Field of Science

How many of you folks are sniffing toluene right now?

First it was benzene which was declared carcinogenic and toluene was supposed to replace it. Now studies indicate that toluene gives us a high. What next?
"Toluene is found in paint thinners, varnishes and even nail polish remover. Researchers from the University of Arizona and the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) demonstrate that toluene directly stimulates dopamine neurons causing dopamine release. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter and is released by reward centers in the brain causing a feeling of euphoria. The results suggest that the brain likely also interprets sniffing toluene as rewarding which can result in further abuse and possibly future use of other drugs.

Besides showing where in the brain toluene acts, the researchers also demonstrate that, surprisingly, toluene substances are most effective when used at low concentrations. Since toluene is rapidly absorbed in the brain, this might explain why the preferred mode of delivery is by "huffing" or "sniffing". Sniffing is frequently considered a harmless recreational or party drug but unlike other drugs, even a single session of inhaling the compound can disrupt heart rhythms
enough to cause cardiac arrest and lower oxygen levels enough to cause suffocation".


  1. I don't like the smell of toluene so I don't go out of my to sniff it. Benzene also gets the thumbs down. Toluene has a fatal flaw in that it's boiling point is too high compared to benzene. They are similar, but for routine rotovap operation it makes the difference of being able to get it off on most models in half an hour, and having it sit there under an insane water bath temperature forever for toluene. The other flaw is four residual NMR peaks as opposed to one for benzene. Coupled with an 'old rotovap insurmountable' boiling point, this makes it a fatal flaw.

    I'd rather use benzene and not spill it on myself, like all the old chemists did who supposedly now have cancer but are in their 70s and walking around very much alive, then bother with toluene. I have never gotten high off of smelling small quantities of either.

  2. It's a lot cheaper than benzene.

  3. Yeah, and THF is carcinogenic now too. Watch me not care.

  4. I think I would rather give up my time than my life. In any case, I am not sure if there's lots of cases if benzene or toluene are absolutely required. Seems no escaping from THF though, which rocks for many rxns.

  5. Giving up your time is the same thing as giving up your life, assuming a finite life. It just depends on when you give up your life and how much of it you give up. There are lots of trade-offs to think about beyond whether one thing gives you cancer or not.

    Say blatnol gets better data because he used benzene instead of toluene, or has more time for more elaborate syntheses, but he is exposed to more benzene than you are. His risk of getting cancer has gone up, but that was his payment for a more thorough Ph.D. (I assume he is a grad student, but in any case, more thorough work), which can in turn lead to greater prosperity.

    Same thing goes whenever you get into a car or breathe in any air other than super-purified air. You run a number of risks to your life every day and it is much more useful to think in terms of trade-offs rather than absolutes like that.

  6. true. what's the trade off? what would you prefer to die of? that's the question.


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