ClickCease What Heroin Smells Like & What to Look For | Granite Recovery Centers

What Heroin Smells Like & What to Look For

Authored by Granite Recovery Centers    Reviewed by James Gamache    Last Updated: August 27th, 2021


James Gamache Medical Reviewer
Jim is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LICSW) and Licensed Masters Level Addictions Counselor (MLADC). He has been working in the field of mental health/addiction treatment since 1995. Jim earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Human Services from Springfield College in 2000, and a Masters Degree in Social Work from Boston University in 2002. In 2002 Jim was hired by the Mental Health Center of Greater Manchester holding the position of Clinical Case Manager. From 2004-2019, Jim was employed at WestBridge Inc. During his time at WestBridge, Jim held the following positions; Clinician, Team Leader, Director, & Chief Operations Officer. In 2019 Jim transitioned employment to GateHouse Treatment Center as the Clinical Director for 10 months. In October of 2020 Jim transitioned to Granite Recovery Centers and is currently serving as the Senior VP of Clinical Services and Quality Assurance.

Different drugs can be identified by their appearances and textures. Their smells can also identify them.

For example, marijuana is known for having a scent that is herbal, earthy, and woody. It might have a scent that can carry hints of the smell of plums, apple, lemon, or diesel. When dried, marijuana has a smell that is stronger than many other dried plants.

Meth can emit powerful odors when being produced or when being smoked. These odors range in smell and can be compared to ammonia, rotting eggs, or cat urine.

Powder cocaine has a sweet smell, almost like flowers. However, when people purchase cocaine off the street, they are typically not getting pure cocaine. Additives are mixed into the drug. These additives can give it a chemical or metallic odor. Some of the more common additives mixed in with cocaine include talcum powder, baking soda, cornstarch, and flour.

Crack cocaine, when it is not cooked, also has a flowery scent. When heat is added, the odor changes to that of burning plastic.

What about heroin? If a loved one is using heroin, is it possible to identify it by its smell?

How to Describe the Unique Smell of Heroin

Heroin generally smells like vinegar. The smell results from the chemical processes that are used when preparing the drug.

Heroin is derived from morphine. Morphine comes from the milky sap of poppy plants naturally found in opium, and poppy plants are typically grown in Columbia and Asia. Heroin manufacturers make morphine more potent by boiling it with acetic anhydride. This creates a chemical reaction that leads to the distinctive vinegar smell of morphine.

The purer the heroin is, the less likely it is to have a vinegar smell. Black tar heroin, typically produced in Mexico and distributed south of the Mississippi, has a pungent vinegar smell because it is full of impurities.

Solid forms of heroin are not as potent as pure heroin. As a result, those who manufacture the drug mix it with other additives to strengthen the high that the user gets. Ultimately, it is the additives that give heroin its pungent smell.

What Is Heroin?

The scientific name for heroin is diacetylmorphine. Heroin can vary in appearance from a brown or white powder to a black substance that has a sticky texture. The latter substance is called black tar heroin. Heroin is also referred to as smack, horse, hell dust, and the big H. Heroin can be injected, smoked, or snorted. Using a form of heroin that is mixed with crack cocaine is called speedballing.

What Are the Effects of Heroin?

Upon entry into the brain, heroin is converted to morphine. It quickly binds to opioid receptors.

When a person uses heroin, he or she typically feels a rush that is an intensely pleasurable sensation. Factors that influence the intensity of the rush include the quantity of the drug taken and the speed with which the drug binds with the opioid receptors.

A heroin rush is typically accompanied by:
• Dry mouth
• Heaviness in the extremities
• Warm flushing of the skin

Less common effects of heroin include:
• Vomiting
• Nausea
• Severe itching

Once the initial effects have passed, heroin users are tired for several hours. Their mental function is blocked, and their heart and respiratory functions slow down. These effects can lead to coma, brain damage, and death.

Opioids, like heroin, affect multiple parts of the brain and the nervous system. Heroin can depress breathing by influencing the neurochemical activity in the brainstem. The brainstem is part of the control mechanism for body functions, including heart rate and breathing.

Opioids encourage the user to continue to take the drug because it impacts the limbic system that handles emotions. It can also interfere with pain signals transmitted through the spinal cord to the body.

Repeated heroin use can change both the physiology and the structure of the brain. The results are changes to the hormonal and neuronal systems. It is difficult to reverse these changes.

Some studies have suggested that long-term heroin use affects the brain’s white matter. This can lead to a decreased ability to make decisions, an inability to regulate behavior, and uncontrolled responses to stressful situations.

Heroin produces severe and intense physical dependence and tolerance. When a person becomes tolerant to heroin, he or she needs an increasing amount of the drug to achieve the same effects. With physical dependency, the body becomes accustomed to the drug. Withdrawal symptoms are felt if the drug is reduced abruptly.

Withdrawal might happen in as little as a couple of hours after the last time the drug is taken. Withdrawal symptoms can include:
• Anxiety
• Diarrhea
• Hot and cold flashes
• Insomnia
• Muscle cramps
• Nausea and vomiting
• Perspiration
• Watery discharge from eyes and nose

Major withdrawal symptoms will reach their peak between 24 and 48 hours after the last dose of heroin. However, people can experience withdrawal symptoms for weeks or months.

