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19th March 2024

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What is the challenge?

You might have heard about a recent, tragic incident involving an 11-year-old boy in Lancashire who lost his life after reportedly taking part in a dangerous trend called ‘chroming’ during a sleepover. Chroming involves inhaling various chemicals like aerosols, nitrous oxide, solvents, and nitrites, also known variously as nangs, nossies, whippets, and bullets. This activity is associated with a euphoric high, but carries potentially fatal risks, including heart and lung damage, as well as harm to brain and behavioural development.

While inhalant abuse is not a new phenomenon, what is particularly concerning is how this trend is spreading globally through social media. A 13-year-old girl in Australia died in 2023, suffering a heart attack after inhaling chemicals from a deodorant can during a sleepover. Similarly, a 14-year-old from Ireland who died after inhaling aerosol is suspected to have been influenced by seeing the challenge on TikTok.

The UK government updated the law on November 8th, 2023, to classify nitrous oxide as a Class C drug, subjecting those who misuse or possess with the intent to misuse it to criminal penalties. However, many solvents abused in chroming, like glue, permanent markers, and deodorant cans, are widely accessible everyday items, so inherently harder to police.

Inhalant abuse is extremely dangerous. It can lead to accidents, long-term health problems and even death.

How are children and young people engaging in this challenge?

There are various methods of inhalation that are used when chroming. Therefore, it can be difficult to control the dosage. This danger increases significantly in enclosed spaces or when covering the face with items such as plastic bags.

  • Spraying – Spraying the contents of an aerosol container directly into the mouth or nose.
  • Bagging – Spraying the contents of an aerosol container into a paper or plastic bag to be held over the person’s mouth or nose for inhalation.
  • Sniffing – Sniffing the fumes directly from the container.
  • Huffing – Soaking a rag with the inhalant and holding it to the face for inhalation.

Why are children and young people engaging in this challenge?

The feeling

Inhalants have unpredictable effects; users commonly report feelings of intoxication, dizziness, laughter and hallucinations.

Thrill-seeking behaviours

Young people are naturally curious. Trends and activities that provide a sense of risk, rebellion or just seem like fun can be appealing.

Media influence

Depictions of chroming in popular media, might contribute to its appeal among young people. Characters spray chrome paint directly into their own mouths before battle in Mad Max: Fury Road to induce a dissociative high.

Peer pressure

Young people may feel pressured to participate in the chroming challenge to fit in with their peers. By not joining in, they may face social isolation or bullying.

What are the risks?

Inhaling aerosol spray or other chemicals can cause serious damage to the respiratory system and brain. It can lead to fainting and in severe cases, death. Common aftereffects include unsteadiness, confusion, fatigue and headaches, increasing the risk of accident and injury.
Chroming can be highly addictive due to the intense high it produces, potentially exacerbating mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. The abuse of inhalants can affect behaviour, potentially inducing mood swings, aggression or hallucinations.
Challenges like chroming may be disguised as harmless fun, but young people may become dependent on the more addictive solvents used, such as nitrous oxide.
Wrongful inhalation and possession of nitrous oxide is illegal in the UK. Offenders can face fines and prison sentences.
Participation in online challenges can make them seem acceptable and contributes to the spread of misinformation. This can perpetuate a cycle where uninformed individuals feel pressured to engage in increasingly dangerous activities to maintain status or recognition.
Social media challenges, particularly those involving illegal or harmful activities, can have long-term consequences on future opportunities, including education, employment, and relationships. Content shared online can be accessible to others indefinitely.

Top tips for parents, carers and safeguarding professionals

It’s natural to feel worried or concerned about chroming, particularly if you are questioning whether a child or young person in your care is being encouraged to participate in the challenge.
By understanding the risks and challenges associated with chroming, you can better support and guide the children and young people in your care. Use these top tips and further resources below to learn more.
Young people may feel awkward, embarrassed or in some cases fearful of having this conversation. Stay supportive, plan how and when to approach the conversation and avoid panic, condemnation or any language or behaviour that could be harmful rather than helpful.
Don’t jump to conclusions. There are some signs that a young person in your care may be involved in chroming or other substance abuse. These can include loss of appetite, rash around the mouth, changes in friendship groups, secretive and evasive behaviour, changes in sleeping patterns and mood, dizziness and headaches. These signs don’t confirm involvement in chroming; however, these signs are important to follow up on with a conversation.
Together utilise parental controls and safety settings available on various platforms. Talk to young people about how to block and report on platforms and how to see less harmful content. Our Online Safety Centre provides practical guides for implementing these measures.
  • Choose the right moment, where they and you aren’t distracted, such as a car journey or a walk.
  • Don’t rush it or become confrontational as this can be counterproductive.
  • Use open questions, these are questions that encourage more than a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ answer. For example, why do you think people get involved in dangerous challenges?
  • Listen, allow them time to speak, embrace the potential awkwardness of the silence rather than filling the gap and consider repeating back to them or summarising what you are hearing to affirm your understanding.
  • Show empathy and understanding and avoid lecturing, shaming or accusations.
  • Stay specific and try and stay on topic, unless the young person wants to share more.
  • Identify a trusted team of adults to ensure that young people know which adults they can turn to if they have questions or worries relating to dangerous challenges.
  • Reassure them that they won’t face judgment or punishment for seeking help. Emphasise the seriousness of the issue while assuring them that you are available to address any concerns or questions they may have.
  • Don’t panic if they are uncomfortable, evasive or refuse to talk initially. Instead, reassure and encourage them you are here and ready to listen. Never underestimate the importance, power and hope that these conversations can have.

Further help and resources

Friendly, confidential drugs advice

0300 123 6600 (24 hours)
Text 82111

UK Charity providing support and advice to anyone affected by solvent abuse

Child and Young Person Helpline
Call: 0800 1111

From Safer Schools

Engage with the TREND Online Safety Show segment to initiate discussions about online risks.

Acquire skills to navigate harmful content through resources available on Our Safety Centre.

Access the Responding to Online Challenges, Trends, and Hoaxes guide.

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