Are you looking forward to pumping gas? Do you enjoy the pungent smell of fuel that rises from petrol stations and seeps into your hands? Does the cocktail of hydrocarbons, anti-freeze and hundreds of other chemical compounds make you voluntarily jump out of a car in the deepest winter to pump and sniff?
Inhaling gas vapors is of course not recommended for everyone. But some people seem to enjoy taking a breath when the opportunity presents itself. And according to science, it may be less about getting a cheap buzz than about nostalgia.
In an article for Discover, Carl Engelking points out that gasoline gets its characteristic smell from benzene, a compound that increases octane number and improves fuel efficiency. Benzene is easy to recognize with our nose, even if it is present in small quantities. And there is a precedent for the smell being pleasant. In the 1
In retrospect, however, that is a bit too far to have a modern relevance. Today's benzene lovers probably sniff because smell and memory are closely related. Some call it the Proust phenomenon, named after the author Marcel Proust, who once described the smell of a biscuit dipped in tea as a memory of childhood. The olfactory bulb or nerves that recognize scent molecules are closely connected to the brain amygdala (which processes the emotional response) and the hippocampus (which handles memory formation). Simply put, smells make us react emotionally.
This is probably the reason why petrol triggers a pleasant reaction. Thanks to driving around with parents, learning to mow a lawn, or anything that involves motorized childhood memories, we associate the smell with an easier time.
And in contrast to other smells – for example the baking of cookies – benzene actually has a suppressive effect on the nervous system. So you get a bit of a high from it in a mild way. When you fill up at the pump, you don't just remember your childhood. You also get a slight buzz.
A quick nostalgic blow when refueling a vehicle is unlikely to cause health problems, but you should be aware that inhaling solvents regularly can cause discomfort such as balance disorders, dementia, and tubular necrosis. So try not to go back too much in your childhood.