PASSING THE SMELL TEST: A PARENT’S RESOURCE FOR KNOWING WHAT DRUGS SMELL LIKE
They say that smell is the sense that is closest aligned with memory. It can also be your best weapon in identifying whether or not your loved one has a drug problem. If you’ve been suspicious that a family member is using drugs, it can be hard to actually pin them down and get an honest answer out of them. They will almost always deny that they are using; they will do everything they can to get out of the moment so they live can live to use another day, and they will develop even more sophisticated methods of deception to avoid getting caught again. Knowing what drugs smell like can help you determine whether or not your child’s denial passes the literal and figurative smell test.
No-brainer, right? If your son or daughter has started using marijuana, it’s generally only a matter of time before you start to smell a skunky, musky odor that may even be an all-too-familiar reminder of your younger days. There are ways to smell weed beyond your loved one simply bringing it into your home. Keep a nostril out for odors in their hair, clothes, and personal items. The same can be said for the smell of alcohol, like beer, wine, or hard liquor.
Sniffing out heroin is much more difficult than marijuana. The drug is generally odorless; however, it can have a distinct sour smell (similar to vinegar) based on how it’s produced. This smell is the result of boiling the morphine from which heroin originates with the chemical acetic anhydride. Generally speaking, the purer 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 used to cut heroin include powdered sugar, milk, talcum powder, vitamin B12, quinine, laxatives, caffeine, and acetaminophen (Tylenol).
Cocaine can also be difficult for the human nose to detect, but it generally has a floral and chemical aroma. 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. Crack and powder cocaine usually have different smells. Crack very often smells like a combination of burnt plastic and cleaning chemicals. It can be hard, however, to smell it when it is not lit up. Generally speaking, it will be easier go by behavior, rather than the smell of the drug, in determining your child or loved one’s cocaine use.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that over 1.5 million Americans use meth each year. 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 burn-plastic-and-cleaning-chemical smell when smoked. 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.
Understanding what drugs smell like can be key to early detection and intervention in your loved one’s substance abuse problem. If their behavior has gotten so reckless that they allow their clothes and skin to smell like drugs, the problem has likely escalated to the point at which they need help. It’s important to realize that your loved one will do everything they can to deny their substance use and cover up their behavior. Keeping a nose out for different types of drug smells is critically important, and it can very well save your loved one’s life.
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 of people 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. We offer certified addiction interventionists and accept most private insurance plans.