Uses. Some recreational use is for psychic effects: During butane intoxication, time may appear to pass more slowly, and thoughts may seem to come faster. Other recreational usage has nothing to do with altered consciousness: Some persons ingest butane to perform the stunt of fire breathing, appearing to exhale flames by filling the mouth with butane and then exhaling over a flame source.
Drawbacks. Inhaling butane to achieve euphoria, hallucinations, and sensory distortion is one of the riskier forms of substance abuse. The amount required for hallucinatory action can be close to a lethal dose, making a slight miscalculation fatal.
Users have complained of headache and coughing. Lung injury is reported, ranging from fluid build-up and congestion to impaired breathing function and lung collapse. Unwanted effects can also include cardiac arrest, from which persons can seldom be resuscitated. A case report tells of a 14-year-old male who suffered a heart attack due to inhaling butane. Another case report describes a teenager who became paralyzed on one side of the body due to butane inhalation. Explosion is a common misadventure; one hospital in South Korea found that 1.6% of all flame burn patients had been abusing butane. Most were teenagers. Accidents often happened in a group setting in bedrooms or motel rooms. Burns typically covered more than 25% of the body: face, hands, arms, midsection. About half the victims required skin grafts, and the overall death rate was just over 10%. An American case study noted how treacherous treatment can be for such injuries. A female was hospitalized after striking a match in a closed vehicle while inhaling butane. She was released after a couple of days but died a week later. In addition to external burns, the explosion had burned interior airways into the lungs, an injury that gradually destroyed her ability to breathe. Medical caregivers emphasize the importance of victims honestly describing circumstances of a butane injury so that their lung condition will be properly examined in detail. Caregivers also emphasize that a person who experiences seemingly minor burns in a butane explosion should always seek immediate medical examination of the lungs, because breathing distress may not occur until several days later, when successful treatment is less likely.
Butane is suspected of causing liver damage and is suspected of making users ill-tempered.
Some recreational butane sniffers use sources also containing other ingredients. Those other substances can be harmful as well. For example, a case report notes problems encountered by someone who inhaled spray from oven cleaner that contained butane. Butane spray from aerosol cans and other pressurized containers can be cold enough to cause frostbite. Cases have been seen of skin burns from the severe cold, also frostbite damage to the throat, lungs, and esophagus. Associated inflammation of stomach lining is also known. The instant severe cold can affect the vagus nerve, which influences voice quality and affects heartbeat; such impact on the vagus nerve can produce heart failure.
A case report notes a habitual practitioner of the fire breathing stunt who developed stomach inflammation and a bleeding esophagus from irritation caused by repeated exposure to butane. Another case report tells of severe lung damage caused by exposure to unignited fumes. Judging from the expected progress of such disease and from autopsy findings, such lung damage can be fatal. Because butane is heavier than air, it can flow into the lungs even if a person is trying to hold butane in the mouth without inhaling. One fire breather routinely swallowed some of the butane, numbing the rear of the mouth.
Abuse factors. Authorities have described butane's effects as weaker and having less addictive appeal than those of toluene. Tolerance and dependence are reported. Withdrawal may involve several days of nausea, perspiration, crankiness, troubled sleep, abdominal cramps, and general shakiness.
Drug interactions. Not enough scientific information to report.
Cancer. Potential for causing cancer is unknown.
Pregnancy. Potential for causing birth defects is unknown.
Additional scientific information may be found in:
Evans, A.C., and D. Raistrick. "Patterns of Use and Related Harm with Toluene-Based
Adhesives and Butane Gas." British Journal of Psychiatry 150 (1987): 773-76. Evans, A.C., and D. Raistrick. "Phenomenology of Intoxication with Toluene-Based
Adhesives and Butane Gas." British Journal of Psychiatry 150 (1987): 769-73. Gomibuchi, K., T. Gomibuchi, and H. Kurita. "Treatment and 9-Year Outcome of Butane-Induced Psychotic Disorder in a Butane-Dependent Japanese Male Adolescent." Psychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences 55 (2001): 163. Gray, M.Y., and J.H. Lazarus. "Butane Inhalation and Hemiparesis." Journal of Toxicology: Clinical Toxicology 31 (1993): 483-85. Hemiparesis is paralysis on one side of a person's body.
Marsh, W.W. "Butane Firebreathing in Adolescents: A Potentially Dangerous Practice." Journal of Adolescent Health Care 5 (1984): 59-60.
Oh, S.J., et al. "Explosive Burns during Abusive Inhalation of Butane Gas." Burns 25 (1999): 341-44.
Rieder-Scharinger, J., et al. "Multiorganversagen nach Butangasinhalation: Ein Fallbericht [Multiple Organ Failure Following Inhalation of Butane Gas: A Case Report]." Wiener Klinische Wochenschrift 112 (2000): 1049-52. Abstract in English.
Rohrig, T.P. "Sudden Death Due to Butane Inhalation." American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology 18 (1997): 299-302.
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