuters.
Dr. Michael Lynch, medical director of the Pittsburgh Poison Center at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center in Pennsylvania, was not involved in the case report, but he told Reuters that hydrocarbons found in aerosol-spray products are what causes the high by disrupting normal brain processes.
“People feel a high and may pass out,” Lynch told the news agency. “They may feel agitated, happy or silly. The effect usually lasts a few minutes. Then people will do it again or move on with their day.”
He said cardiac arrest occurs when the inhaled substances cause the heart to respond to adrenaline more readily, “so people can get cardiac arrests when they become agitated or surprised.”
Another U.S.-based doctor who was not involved in the case told Reuters that while not a lot of people die from it, “I would bet a lot of kids are doing it who don’t have access to other drugs.”
Dr. Andrew Stolbach, a medical toxicologist and emergency physician at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, said kids think it “seems like harmless fun because it involves something they are familiar with and they tend to think of things that are around us – everyday products we see in the garage or bathroom – as safe.”
Stolbach said the number of kids huffing, or sniffing, is unknown, but that the teen’s case should serve as a reminder about the importance of CPR.
Reuters contributed to this report.