In the United States in 2015, 948,000 Americans said they used heroin in the past year, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Heroin use happens everywhere from wealthy suburban cities to the inner cities.

Some heroin-related issues stem from the drugs that can be mixed in it, such as fentanyl. Knowing what heroin tastes and smells like can help someone to avoid accidentally using a mixed batch.


When heroin is white and relatively pure, it has a bitter taste to it. However, the highly pure form of this drug is not typically sold on the streets, according to the Center for Substance Abuse Research.

Heroin can be cut with a wide array of ingredients. Some of the most common include powdered milk, starch, quinine, and fentanyl.

What someone cuts heroin with can have an impact on how it tastes. For example, if it is cut with something acidic, the heroin may have an acidic flavor to it. If it is cut with something sweet, it could make the drug taste sweeter.

Black tar heroin may have more of a chemical taste compared to the powdered types. This is because the black tar variety tends to be relatively impure.

Consistency and Color

The color and consistency of heroin depend on the type a person is using. Black tar heroin ranges from dark brown to jet black in color. It is usually in the form of a small ball. It is typically sticky when someone touches it.

To put it simply, black tar heroin is very similar to roofing tar in both consistency and color.

Brown and white powder heroin are a very fine powder. The white powder tends to be the finest, so it is usually used to snort or water down for injection.

Since the brown powder can be a little grittier, someone can smoke it off tin foil. However, it is still fine enough for injection and snorting.


In its purest form, heroin often has little to no smell, according to the Harm Reduction Coalition. When it does have a smell, this is typically due to manipulation of the drug or it is diluted with another substance. When either of these occurs, heroin can take on a vinegar-like smell since manipulation and dilution can make it more acidic.

In some cases, heroin may have a medicinal or vitamin-like smell to it.

The type of heroin a person is using often determines the smell. For example, heroin meant for injection might be mixed with vitamin C to ensure that it dissolves readily. When vitamin C gets mixed in, the smell of vitamin C can be apparent.

Types of Heroin

There are three primary types of heroin, including black tar heroin, white powder heroin, and brown powder heroin. The ingredients in each type slightly differ. This plays a major role in the differences in their color and consistency.

Black tar heroin looks like a hard black ball. It is usually sticky, and sometimes it is a dark brown color instead of black. The people who make this type use a crude process to ensure an unrefined product.

This type of heroin is more often seen west of the Mississippi, according to a report published in an HHS Public Access Author Manuscript.

To create the brown or white powder types of heroin, the black tar heroin has to be further processed. This includes adding lactose to the mix. The white powder kind is the salt form of this drug. The whiter the powder, the purer it tends to be, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).

Heroin Cut With Fentanyl

Both brown and white powders are typically cut with other powder products, such as starch, sugars, or other drugs. Fentanyl is increasingly used to cut heroin, and this can be a dangerous, and even deadly, combination.

Fentanyl is a white powder, so it is easy to mix into a batch of heroin. It is cheap to make, allowing people to save money when they use it as an ingredient in their heroin. Fentanyl can lead to overdose when a person takes only 2 milligrams, according to an article published in Smithsonian.

In the United States in 2017, it is estimated that of the 72,000 drug overdoses that were reported, about half of them involved fentanyl, according to information published by Pew Trusts.

Many people who buy heroin are not aware that it includes fentanyl. Both drugs cause the same effects on the body. Due to the extreme potency of fentanyl, this puts the person at risk for overdose whether they inject, snort, or smoke the heroin.

Testing Heroin

There are tests that people can use to test the purity of heroin, and this helps them to determine how much heroin has been cut. It will also tell people if the drug is actually heroin, to begin with.

For example, some people sell fentanyl as heroin without telling their buyers. This type of kit would alert the person that they have fentanyl and not heroin.

These kits usually only require a very small sample of the drug. It is imperative to only use the right amount since using too much or too little may skew the results. The kit comes with simple instructions and the tools needed to perform the test.

When someone tests their heroin, the biggest thing they should look for is fentanyl because such a tiny amount can lead to overdose. This drug and other synthetic opioids were responsible for more than 28,000 overdose deaths in the United States in 2017, according to the CDC.

There are testing kits that focus specifically on testing heroin and other drugs for the presence of fentanyl. These kits are inexpensive and easy to use. They are said to be almost 100 percent accurate, according to Scientific American.

Can You Detect Heroin Just By Smell or Taste?

Ultimately, no. While heroin can have a distinct smell and taste, there are too many variables for this to be a surefire method to confirm the product. If you want a definitive answer, you should use a test kit.

Whether heroin is mixed with another drug or not, it is dangerous. There is no such thing as a safe type of heroin.

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