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Parent’s Guide to What Cocaine, Crack, Meth, Heroin and other Drugs Smell Like

Do you ever walk into your child’s room and smell something odd – an aroma you can’t quite decipher? Or have you ever gone to move your teenager’s car and notice that it smells a bit funky?

Suspecting a child of abusing drugs is a scary ordeal to go through. You can usually get a vibe from their behaviors, but unless they open up about their habits, it’s difficult to know with certainty. It’s even more difficult to figure out which substances they’re abusing.

Luckily, you have a secret weapon for detecting possible drug use in your house: your own nose. Most drugs give off some sort of aroma, especially when the substance is smoked.

Here’s a brief guide to help parents fine-tune their sense of smell and crack this dangerous puzzle on what illicit drugs smell like. 

What Does Meth Smell Like?

Methamphetamine addiction is dangerous. When meth is smoked, it emits a potent odor that many say smells like chemicals or cleaning products; others say meth smells like burnt plastic. Additionally, after someone goes on a meth binge, their sweat may start to smell similar to ammonia.

What Does Heroin Smell Like?

Generally speaking, all forms of heroin have a vinegary, acidic smell when smoked. However, due to the different types of heroin – and the fact that batches are produced in different geographical regions – each tends to have a different odor.

In its pure form, like China White, heroin puts off the least detectable stench. What’s more, the dangerous heroin/fentanyl combo barely gives off a smell. To make things even more difficult for parents, the smell of smoked heroin dissipates at a rapid pace. After it’s lit, the smoke tends to clear out in just a couple minutes. While heroin’s smell can be harder to detect, a heroin addiction is a serious issue that parents should be on the lookout for if they suspect their child is using drugs.

What Does Marijuana Smell Like?

Marijuana has a very strong and distinct smell that’s hard to describe. But once you’ve smelled pot, you’ll easily be able to detect the scent in the future. Different strains contain different undertones, but all weed has a skunky, burnt rope smell when it’s smoked. The scent of marijuana is potent and lingers for quite a while; it’s one of the only substances that can be detected before it’s lit and long after it’s burned.

What Does PCP Smell Like?

Also known as Phencyclidine, PCP is a powerful hallucinogen that’s easily distinguishable from other drugs. Smoking is the most common route of administration. As PCP burns, users say it smells like a permanent marker.

What Does Crack Cocaine Smell Like When Smoked?

Crack has an unpleasant smell when it’s smoked – it’s said to smell like a mixture of chemicals and burning plastic.  If you’re curious to learn more, take a walk inside your local nail salon to get the idea. (Extra Tip: The scent of crack smoke is similar to that of meth.)


Opiates are typically the only kind of pills that are smoked. Pills like Oxycontin or Percocet give off a sweet smell as they burn. Users frequently say the smoke tastes and smells like sugar and burnt marshmallows.

What to Do If You Smell Drugs from A Loved One

It can be concerning if you think you smell drugs and a loved one might be using them. If you smell drugs, the reality is that someone is probably using them. Additionally, they may be dependent or even run the risk of becoming addicted without intervention.

Along with smell, there will likely be other signs of drug use, such as the presence of drug paraphernalia. Common drug paraphernalia may include spoons, bongs, aluminum foil, baggies, pipes, and bowls. Some drugs may also be odorless so you can look for other signs of addiction or common drug paraphernalia.

Once you have decided that there might be an issue and you need to talk with your loved one, it is important that you approach them cautiously. Make sure to approach them at a time when they seem calm, relaxed, and most receptive to what you have to say. Do not try to talk to your loved one if they seem frustrated, agitated, anxious, or under the influence. Make sure that you listen and allow them to have the opportunity to speak. You might want to involve loved ones (parents, siblings), but don’t include so many people that it becomes overwhelming. The initial response may be one of anger, sadness, or denial. Allow your loved one that response, but don’t give up on trying to help them.

Treatment Options for Your Child or Loved One

Treatment is available to help your child or loved one begin working on their recovery. If your loved one is younger, not every rehab facility will treat them, but there are specialty teen treatment programs available. Teen drug rehab will cater to the needs of a teenager and be able to address their issues in a way that is accessible for the teen.

Getting someone to accept that they need help can be difficult, and it is possible to make someone go to treatment without their consent. There are also studies that show that there is value found in rehab even when a person is forced to go against their will.

To find treatment for your loved one, you should figure out what you are looking for in a treatment facility, including location, programs offered, etc. It is also important to consider cost and whether a facility accepts your insurance or has alternative ways to pay for treatment. You can reach out to a facility for information and support. If you are looking for answers, contact one of our admissions navigators at . They can answer your questions and guide you through the admissions process.

Additional Reading:  

7 Steps to Take After Finding Your Teen’s Drug Stash

Alcohol Abuse in Young Adults

Why Do People Use Marijuana

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