Butane is a colorless, highly flammable gas that has been known to be used as an inhalant to cause dissociation and hallucinations. In this respect, butane use can cause death through ill-considered/dangerous administration, fatal arrhythmia through its action on the heart or respiratory arrest through CNS depression from an over-dose. Although it has no known action of cell toxicity, there exists a link with selective thalamic sequelae (brain damage) and chronic butane (ab)use.
Introduction to Butanen-Butane is an aliphatic hydrocarbon with the formula C4H10 and is a colourless, highly flammable gas at room temperature and atmospheric pressure, whose boiling point is -0.5°C and flash point at -60°C. This is the more stable isomer.
i-Butane (isobutane, methylpropane) is the structural isomer of n-butane, has a boiling point of -11.7°C and is a highly flammable aliphatic hydrocarbon.
Butane can be found in natural gas and the air
Butane (mainly n-butane) has a myriad of uses across several sectors from the manufacturing industry to the food industry to the rubber and petrochemical industry, as well as providing fuel and heat in its own right. It forms the main propellant for many commercial and industrial aerosol sprays, and forms the basis for, often mixed with propane and/or isobutane, cigarette lighter gas/refills, camping gas and fuel supply for those not connected to a gas mains. Products containing butane, other than those for cigarette lighter gas/refills, may also contain propene and/or butenes (unsaturated hydrocarbons).
Ways of administration:Butane is nearly always stored as a pressurised gas in valved cannisters, freely available to the general public either as a fuel mix, or dissolved as a propellant in other substances, methods of administration involve inhaling either directly or indirectly from the cannister or 'bottle'.
As a result, many dangerous practices are common, and not without their often fatal casualties.
Direct InhalationThis is possibly the most dangerous method of administration as it involves spraying the pressurised gas directly, from the valve of the pressurised container, into the mouth.
An example of this extremely unsafe butane inhalation practice (in this case using a gas lighter refill bottle):
The valve nozzle is gripped between the teeth and the bottle pushed against them causing the gas to discharge directly into the mouth and down the throat. This method can cause instant death through damage to the trachea (wind pipe) but is more likely through irritation of the vagal nerve (through spasm of the trachea) due to the rapid cooling as the gas expands, leading to fatal arrhythmia.
The same dangers apply when placing the mouth over the nozzle of a 'camping gas bottle' and turning on the tap, or any other direct application of pressurised gas to the trachea.
Huffing (sometimes called ragging)Depositing, by concentrated discharge, the gas onto a rag or cloth, placing the rag or cloth over the mouth and breathing through the cloth so as to inhale the gas as it evaporates. This can be considered the least dangerous of the common methods of administration as the massive temperature drop from discharge has occurred outside of the body, there is oxygen also being drawn and there are generally less things that can go wrong.
Bagging (sometimes called Huffing too)When butane is deposited (by concentrated discharge) into an air tight bag, such as a paper or plastic bag, the opening of the bag is placed over the mouth in such a way as to be effectively 'sealed around it'. The air/gas in the bag is then breathed for effect, similar in technique to calming hyper excitability/panic attack by breathing into a paper bag, re-breathing the air in the bag.
This method can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning and collapse/loss of consciousness through oxygen displacement (asphyxiation), this could easily lead to death if the bag is placed over the head.
Gas MaskThe attachment of breathing apparatus to a butane gas bottle (usually like those used for camping/caravans/houses not attached to gas mains) where constant application of the gas is possible in a (semi-)controlled fashion.
This method involves great risk of cyanosis and/or asphyxiation easily leading to death. However, the risks involved may be reduced by ensuring an adequate supply of oxygen along with the supply of butane. Another safe guard may be the presence of system by which the supply of butane could be eliminated, and the flow of 'normal' air be resumed, in the case of unconsciousness/cyanosis.
Effects of Butane
In SummaryThe predominant effects of butane can be described as of a hallucinatory and/or a dissociative* nature, causing visual hallucinations (altered perception), vivid aural hallucinations (altered perception), psychedelic thought processes/hallucinations of mind, time distortion. These effects are often reported as having a metallic and/or cyclic/repetitive quality.
Other common effects are a feeling of “head swim" or drunkeness and mild ataxia (stumbling, clumsiness, lack of co-ordination).
There may also be a vasodilatory/"face flushing" effect.
Exposure Effects Low Affected vision, Coughing, Euphoria, Excitation, Nausea, Salivation Medium Altered perceptions/Hallucinations of Mind, of Visual Senses, of Aural Senses, Ataxia, CNS Depression, DissociationI, Hypoxia, Tinnitus, Nystagmus (Involuntary Eye Movement) Large AnoxiaII, CNS and Respiratory Depression, ComaIII, Dysarthria (disruption to speech), Polarisation of Myocardial Cell Walls, Sudden DeathIV, Tachycardia Pressurised gas directly into the mouth Fatal Arrythmia/Tachycardia by irritation of the vagal nerve, Spasms of the trachia
I needs a source – this is based on anecdote.
