What Does Heroin Look, Taste, and Smell Like?

what does heroin look taste and smell like

Heroin (diacetylmorphine) is a powerful and highly addictive opioid drug that is derived from morphine. It was originally introduced in the United States in the early 1900s as a non-addictive substitute for pain treatment or cough suppression, but it quickly proved to be habit-forming and dangerous so it was pulled off the market.[1] Today, heroin has no recognized medicinal use and is a Schedule I Controlled Substance.[2]

In 2019, more than 14,000 people in the United States died as a result of a heroin-related overdose.[3] To prevent overdose deaths, family, friends, and other loved ones need to understand the signs of addiction and what to look for if they think a loved one is using drugs. Sometimes, this involves understanding what heroin looks, tastes, and smells like, as well as the effects it produces and what types of paraphernalia are involved in using the drug.

If you or someone you love is struggling with heroin addiction, please contact our team at Moving Mountains Recovery to learn about your treatment options today.

What Does Heroin Look Like?

Heroin is sold in a few different forms, each of which has a unique appearance. The most common presentations of heroin are:

  • Black tar heroin – Black tar heroin is black or dark brown in appearance and is usually sticky with a tar-like texture.
  • White powdered heroin – White powdered heroin can be white or off-white in appearance and comes in the form of a white powder. It may look similar to cocaine, fentanyl, and other powdered drugs, making it difficult to identify by appearance alone.
  • Brown powdered heroin – Brown powdered heroin is basically white powdered heroin but with more additives. The darker the color, the more impurities it has.

Powdered heroin may also take on a range of colors, such as pink, yellow, or beige, though these are rarer.

What Does Heroin Taste Like?

Heroin is typically acidic, so it takes on a bitter taste. The taste comes from the chemical processes used to manufacture the drug as well as the types of additives it contains. Common heroin additives include baking soda, detergent, powdered milk, and sugar.

When smoked, heroin may taste somewhat sweet. The smoke can taste like stale cotton candy or baked goods.

What Does Heroin Smell Like?

In its purest form, heroin is odorless. It is very rare to get 100% pure heroin, though. Most of the time, the heroin sold on the streets is diluted or refined to formulate the drug into a powder. This process can make heroin smell like vinegar.

The vinegary smell of heroin comes from the chemical processes used to manufacture the substance. This odor can range from a very pungent vinegar smell to a very weak, diluted vinegar scent. Some people describe the smell as similar to cat urine or cat litter.

Black tar heroin may have an especially acidic smell because its manufacturing process leaves the substance with a variety of additives and impurities.

What Does Heroin Feel Like?

Heroin is an opioid similar to morphine and it produces the same effects. When smoking or injecting the drug, heroin provides a sudden wave of pleasure and euphoria. It makes drug users feel euphoric, drowsy, calm, and warm. Other side effects include:

  • Heaviness in the arms and legs
  • Difficulty staying awake
  • Slowed reflexes and reaction time
  • Excessive yawning
  • Itching or scratching
  • Pinpoint pupils
  • Flushed skin tone and face
  • Incoherent speech
  • Going in and out of consciousness (nodding off)

Even in small doses, heroin can cause an overdose. Symptoms of heroin overdose include:[4]

  • Pale skin
  • Cold and clammy to the touch
  • Limp body
  • Unresponsive
  • Making gurgling noises
  • Slowed breathing and heart rate
  • Loss of consciousness

Overdose is a medical emergency. If you suspect someone has been using heroin and has overdosed, call 911 immediately and administer naloxone, if possible.

What Paraphernalia Will Someone Who is Using Heroin Have?

Heroin can be smoked, snorted, or injected. People who smoke heroin may have tin foil, a lighter, and a cut straw. People who snort heroin may have a blade, credit card, or another sharp object as well as a straw and a flat surface with powdered residue on it. 

An injection is the most popular method of administration due to the immediate and powerful effects IV heroin use produces. Paraphernalia involved in IV heroin use include:

  • Needle
  • Syringe
  • Lighter
  • Spoon with a bent handle or a bottle cap
  • Cotton
  • Tourniquet

Find Help for Heroin Abuse and Addiction Today

If you suspect your loved one is using heroin, it is no matter to take lightly. Heroin is one of the most addictive drugs and it can easily cause a life-threatening overdose. Using heroin today is more dangerous than ever before, too, because it is often laced with fentanyl, an opioid that is far stronger and more deadly than heroin itself. As a result, there is no excuse to delay treatment.

At Moving Mountains Recovery, we help our clients find life so full of passion that there is no space left for something as toxic and harmful as heroin. Call now to speak with an admissions coordinator about finding heroin rehab for yourself or a loved one. We’re here for you.


  1. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11862675/
  2. https://www.dea.gov/drug-information/drug-scheduling
  3. https://www.samhsa.gov/medication-assisted-treatment/medications-counseling-related-conditions/opioid-overdose
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