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What is chroming, the new social media trend that killed a 13-year-old girl?

The new “chroming” trend on social media has already led to a number of deaths, but what is the trend, and why is it becoming so popular now? 

“You’re literally inhaling paints and solvents to get a high … the problem is you have acetone in there, formaldehyde is in there,” Fox News contributor Dr. Marc Siegel said during an appearance on “America’s Newsroom.” “It’s called volatile organic compounds for a reason: It irritates your skin, it can get into your lungs, you can have seizures, you can have coma, and, again, we’re occasionally seeing people die from this.” 

At a glance, the trend appears to be a variation on the decades-old trend of huffing or sniffing different materials, this time involving the inhalation of anything from aerosol cans to metallic paints, gas and solvents. Two boys, both 16, died from participating in the trend in 2019, according to The Strait Times. 

Despite the trend existing for a few years, searches for chroming spiked around May 14, according to Google Trends. The trend has gained particular attention in Australia after 13-year-old Esra Haynes died while allegedly chroming. 

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chroming spray high

03 June 2021, Berlin: Spray cans on a trolley during the graffiti workshop at Madame Tussauds Berlin.  (Gerald Matzka/picture alliance via Getty Images)

Chroming has a broader definition, but the name arose from the act of sniffing chrome-based paint or deodorant can as a means to get high, according to the National Retail Association.

“The biggest problem is the long-term cognitive problems — that it actually causes problems with concentration if you use it over time,” Siegel stressed. “Really dangerous idea to put organically active compounds — to sniff them in.” 

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chroming teen australia

Esra Haynes with her parents Paul and Andrea and siblings, Imogen, Seth and Charlie.  (A Current Affair)

Siegel blamed platforms like TikTok for allowing the trend to grow, saying, “It’s one of the problems I have with social media and the impact it has.”

Chroming social media

Esra Haynes fell victim to the dangerous craze called “chroming”.  (A Current Affair)

The Royal Children’s Hospital (RCH) in Melbourne explained in a series of guidelines posted on its website that the trend involves a risk of tachycardia — a term for elevated heart rate — and “varying levels of CNS depression,” or Central Nervous System depression, which occurs when a substance slows brain activity. 

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trends sniffing chroming

A man on the Common gets high by “huffing” canned air. Tuesday, August 28, 2007.  (John Wilcox/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald via Getty Images)

Additional side effects include slurred speech, dizziness, hallucination, nausea and vomiting. Effects can last for a short amount of time — mere hours after exposure — but chroming can also lead to heart attack, seizure, suffocation, coma or permanent damage to organs such as the brain, heart, lungs, liver and kidneys. 

sniffing chroming huffing

A teenage boy sniffs a bag of glue along a busy street in the middle of the capital. (Jerry Redfern/LightRocket via Getty Images)

The RCH lists additional items, such as petroleum products, paint thinners, nail polish remover, hairspray and lighter fluid as commonly used chroming sources. Children can inhale the chemicals by soaking them on a rag before breathing them in, putting them in a plastic bag or directly inhaling from the container. 

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A 2021 New York Times report noted that a 2018 report in the Journal of Neurology had recorded a rapid rise in the abuse of nitrous oxide, another chemical inhalant. The Netherlands in particular finding a surge in young people presenting to hospitals with neurological complaints.

The Times suggested that the lockdown may have given rise to interest in finding alternative substance abuse as stress and isolation forced individuals to find different outlets to relieve their anxieties, though it does not explain why chroming has gained new life in 2023. 

The Victoria Education Department in Australia said it would increase efforts to provide children with more information about chroming and its deadly effects following Haynes’s death.

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