What Do Drugs Smell Like? A Guide to Drugs by Smell

They say that smell is the sense that is closest aligned with memory. It can also be your best weapon in identifying whether your loved one has a drug problem. Along with behavioral changes and physical appearance, strange scents can be an indicator that someone is using drugs.

Knowing what drugs smell like can help you determine whether your loved one’s denial passes the literal and figurative smell test. Here’s a guide to different drugs by smell.

What Does Marijuana Smell Like?

Marijuana has a distinctive smell that many recognize instantly, whether it’s because they’ve experimented with it or because they’ve been around legal marijuana. It has a skunky, musky odor that can be potent, especially when smoked.[1] The smell of marijuana can embed itself in the user’s hair, clothing, or other personal items. But you should keep in mind that edible marijuana may not have the characteristic smell of marijuana.

What Does Heroin Smell Like?

Sniffing out heroin is much more difficult than marijuana. Heroin can vary in smell depending on its purity and additives, but it often has a vinegar-like odor. However, it can have a distinct sour smell – similar to vinegar – based on how it’s produced. This smell is the result of boiling morphine, which heroin is derived from, and the chemical acetic anhydride. Generally, the more pure the heroin is, the stronger this smell will be.

Data from the Department of Justice indicates that black or brown heroin is particularly likely to have a strong vinegar-like odor. Other factors that could influence the smell of heroin are the additives with which dealers cut it. Some of the more common items that heroin is cut with include powdered sugar, milk, talcum powder, vitamin B12, quinine, laxatives, caffeine, and acetaminophen (Tylenol).[2]

What Does Coke Smell Like?

Coke, or cocaine, can also be difficult for the human nose to detect, but it generally has a floral and chemical aroma.[3] This is because of the different substances used to process and refine the drug, including but not limited to ammonia, kerosene, sulfuric acid, and baking soda.

What Does Crack Cocaine Smell Like?

Crack and powder cocaine usually have different smells. Cracks very often smell like a combination of burnt plastic and cleaning chemicals.[4] It can be hard, however, to smell it when it is not ignited. Generally, to determine a loved one’s cocaine use, it will be easier to go by their behavior rather than the smell of the drug.

What Does Meth Smell Like?

The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that over 2.5 million Americans aged 12 or older used meth in the past year.[5] Most of these people have parents and other loved ones who would give anything to be able to detect use early; part of this is knowing what drugs smell like. Unfortunately, unless your loved one lights up in front of you, or you put yourself squarely in the middle of a meth lab, it can be hard to detect the drug by smell.

Like crack cocaine, meth has a burnt-plastic-and-cleaning-chemical smell when smoked. It’s often made using powerful chemicals like sulfuric acid, hydrogen peroxide, or cold medicine, giving it a smell like rotten eggs or cat urine. Over time, as use increases, the drug seeps through the pores to the point where the user’s sweat may start to smell similar to ammonia. If someone is cooking meth, they typically use odd ventilation systems that can cause a smell in the backyard or near an open window.

What Does Fentanyl Smell Like?

Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that’s 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine, is completely odorless.[7] This is why fentanyl is implicated in so many overdose deaths. People may not realize that fentanyl has been mixed into other drugs like cocaine or heroin. While fentanyl is odorless and difficult to detect through smell alone, identification often relies on drug testing, though there are other indicators and signs of its use.

What Does PCP Smell Like?

Phencyclidine, or PCP, is a hallucinogenic drug that’s in a class of dissociative drugs.[8] When it’s smoked, it produces a recognizable smell similar to a permanent marker. PCP is often smoked, but it may be injected, swallowed in pill form, or snorted, which doesn’t produce an odor.

Why Should I Know What Drugs Smell Like?

Understanding what drugs smell like can be key to early detection and intervention in your loved one’s substance abuse problem. Early detection of substance abuse is key in getting them help and giving them a better chance of recovery without adverse effects.[9]

Identifying a drug’s smell is also important for your own health and safety. Addiction is a disease influenced by a complex interplay of genetic, social, and environmental factors. If you detect the smell of drugs in an environment, it can be a factor in deciding whether to remain in that situation, considering the potential for exposure to drug use and its associated risks. This can also help you avoid legal trouble from being in the wrong place at the wrong time, even if you aren’t personally using drugs.

My Nose Knows…Now What?

If you smell drugs on your child or loved one, it’s important to confront them in an appropriate, non-judgmental way. They need to know that you’re there to help, not judge; but you also need to be firm and steadfast in your insistence they get help.

Before you confront them, however, it’s best to have a plan in place for treatment. Recovery Unplugged has helped thousands guide their loved ones toward treatment, sobriety, and a better tomorrow. Very often, this journey begins with an odd or concerning smell emanating from their clothes, body, or personal items. If your nose is telling you that your loved one is abusing alcohol or other drugs, our admissions staff is standing by 24-7 to help you start the treatment process. Contact us today to get started.

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