II as a result of oxygen displacement.
III as a result of strong CNS and respiratory depression
IV when large amounts of adrenalin are released, such as in fear.
Note: this table is assuming that there has been no special consideration in regards to oxygen supply.
PharmacodynamicsPharmacodynamically, little is actually known of the effects of butane on the human body and mind.
A portion of butanes intoxicating effects may be down to oxygen displacement and/or asphyxiation.
There is some experimental data to suggest that butane 'stabilises' or polarises the cells of the myocardial cell wall (in effect disrupting the charge across the heart wall/muscles). See the specific “Dangers of Butane" section below.
There exsists some theories that butane may actually act as a neuroprotective agent.
PharmacokineticsButane is rapidly absorbed by the body, being lipid soluble, and is usually 'trapped' in fat cells through out the body, leading to a slow release into the blood stream over time. This can lead to a larger dose or greater exposure time than anticipated, making it far more difficult to measure or assess dose or exposure.
In cases of presented butane related fatalities, the highest concentrations of butane have been found deposited in fat, the liver, brain, kidney, spleen, blood and kidneys.
Other than its asphyxant properties of displacing oxygen, it has no specific action of cell toxicity.
Combinations with ButaneIt would be prudent to be mindful of the possibility of the polarisation effect on the myocardial cell wall when considering combining substances with butane. Stimulants and substances who's effects may induce or increase the release of adrenalin, should be especially avoided due to this polarisation effect, this includes considerations for dopaminergic (agonists and antagonists) agents also.
Different Uses for Butane**i.e. medical, recreative, erotic, etc.**
In industry, butane is used as a propellant gas, a solvent, refrigerant and as a feedstock (in at least one catalytic process in the petrochemical industry).
Examples of the commercial uses of butane can be found in the food industry as an emollient, propellant and refrigerant.
Butane is used as a fuel (butane/propane mix, LPG) or fuel additive (butane forms a proponent of petrol). Public availability is large, being used over most of the world to supply a heat source to homes where there is no mains gas and/or electricity supply. In this capacity it is a favourite of campers, caravaners and house boat, being both widely available and relatively cheap and easy to source and use.
Butane is used in the calibration of some sensitive scientific equipment.
The dangers of Butane**Describe the addiction potential, toxicity and other risks.
Describe problems and risks that arise with Overdose, side-effects, long term effects.
Describe problems with combining the drug.**
Butane is a highly flammable gas and as such needs to be kept away from sources of heat and ignition.
Butane is almost exclusively storage as a liquid under pressure and as such it is essential care be taken over the danger of frost bite from the rapid expansion of escaping gas. The containers them selves must be kept from sources of heat and possible physical damage, as a weakening of the container material (usual a metal), such as a fracture or puncture, may result in gas leakage at best, or an explosion at worst. The valve apparatus attached to, or part of, the container is usually considered the weakest point and most likely at risk of physical damage.
Oxygen displacement in the body may result in death by asphyxiation if there is sufficient butane in the air supply or immediate environment (such as an enclosed space) for long enough.
Death by cardio-respiratory depression may ensue following a prolonged exposure to the inhalation of sufficient concentrations of butane, or from a prolonged internal release where butane is stored in the bodies fat cells.
It has been shown that concentrations of butane in the air as low as 15% may induce stabilisation of the myocardial cell membrane. This, in combination with stimulants, such as the release of adrenalin/noradrenalin through fear, could lead to fatal arrhythmia as the myocardium becomes more 'sensitive' to adrenalin and other catecholamines.
A rise in levels of available dopamine, either through increased dopamine release (such as from a dopaminergic agonist) or decreased re-uptake (such as from a dopaminergic antagonist) could also lead to a fatal arrhythmia.
It has been suggested, from the some of the reports by those whom have used butane for its intoxicating effects, that there may be a strong psychological addictive proponent to regular butane use.
PurityCommercially available butane, dependant mainly on its intended use, will vary in purity, and as thus, it can become an issue where butane is used as an inhalant, owing to the toxic principles of some of the impurities/active ingredients.
Butane sold as gas lighter refills are often of a very high purity, consisting almost exclusively of n-butane.
Aerosols using butane as a propellant, often carry a mixture of butane, i-butane and propane, and are likely to be low in sulphur compounds. There is a limit set (in Europe) to the levels ( <0.1%) of 1,3-butadiene, which is a carcinogen, for its use/sale/distribution to be allowed.
