How To Identify Heroin By Look, Smell, And Taste

Heroin is a highly addictive illicit substance that can come in many distinct forms. The features of heroin will vary based on its refinement, formulation, and level of purity.

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Dr. Langdon M.D.

Medically Reviewed By: Kimberly Langdon M.D.


The opiate drug heroin originates from morphine, which comes from the seed pod of an opium poppy plant. After being heavily processed with other chemicals, heroin is created.

If you suspect that a friend or a family member may be using heroin, you may be wondering what to look for when trying to identify the drug.

There are several ways to identify the many different formulations of heroin including its appearance, smell, taste, and more.

What Does Heroin Look Like?

There are several common physical characteristics of heroin that will differ based on their level of refinement, purity, and other chemicals present in the formulation.

How different types of heroin look:

  • black tar heroin — an unrefined type of heroin from Mexico that is black or dark brown, and has a sticky tar-like or hard rock quality
  • brown powder heroin — this form of heroin is a more refined version of black tar heroin, and will appear sand-like in color and have a powdery texture
  • white powder heroin — white powder heroin is the purest form, and has a white, shiny color and powdery texture
  • blue heroin — a powder form of heroin that is mixed with the synthetic opioid fentanyl
  • cheese heroin — a tan powder form of heroin that includes black tar heroin mixed with crushed Tylenol PM pills

While these are some of the most common types of heroin, other forms may appear differently due to chemical additives and other cutting agents present in the heroin.

Learn more about what heroin looks like.

What Does Heroin Smell Like?

Heroin is oftentimes odorless in its purest powder form. However, when heroin is diluted or less refined, it can take on an acidic vinegar-like smell.

The vinegar odor is due to the chemical processes that are used to create the drug. Black tar heroin, because it’s not as refined as other forms of heroin, is most likely to have an acidic smell.

Read more about what heroin smells like.

What Does Heroin Taste Like?

Heroin in all its forms is described as having a bitter taste. This is due to the many chemicals that are used in the manufacturing process, as well as the additives that may be present.

Some of the most common additives in heroin that may contribute to its taste include sugar, powdered milk, baking soda, and laundry detergent.

Treatment Programs For Heroin Addiction

Help is available for people with opioid addiction and other drug use disorders through evidence-based treatment at a rehab facility.

Treatment options for substance use disorder include:

Getting research-based care will help you avoid withdrawal symptoms and opioid overdose death, and put you on the path to long-term recovery from substance abuse.

Find Treatment At Bedrock Recovery Center

For more information on residential treatment for prescription opioid or heroin addiction, call our helpline at Bedrock Recovery Center.

Our team of healthcare providers can assist you with learning the tools necessary to achieve lasting sobriety.

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) — Response to the Opioid Epidemic
  2. National Institutes of Health (NIH) — Heroin DrugFacts
  3. National Institutes of Health (NIH) — Heroin DrugFacts
  4. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) — What Are Opioids?
  5. U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) — Heroin

Written by Bedrock Recovery Center Editorial Team

© 2024 Bedrock Recovery Center | All Rights Reserved

* This page does not provide medical advice.

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