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

Many things can cause you to suspect that your loved one is using drugs. You might start to notice changes in their behavior, mood, physical appearance, or even pick up on a strange or unfamiliar scent. Whether someone vapes, smokes, or uses drugs in another way, these substances often have a distinct smell.

This guide will help you understand the different common scents of particular drugs.

Why Identifying Drug Smells Is Important

person with mask noticing the smell of an unknown drug being smoked

Identifying the smell of a specific drug is important for several reasons. For one, knowing what a drug smells like can lead to the early detection of a substance misuse problem in a friend or loved one. Research indicates that the best way to help someone who may be at risk of developing a substance use problem is to intervene early.1

Identifying a drug scent can help protect your health and safety as well. Many factors influence the development of addiction, including peer dynamics, access to social support, and the availability of drugs in your environment.1 For example, if your new neighbors invite you over, but you smell marijuana in their backyard, identifying that odor allows you to make an informed decision.

Smells by Drug Type

Identifying different drug smells can be helpful in many ways, especially because some drugs may smell similar to other things. This section will discuss the smells of various commonly used drugs.

What Does Meth Smell Like?

Methamphetamine—a highly addictive stimulant drug—can be taken by smoking, swallowing, snorting, or injecting the powder after it has been dissolved in liquid.2 However, most of the time, the smell of meth comes from smoking the substance.

Meth can be made using powerful chemicals such as sulfuric acid, hydrogen peroxide, or even cold medicine.3 As a result, meth smell is similar to chemicals or ammonia, which can be similar to cat urine or rotten eggs.3

When people make meth, they often have unusual ventilation systems, resulting in the smell lingering in certain areas like a backyard or by an open window.3

What Does Heroin Smell Like?

Heroin is derived from poppy plants,4 but despite its floral origins, this opioid does not emit a strong smell. However, people that use heroin may use other drugs that carry an odor, such as cocaine or marijuana.

What Does Cocaine/Crack Smell Like?

Cocaine is a highly addictive stimulant drug made from the South American coca plant that has a different smell depending on how it is being used.5

Cocaine is a street drug that looks like a fine white powder, and it can be used by snorting, injecting, or by rubbing it into the gums.5 Some have described the smell of cocaine, when snorted or ingested as a mild chemical or floral scent. After using cocaine by snorting, people might experience a loss of smell over time.5

When cocaine is processed into a crystal form, it can be smoked in a pipe—this is called crack cocaine for the crackling sound it makes when heated.5 Some have reported that the smell from smoking crack is similar to burnt plastic or chemicals.

What Does Marijuana Smell Like?

Marijuana is the name for the dried flowers, leaves, and stems from the cannabis sativa plant,6 which has a very distinct smell, described as skunky or musky.

Marijuana has a powerful smell that can linger on your clothes or in your car or house after smoking for several hours or more. It is also worth noting that someone smoking marijuana might attempt to cover up the odor using another powerful smell, such as air freshener or incense.

Marijuana is the most commonly used drug after alcohol and tobacco and can be used by smoking, vaporizing, or baking into food, called “edibles.”6

What Does Fentanyl Smell Like?

Fentanyl—a synthetic opioid that is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine—is odorless.7,8 This property can be highly dangerous as drug dealers might mix fentanyl powder with another drug like heroin or cocaine, and users are not aware until they become intoxicated.8

Fentanyl can be prescribed as pain medication (a pill), or copied as a street drug (pills, powder, or dissolved into liquid and placed in an eyedropper).7

What Does PCP Smell Like?

Phencyclidine, also called PCP, is a hallucinogen in the class of dissociative drugs that,9 when smoked, often produces a recognizable smell that people describe as similar to a permanent marker.

PCP was initially developed as a general anesthetic for surgeries in the 1950s but is sold on the street in pill or capsule form and liquid or white crystal powder.9 PCP is usually used by smoking, but can also be injected, swallowed, or snorted.9

Can Drugs Change the Way Your Body Smells?

Hungover man noticing change in body odor from substance use

In some cases, using different drugs can temporarily change how your body smells. For example, smoking marijuana can result in the odor lingering on your clothes, hair, or in the area in which you smoked.10 Additionally, the use of hallucinogens such as LSD or PCP has been known to change body odor through excessive sweating.11

Swallowing or ingesting drugs that have a strong taste can change how your breath smells, particularly in stimulants such as swallowing meth or rubbing cocaine on your gums.11 Most drugs do not cause changes to the smell of your urine.

Alcohol

While occasional alcohol use is not likely to alter the way someone smells, using it frequently or in large quantities may do so. Excessive alcohol use can cause bad breath that smells like the alcohol that was consumed.12

Over time, a warning sign that someone has become addicted to alcohol is the deterioration of their personal hygiene, which may include body odor as well.13

What to Do If You Suspect Your Loved One is Using Drugs

Because some drugs are odorless, you may not be able to tell if someone is using drugs from smell alone. If you suspect your loved one may be using drugs, first familiarize yourself with the warning signs:14,15

  • Changes in their friend group
  • Poor hygiene or grooming
  • Bloodshot eyes, or pupils that are significantly smaller or larger
  • Changes in eating or sleeping habits
  • Mood changes or irritability
  • Appearing fearful, anxious, or paranoid, without being able to explain why

If you have noticed one or more of these warning signs in your loved one, have a conversation with them about your concern. Remember to be curious, compassionate, and not accusatory. Together, you can talk openly about their substance use and offer support by helping them to explore rehab or other treatment options when they are ready.

Last Updated on Sep 13, 2022
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