There may be further impurities in the butane/mixture from the active ingredient(s), like aluminium hydroxychloride, which is often found in antiperspirants.
ContraindicationsStimulants (especially adrenalin/noradrenalin) or other catecholamines (including drugs which increase levels of dopamine) must not be administered to anybody where by the inhalation of butane is a risk or intended, nor must they be administered for at least 4 hours following inhalation.
Fear, vigorous exercise, and any other activity leading to a release of adrenalin/noradrenalin or endogenous other catecholamines must be avoided surrounding periods of butane inhalation or its possibility.
In persons subject to anxiety, panic attacks and adrenal fatigue due to the combination of butane's effect upon the myocardial cell wall and the person's possible release of high levels of adrenalin/noradrenalin/other catecholamines.
Treatment and AmeliorationIn cases of intoxication, medical help should be immediately sought if there is an inclination of overdose, arrhythmia, unconsciousness, hypoxia, cyanosis. Some measures can be taken and may help, until the arrival of medical professionals.
In all cases, removal of, or from, the source of butane is paramount.
Placement into a quiet, calm and safe environment is essential, or the casualty be kept calm and in quiet.
Symptoms Possible Issue Temporary Remedy Irregular/Erratic heart beat* Arrhythmia Administration of a beta blocker (atenolol, propanolol, etc.) Breathing gradually weakens to no activity Respiratory Arrest Assisted Ventilation No detectable heart beat, no detectable pulse Cardiac Arrest Chest compressions/** Cyanosis (turning blue) Respiratory Arrest/Cardiac Arrest Assisted Ventilation/Chest compressions
*assume myocardial stabilisation as induced by butane. This can take the form of an appearance of extreme shock/terror or an irrational urge to run/escape, or the subject irrationally running/trying to escape the immediate surroundings.
**IMPORTANT:Epinephrine should not be administered, instead, it is suggested that amiodarone be used and this, as well as suspicion of cardiac arrest from butane inhalation, had aught to be reported in the initial call to the emergency services, and again pointed out to attending medical staff.
Cell Toxicity and Causes of Organ Damage or DeathBy March 1993, there had not been any instances of peripheral neuropathy associated with butane inhalation alone and there is still no known cell toxicity directly from butane alone.
Oxygen DisplacementButane can cause toxicity by displacing oxygen, causing hypoxia, and all of the cellular damage that can occur from such a lack of oxygen. If an insufficient flow of oxygen is affected, anoxia and asphyxiation can occur leading to unconsciousness and death. Even with a restored flow of oxygen, if enough time has passed, cellular damage maybe long lasting or permenant, and with degrees of severity in relation with the amount of time deprived of oxygen.
Myocardial Cell 'Sensitisation' (Stabilisation and Depolarisation)A theorised effect from butane upon the myocardial cell membrane, is that it actually causes stabilisation (as opposed to 'sensitisation') which leads to depolarisation. This in turn leads to a blocking of transmission across the membrane which, due to the complicated and variable interactions of myocardial electrical impulses (that control the hearts contractions) and the way they are propagated, increases the probability of arrhythmias or dysrhythmia. This probability seems to be greatly increased in the presence of hypoxia and is greatly aggravated by the presence of adrenalin or other catecholamines.
CNS DepressionTheoretically, butane could cause enough CNS depression for it to become problematic.
Pharmacology of Butane
Chemistry of Butane
Column 1 Column 2 Systematic (IUPAC) name: n-butane Synonyms: none Molecular Formula: C4H10 Molar mass: 58.12 g/mol CAS Registry Number: 106-97-8 Melting Point: -138.29°C Boiling Point: -0.5°C Flash Point: -60°C Solubility: water 0.15 volume, alcohol 18 volumes, ether 25 volumes, chloroform 30 volumes (17°C, 760mmHg) Additionnal data: density 2.046 (air=1) Notes: solubility : 1 volume of solvent dissolves x volumes of butane
Forms of ButaneButane gas is sold bottled as a fuel for cooking and camping. When blended with propane and other hydrocarbons, it is referred to commercially as LPG. It is also used as a petrol component, as fuel for cigarette lighters and as a propellant in aerosol sprays such as deodorants.
Very pure forms of butane, especially iso-butane, can be used as refrigerants and have largely replaced the ozone layer depleting halomethanes, for instance in household refrigerators and freezers.
In cigarette lighter refills, butane gas is the main component chemical found, usually making up 90% of the product. As these flammable containers are activated under pressure, the fuel gas is released at a very low temperature, presenting a risk through direct oral abuse of external frost bite and respiratory difficulties.
