Freon is a gas found in air conditioning systems, which serves as a refrigerant to make the air cold. When people abuse refrigerants, they often inhale it from an appliance, a container, a bag with the neck held tightly closed, or from a rag. According to the American Association of Poison Control Centers, in 2009, Freon huffing sent more than 2,000 people to the hospital.
Inhalant abuse, commonly called “huffing,” is the intentional inhalation of chemical vapors to attain a mental “high” or euphoric effect. Huffing Freon can be very dangerous, as it freezes the lungs and causes a rapid high that resembles alcohol intoxication. A single use can result in sudden death.
Signs of chronic abuse:
• Mild rash around nose and mouth
• Watery eyes
• Sudden weight loss
Dangerous effects of huffing:
• Inhaled chemicals are rapidly absorbed through the lungs into the bloodstream, and are quickly distributed to the brain and other organs.
– Within minutes, the user experiences intoxication, with symptoms similar to those produced by drinking alcohol.
– With inhalants, intoxication lasts only a few minutes, so some users prolong the "high" by continuing to inhale repeatedly.
• The inhalant user will initially feel slightly stimulated and, after successive inhalations, will feel less inhibited and less in control.
– Hallucinations may occur, and the user can lose consciousness, or even die.
• Slurred speech
• Drunken appearance
• Difficulty breathing, throat swelling
• Severe pain in throat, burning in nose, eyes, lips, ears or tongue
• Loss of vision
• Severe abdominal pain, burns of esophagus, vomiting blood or blood in stool
• Irregular heart rhythms, collapse
• Irritation, burns or holes in the skin or underlying tissue
• Nerve and brain damage
– Brain damage is caused by cutting off oxygen flow to the brain.
– Most inhalants depress the central nervous system in a manner similar to alcohol: slurred speech, lack of coordination, euphoria, dizziness.
• Parents can have a locking cap installed on their AC unit to prevent Freon from being taken. The locks are not sold to the public, so you need an air conditioning serviceman to install one on the AC compressor. The lock, which costs about $25, stops Freon from being let out.
• Should have a serviceman out to your home annually to inspect the AC unit and Freon levels.
Sources: Medline Plus, Medicine Net, ABC, Health Line, Inhalant.org, NIH
• For more information about Freon abuse and what you can do to prevent it, visit the MAFIA Foundation.