Beyond Appearance: Identifying Different Illegal Drug Smells
In addition to a drug’s visual appearance, scent can be a valuable tool in identifying illicit drug use. Take a look below at some commonly abused substances and how they can be recognized by smell.
What Does Alcohol Smell Like?
Alcohol is a legal substance that many drink occasionally for enjoyment. When an addiction sets in, however, the smell of alcohol on a person’s breath or in their beverages can be a big red flag. Its smell may be slightly easier to pick out than that of other substances, simply because it’s socially familiar.
All alcoholic beverages share the somewhat “sharp” smell of ethanol. The higher the alcohol content, the stronger the smell is likely to be. The smell of vodka, for example, is often compared to that of rubbing alcohol. Different drinks can smell malty, bitter, or sweet, but underneath it all is the signature smell of ethanol.
What Does Marijuana Smell Like?
Marijuana (a.k.a. “pot” or “weed”) is an extremely common plant-based drug that is used both medicinally and recreationally. The marijuana plant contains psychoactive agents like THC that, when smoked or eaten, produce a high feeling and a variety of physical and mental effects.
Marijuana is perhaps one of the must pungent-smelling drugs, as the plant tissue is full of aromatic compounds called terpenes. Different strains of the plant can have different smells, but one of the most recognizable is a smell reminiscent of a skunk’s spray. If you’ve been wondering what drug smells like skunk, it’s probably marijuana.
What Does Heroin Smell Like?
Heroin is a highly addictive and illicit opioid drug that is derived from morphine. Usually sold as a white or brown-tinged powder, heroin can be smoked, snorted, or dissolved and injected. The darker the heroin’s color, the more impurities the substance is likely to have. Heroin creates a fast, intense high characterized by euphoric relaxation.
Heroin often has a vinegar-like smell. If the washing process is insufficient to remove impurities, these impurities can create the vinegar smell that users describe. The milder the smell, the purer the heroin is likely to be.
What Does Cocaine Smell Like?
Cocaine is a powdery white stimulant that is most often snorted or ingested orally. It produces a frenetic short-term high that hits quickly and is described as making users feel confident and energized.
It’s probably not a good idea to give powdered cocaine a big sniff, but its odor can be carefully wafted toward the nose. The smell is primarily that of methyl benzoate, the compound used to train drug-sniffing dogs to find cocaine. Some users report odors similar to acetone or gasoline, possibly due to impurities from washing or cutting the drug with other compounds.
What Does Crack Smell Like?
Crack, or “crack cocaine,” is a hard crystalline drug processed from powdered cocaine. The drug is typically smoked using a pipe, though injection and snorting use has been reported. Crack is much more addictive than regular cocaine, and it can even lead to dependency after one use.
Unlike some drugs that have no odor or whose scents can become enjoyable to users, the smell of crack is unfailingly unpleasant. When it is heated for smoking or injection, crack has a distinctive and powerful “chemical” odor. Some have described it as smelling like melting plastic or burning rubber. If you’ve wondered what drug smells like burning plastic, it’s probably crack.
What Does Meth Smell Like?
Meth is a highly addictive stimulant drug that is synthesized into a crystalline form. The resulting crystals can then be smoked, crushed, and snorted; dissolved and injected; or even swallowed. Meth produces a fast, euphoric high, but it can also cause devastating damage to the brain and body.
Some say that meth has little to no odor, while others report smelling an acetone or ammonia scent (again, probably due to processing). When meth is heated and smoked, the vapors produced can smell strongly of ammonia—an odor sometimes described as being like cat urine.
What Do Opioid Painkillers (Vicodin, OxyContin, Percocet) Smell Like?
Opioid painkillers are prescription drugs commonly used in medicine for the short-term treatment of severe pain. Available as pills, capsules, and syrups, these drugs may be taken orally, snorted, smoked, or injected. Opioid pain medications are typically misused to self-medicate for pain or to achieve an extreme state of relaxation.
Opioid pain medications themselves typically don’t have much of an odor unless some sort of flavoring or another compound has been added. When smoked, some opioid pain pills may give off a sweet, sugary smell. If you’re wondering what drug smells sweet, it may be an opioid pain medication.
What Do Benzodiazepines (Valium, Xanax) Smell Like?
“Benzos” are addictive sedative drugs that are sometimes prescribed for short-term treatment of seizures and anxiety disorders. They can also be misused by individuals looking to achieve a relaxed and pleasant-feeling high. Most benzodiazepine medications are prescribed orally, but they also can be injected into the veins or muscles.
Benzodiazepine medications don’t have much of a smell on their own (especially in pill form), but they may have a general “chemical” smell when smoked. Depending on the medication and its preparation, there may be impurities or other elements that affect its odor.
What Does MDMA (Ecstasy) Smell Like?
MDMA, also known as Ecstasy, is a synthetic hallucinogen that produces highly sensory, euphoric experiences and a strong sense of well-being and empathy. The drug is usually taken in powder or capsule form via snorting or oral ingestion. The party drug “Molly” is also meant to be MDMA, but research has found that much of what is being sold as Molly often contains little to no MDMA at all.
In its purest form, MDMA should be completely colorless and odorless. With impurities, however, various smells can be present. Some users have described the smell of the MDMA they’ve taken as being like black licorice or root beer.
What Does PCP (Angel Dust) Smell Like?
PCP is short for phencyclidine, a crystalline white powder that produces distorted senses, dissociation, and hallucinations that can range from pleasant to terrifying. The drug is most often dissolved and sprayed onto a leafy material—like marijuana or kitchen herbs—to be smoked. PCP can also be snorted or taken orally as capsules or tablets.
Yet another drug with a “chemical” sort of smell, PCP primarily gives off an odor when it is smoked. Aside from the smell of the leafy material being used as a base, users describe the smell of burning PCP as something akin to a permanent marker.
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