Application End User Application Predominant Constituents Other Constituents Propellant Aerosol spray - De-oderant/Odouriser n-butane,i-butane, propane UHC's, Low in Sulphur Compounds, Aluminium Hydroxychloride (Antipersperants),Low ( <0.1%) 1,3-butadiene, active ingredients as may be expected by the product Propellant Aerosol spray - Other spray n-butane, i-butane, propane, i-butane UHC's, Sulphur compounds, active ingredients as may be expected by the product Fuel Gas lighter/torch refill n-butane Fuel 'Camping' Gas n-butane and propane (usually 80:20) or i-butane and propane UHC's, Relatively high in sulphur compounds, methane, ethane Fuel In place of a mains connection n-butane, propane methane, ethane, UHC's Refrigerant Part of the cooling component in fridges i-butane Food Additive Emollient i-butane
n-Butane (Butane, Methylethylmethane, Butyl Hydride)
i-Butane (Isobutane, Methylpropane)
UHC's - Unsaturated HydroCarbons like butene's, propene's
Aerosol spray is a type of dispensing system which creates an aerosol mist of liquid particles. This is used with a can or bottle that contains a liquid under pressure. When the container's valve is opened, the liquid is forced out of a small hole and emerges as an aerosol or mist. As gas expands to drive out the product, some propellant evaporates inside the can to maintain an even pressure.
Outside the can, the droplets of propellant evaporate rapidly, leaving the product suspended as very fine particles or droplets.
Propellant gases used as inhalants include Freon and compressed hydro fluorocarbons, which are used in various household and office products that come in aerosol spray cans, such as air freshener, computer keyboard cleaner spray (gas dusters, sometimes erroneously called "canned air"), non-stick cooking spray, aerosol insecticides, and aerosol hairspray.
The most common propellants are mixtures of volatile hydrocarbons, typically propane, n-butane and iso-butane. All these have the disadvantage of being highly flammable.
Re-solv factsheet- About...butane gas http://www.re-solv.org/factsheets.asp
Legal status of Butane
United KingdomThe Cigarette Lighter Refill (Safety) Regulations 1999
These regulations make it an offence to supply any cigarette lighter refill canister containing butane or a substance with butane as a constituent part, to any person under the age of 18 years. The maximum penalty for a breach of the regulations is a six-month prison sentence, a fine of £5,000 or both.
Intoxicating Substances (Supply) Act 1985
Under this act it is illegal for a person to sell or supply a substance to anyone believed to be under the age of 18 or anyone acting on behalf of someone under that age, if he or she has reasonable cause to believe that the substance may be inhaled for the purpose of intoxication. The statute does not make it an offence, however, to purchase and subsequently abuse solvents and other volatile substances.
The Act is applicable in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Scottish Common Law
The supply or sale of solvents or volatile substances to any person, knowing that these substances will be abused has been held to constitute criminal conduct, which culpably endangers life and health.
In Scotland the Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968 took over the responsibility for children who were in need of care and protection and children who committed a variety of offences. The purpose of the Act was to decriminalize the activities of children.
The Solvent Abuse (Scotland) Act of 1983 was an amendment to this Act and made VSA in itself a specific ground for referral to the Children's Panel. It is important to note that the reason for referral i.e. solvent abuse was not seen as a criminal act.
USADescribe the legal situation in the USA.
History of ButaneButane is a proponent of natural gas, being formed during the process of fossilisation of the remains of pre-historic life.
From the early 1800's, until gas mains where common, gas was commonly referred to as "town gas" or "coal gas", however, it was made from coking coal. This featured butane as a proponent.
A Dr. Snelling discovered, in 1910, the evaporating gases from petroleum where propane, butane and other hydrocarbons. This discovery came about, as at the time, the problem of the volume of petroleum at purchase quickly reduced significantly as the liquefied gases evaporated.
In 1911, under the direction of Dr.Snelling, the two major gases of liquefied petroleum gas where isolated and identified as propane and butane.
See history of inhalants for general information on volatile solvent abuse
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- ^Successful resuscitation from recurrent ventricular fibrillation secondary to butane inhalation.
Edwards K, Wenstone R.
Br J Anaesth 2000;84:803–5.
- ^Butane inhalation and hemiparesis. CT Journal of Toxicology: Clinical Toxicology CY 1993 : PT Journal (Analytic) AU Gray, Marion Y. AU Lazarus, John H.AT
- ^UK Legislation
- ^UK Legislation
- ^UK Legislation
Unless specifically indicated otherwise, all references come from reference 1.
Merck Index, fifteenth edition (2013)
1Butane – IPCS INCHEM
21999 No. 1844, CONSUMER PROTECTION, The Cigarette Lighter Refill (Safety) Regulations 1999 - ISBN 0 11 082884 4
3Volatile Substance Abuse – Practical Guidelines for Analytical Investigation of Suspected Cases and Interpretation of Results.
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MSDS safety sheet - (iso)Butane