How to Recognize Heroin by the Taste, Smell and Look
Medically Reviewed by Dr. Francine Mends, MD on July 19, 2020
Heroin is an opioid drug, which makes it part of the drug crisis that’s sweeping the nation.
You may know it by the names dope, smack or horse. It slows the central nervous system, causing effects such as:
- Pain relief
Everyone knows that dope is part of the opioid crisis, but not everyone can recognize it by sight, smell, or taste.
There are 3 forms of heroin: brown powdered heroin, white powdered heroin and black tar heroin. They all have the same effects but vary in their appearance. If you saw black tar, you probably wouldn’t know it was the same drug as white powdered heroin.
Here’s how to recognize each type of heroin by appearance, odor, and taste:
What Does Heroin Look Like?
The way heroin looks can vary dramatically from batch to batch. The appearance of heroin varies depending on factors like:
- The variety of heroin
- The quality or purity of heroin
- The chemicals and additives used in production
For instance, this is what each type of heroin looks like:
- Brown powdered heroin: Today, brown powder is one of the weaker heroin variants on the market. It looks like a fine brown powder that can range from light to dark.
- White powdered heroin: This form of heroin looks similar to cocaine. It may range in color from grey to off-white to yellow. Heroin that’s more white is perceived to be purer, or stronger.
- Black tar heroin: This form of heroin is usually black and sticky, but rarely, it can take the form of a hard rock that looks like coal. Its color can range from light brown to completely black.
- Gunpowder heroin: This stronger variant of black tar heroin looks like a sticky, crumbly pile of coffee grounds. It ranges in color from brown to grey to black, and its color may be uneven.
What Does Heroin Smell Like?
Powdered heroin and black tar heroin have their own smells because of the chemicals used in manufacturing each type.
For instance, users report powdered heroin as smelling like:
- Animal urine
- Cat litter
Black tar is often described as vinegar-scented, too. Users also say that black tar smells like:
- Burned molasses
- Burned coffee
It seems like heroin on its own doesn’t have much of a recognizable scent. Instead, these odors come from the solvents used to make heroin and the additives used to cut it.
What Does Heroin Taste Like?
Heroin has a bitter taste. That’s true whether the heroin is powdered, black tar, or gunpowder. The taste of heroin reminds some people of vinegar.
In addition to the natural bitterness of heroin, you may taste the additives and chemicals that are used to make heroin. Those chemicals may taste acidic, artificial, or even sweet in some cases.
Is White Heroin Different From Brown Heroin?
Powdered heroin comes in two forms: white heroin and brown heroin.
Both types of heroin have the same general effects, but where they vary is in strength.
White heroin is generally stronger than brown heroin. Pure heroin is a white powder, so the colorless form could indicate higher purity.
Still, additives like fentanyl, synthetic opioids, or research chemicals could account for the color and strength, so white heroin isn’t necessarily pure.
In particular, heroin users describe white heroin as being the strongest and often containing fentanyl.
Is Black Tar Heroin Different From Powdered Heroin?
Black tar heroin is less pure than powdered heroin. Most black tar heroin is 20% pure or less, which means the remaining 80% consists of additives. Black tar that’s less pure contains even more additives.
Those additives can include:
- Shoe polish
- Soil (dirt: injecting soil can cause bacterial and fungal infections in the blood)
Small amounts of fentanyl can be added to black tar heroin to cut the cost and increase the strength. This can be lethal if you don’t have fentanyl tolerance.
All of these ingredients can cause major complications when you ingest them with heroin, especially if you inject the drug.
People who use black tar heroin instead of powdered heroin have higher rates of these complications:
- Wound botulism, an infection that you can contract after injecting drugs
- Venous scarring, or permanent scar damage to the veins
- Necrotizing fasciitis, or “flesh-eating” infection
Find Treatment for Heroin Addiction
If you recognize heroin in your home, there may be someone in your house who needs help.
It can be hard to approach drug treatment for a loved one, but it’s worth the effort. Your loved one can experience recovery with the right rehab plan.
That’s where our drug rehab treatment directory comes in. Search our directory to find the best heroin treatment near you.
- Types of Heroin and Their Ingredients
- Heroin (Opioid): Risks, Warning Signs & What Parents Should Know
- Heroin uncertainties: exploring users’ perceptions of fentanyl-adulterated and -substituted ‘heroin’
- The Textures of Heroin: User Perspectives on “Black Tar” and Powder Heroin in Two US Cities
- Heroin in brown, black and white: Structural factors and medical consequences in the US heroin market
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