Petrol-sniffing may reduce the growth of adolescents, and there is no way to catch up even after they stop sniffing, a study warns.
Researchers, including those from Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health, looked at data collected from 118 males in two indigenous communities in Northern Territory in Australia.
As many as 86 of them had chronically inhaled petrol when they were teenagers, starting at an average age of 13.
After two years, the males were found to be an average six centimetres shorter than their non-sniffing peers in the same community.
The research also showed that normal weight gain was also affected in the study participants.
Petrol- or solvent-sniffing addiction is a serious and widespread phenomenon amongst adolescent populations. These substances are relatively easy to obtain, both over the counter and illegally, researchers said.
In the study, adolescents were sniffing around 250 millilitres (mL) - a standard cup - of petrol every night.
The worst-case consequence from inhaling is sudden death from a lack of oxygen. Beyond that, inhalants have been classed as more physically harmful than psychoactive drugs like GHB, ecstasy, cannabis and LSD.
"This is the first time that growth impacts have been measured and observed into abstinence," said Rose Crossin, one of the lead researchers from the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health in Australia.
Crossin hopes the findings can be used to help health practitioners and families detect if children are sniffing petrol.
"GPs, social workers, teachers and parents would be able to use the research to observe children failing to gain weight or whose growth had stopped," said Crossin.
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