Toluene (methyl benzene, toluol) is an aromatic hydrocarbon solvent widely used in industrial processes, fuels, and consumer products. It is among the least irritating of the aromatic hydrocarbon solvents. When inhaled, it can produce CNS depression, like alcohol and other solvents. Its pharmaco-logic effects resemble those of other CNS depressant drugs, displaying actions like those of medications used for the treatment of epilepsy or for the clinical management of anxiety.

Toluene is removed from the body by exhalation and by metabolism. It is metabolized to methylhippuric acid, and is excreted by the kidneys. Overexposure to toluene can produce distal tubular acidosis of the kidney, an injury attributable to excess acidity that is reversible upon termination of exposure. Toluene has been demonstrated to produce loss of high-frequency hearing in laboratory animals following repeated high exposure, such as occurs during solvent abuse. Toluene also has been implicated in severe injuries to the nervous system in a large number of patients who deliberately inhaled toluene-containing solvents. These injuries are characterized by injury and loss of brain tissue. Patients display flattened emotional responses, impaired cognitive abilities, and a wide, shuffling gait associated with injury to the cerebellum. Animal studies have not yet conclusively demonstrated that toluene alone is responsible for this severe brain injury syndrome; nonetheless, solvent abusers who inhale toluene-containing mixtures run a very high risk of irreversible brain injury.

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