Huffing Canned Air or Dust-Off:  Side Effects, Signs, and More

Inhalants are everyday household products that are abused to produce mind-altering effects. Canned air contains compressed gas in an aerosol-type can that is sprayed onto keyboards and into electronic devices to clear out debris and dust. Dust-Off, a popular brand name of canned air, is a gaseous refrigerant-based propellant cleaner used to remove dust and dirt from computers and electronics. The main ingredient in Dust-Off is difluoroethane.

As of 2015, around 10 percent of Americans (aged 12 and older) have misused inhalant products like Dust-Off at some point in life for the psychoactive effects they can produce, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) publishes. When abused, inhalants can be sprayed onto a rag, and then the rag is sniffed – a practice known as “huffing.” In the case of Dust-Off, this is often referred to as “dusting” as well.


Huffing canned air can cause an immediate rush of euphoria as well as possible hallucinations and delusions. The effects of huffing may also be paralyzing, interfering with a person’s ability to move normally or even move at all. Dizziness, loss of inhibitions, inability to make sound decisions, and slurred speech are common results of huffing. The huffing “high” generally lasts about 15-30 minutes, Mayo Clinic reports.

Dust-Off can be purchased at any office supply store and is often already in the homes of many, making it easily accessible to children and adolescents, often the main age groups that huff. The National Capitol Poison Center (NCPC) publishes that around 20 percent of 8th graders report abusing inhalants at some point. Despite the fact that canned air is a common household product, huffing Dust-Off can be deadly in as little as one use.

Immediate Hazards of Huffing

Abusing inhalants can lead to “sudden sniffing death” by causing fatal heart failure even the first time it is tried. Dust-Off disrupts normal heart rhythm, which leads to heart rate irregularities that can be life-threatening. NIDA warns that between 100 and 200 people die every year from a cause related to inhalant abuse. The journal Case Reports in Emergency Medicine reports on several instances where Dust-Off abuse has lead to cardiomyopathy, arrhythmias, and increased myocardial sensitization.

Other potential short-term side effects of huffing canned air include:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Lightheadedness
  • Chest pain
  • Disorientation
  • Loss of motor control and coordination
  • Drowsiness
  • Suffocation
  • Seizures
  • Asphyxiation
  • Lack of oxygen to the brain
  • Loss of consciousness and even coma
  • Injury related to poor decisions, lack of inhibitions, and increased risk-taking

Since canned air is a refrigerant, it can also cause frostbite of the lips, mouth, and throat when inhaled and abused, ABC News warns. Dust-Off may be a cheap and easy to obtain high; however, the consequences can be dangerous and even deadly.

Potential Long-Term Consequences of Huffing

Canned air is essentially a toxic poison that is not meant to be inhaled, according to the safety information for Dust-Off. Dusting or huffing these products can have negative immediate and long-term consequences. Inhalant abuse can cause permanent brain damage that can lead to irreversible neurological deficits. The journal Paediatrics and Child Health reports that these drugs can damage neural membranes and myelin as well as lead to brainstem dysfunction, which can cause motor, sensory, and cognitive deficits. Irritability, hearing loss, slurred speech, tremors, lack of motor coordination, bone marrow toxicity, and vision problems may be long-term results of huffing. Damage to major organs, such as the liver, kidneys, heart, and lungs, and to the central nervous system can also be the result of repeated huffing.

Abusing Dust-Off regularly may lead to psychological and physical addiction, Today warns. Addiction is a brain disease stemming from compulsive drug-seeking and drug-using behaviors. When someone abuses canned air, brain chemistry is altered. With repeated interference of these chemicals, the brain can struggle to function normally without the substance.

Daily life is disrupted as family, school, and work obligations aren’t met, and social interactions and recreational activities take a backseat to huffing. Increased secrecy, mood swings, social withdrawal, declining grades, possible criminal or legal troubles, financial strain, and a possible decline in physical appearance can be side effects and signs of addiction.

Recognizing Abuse of Canned Air

Huffing can be deadly in just one use. Prevention is the best course of action for avoiding a tragic outcome. Being able to spot potential abuse of Dust-Off or other inhalants may literally be lifesaving. Some of the warning signs to watch for include:

  • Empty cans of canned air in trashcans or in one’s room or car
  • Going through more of these products than seems necessary
  • Presence of Dust-Off in easy-to-reach locations (e.g., bedside table, handbag, etc.)
  • Rags soaked in chemicals
  • Chemical smell on the person’s clothing
  • Residue on hands, clothes, and face
  • Hoarseness and complaints of numb tongue or throat
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Regularly appearing confused or having difficulties concentrating
  • Dazed appearance
  • Unpredictable mood swings
  • Falling down and a staggering gait
  • Taking bigger risks and getting involved in potentially hazardous situations
  • Out-of-character behaviors and an overall change in social circle
  • Withdrawal from family and friends
  • Weight changes and/or lack of concern over physical appearance

Help for Huffing

Abusing Dust-Off, canned air, or other inhalants can be a dangerous practice, whether it is done once or chronically. If abuse is suspected, it is important to seek immediate professional help.

Addiction treatment programs are diverse, and there are many different options that can be suited to fit each individual’s particular circumstances. For instance, both residential and outpatient treatment programs provide high levels of care, support, encouragement, and attention. Individuals who have a strong support system at home and obligations that may require flexible scheduling can benefit from outpatient services that can accommodate these circumstances. Residential treatment programs can provide a more comprehensive approach to treatment, offering structure, inclusive care, and a wide range of amenities and programs as well as around-the-clock supervision.


When a person develops physical dependence on drugs, detox is often the first stage of an addiction treatment program. While there are few reported physical symptoms associated with inhalant or canned air withdrawal, detox can still be uncomfortable and involve psychological withdrawal symptoms, such as anxiety, depression, insomnia, and cravings for the drug. In medical detox, clients can be cared for by medical professionals, ensuring they remain comfortable throughout the process and do not relapse.

Behavioral therapies are an important aspect of any substance abuse treatment program, as they can help people to recognize negative thought patterns and learn healthier ways of coping with difficult emotions. Thoughts directly translate into actions, and by identifying self-destructive thoughts, individuals can begin to change those thoughts and thereby avoid dysfunctional behaviors. High levels of stress and low self-esteem may make a person more inclined to experiment with drugs like Dust-Off, and behavioral therapies can help to reduce the experience of stress and improve overall self-confidence.

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