The longer a person uses heroin, the higher the risk of developing heroin use disorder. Such a disorder goes beyond typical heroin use. It is a chronic disease that causes a person to relapse into taking the drug even after he or she has stopped. It is beyond physical dependence. People with heroin use disorder have an uncontrollable drive to seek the drug irrespective of the consequences.

Heroin is unbelievably addictive no matter how it is administered. Different routes of administration may let heroin reach the brain faster and may increase the chances of developing heroin use disorder. Once a person reaches the point of a heroin use disorder, accessing the drug becomes his or her only purpose in life.

At Granite Recovery Center, we understand how challenging it can be to break free from substance use disorder. Our facilities cater to individuals looking to break free from drugs like heroin. We have created a safe place that allows you or your loved one to go through the detox process with dignity. Once detox is complete, we will work to create a rehab program designed to help you on your path to long-term sobriety. Granite Recovery Centers provides medical detoxification for people who do not need immediate medical intervention, are not a danger to themselves, and are capable of self-evacuation in the event of an emergency.

Heroin Use and Prescription Drug Misuse

OxyContin, Demerol, and Vicodin are some opiates that are prescribed to help with pain. Many assume that using prescription pain relievers is safer than using a street drug, like heroin, because it is medically prescribed. However, when prescription opioids are taken in a way that was not intended by the doctor or are taken by someone for whom they were not prescribed, the health effects can be severe. These can include overdose and death.

Prescription opioids and their misuse can open the door to heroin use. There are reports that some people have switched from prescription drugs to heroin because it is less expensive and easier to get a hold of.

The Medical Complications of Chronic Heroin Use

Regardless of how a person takes heroin, he or she will face medical complications. These include constipation and insomnia.

Lung complications, including tuberculosis and pneumonia, might result because of the deteriorating health of the heroin user and because heroin depresses a person’s respiration. Mental health disorders, including antisocial personality disorder and depression, can be linked to chronic heroin use.

The medical complications vary based on how the drug is administered. If a person snorts heroin, he or she may damage the mucosal tissues in the nose and might perforate the nasal septum.

Injecting heroin can lead to scarred or collapsed veins. Bacterial infections, abscesses, soft tissue infections, and infections of the blood vessels and heart are all possible medical complications for chronic heroin users.

Heroin is often cut with substances that the body cannot readily dissolve. These substances can clog blood vessels, which might affect the kidneys, brain, or liver. They may infect or even destroy patches of cells within vital organs. Heroin’s effect on the immune system can lead to rheumatologic issues.

Sharing needles can lead to deadly infections, such as HIV and certain forms of hepatitis. Injecting heroin puts a person at risk of many blood-borne viruses that can be transmitted to sexual partners or to children when they are born.

Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms

Heroin withdrawal symptoms will vary from person to person. The length of time that a person misuses heroin, how it was used, and the quantity of heroin used are factors that influence how the body and the brain respond to the lack of heroin. As a result, the length of withdrawal, and its severity will vary from person to person. If an individual has a history of mental illness or if he or she has gone through opioid withdrawal in the past, the withdrawal experience may be more intense than that of others.

Heroin depresses the functions of the central nervous system. These include blood pressure, heart rate, temperature regulation, and respiration.

It also binds itself to opioid receptors. This causes the brain to produce a higher level of chemicals responsible for feeling pleasure. During heroin abuse, there is a rush of pleasure. During withdrawal, the symptoms experienced are just the opposite. The euphoria, sedation, and reduced heart rate experienced during a high are replaced with anxiety, bad mood, rapid heart rate, and other symptoms.

On its own, going through withdrawal from heroin is not considered life threatening. However, it includes psychological and medical symptoms that can produce life-threatening complications.

For example, the depression felt during withdrawal may make a person suicidal. Therefore, heroin should not be stopped cold turkey. The best way to break free of heroin safely is to do so with the support of medical health professionals. Our professional staff at Granite Recovery Center has the tools and training needed to ease withdrawal symptoms and to make the withdrawal process as comfortable as possible.

Heroin Detox

Heroin is a short-acting opioid. This means that it takes effect in the bloodstream quickly, but it also leaves the bloodstream quickly.

Detox helps manage the symptoms of withdrawal. Medical detox can be the most comfortable way to cleanse the body of heroin. Medical detox would begin before the heroin completely leaves the system, and it would take between five and seven days. Individuals who heavily depend on heroin may require up to 10 days to detox.

Medical detox uses medications and therapy to help the brain and the body recover from dependence on heroin. Heart rate, blood pressure, temperature, and breathing are all monitored to help keep a person safe and healthy through the detox process.

According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, approximately 517,000 Americans are dealing with heroin addiction. Heroin is a schedule one drug, so it has a high rate of abuse and a high potential for addiction. There is no medical use for heroin in the United States.

Granite Recovery Center Can Help You Break Free From Heroin Addiction

Granite Recovery Center wants to help you start your journey to recovery. We have over a decade of experience transforming the lives of individuals struggling with drugs and alcohol. Our clients are from New England and beyond.

At our center, we focus on evidence-based clinical psychotherapies. We offer a comprehensive 12-step curriculum. We are a fully staffed treatment center, so we can provide a full continuum of care. Services we offer include medical detox, extended care, medication-assisted therapy, sober living, primary residential treatment, and intensive outpatient counseling.

We have been very successful in doing what we do. There is an ever-growing alumni community that verifies the success of our methods. We look forward to working with you or helping your loved one. We can help you or those you love to develop the skills to break free from addiction and to enjoy life without worrying about substance use.

At Granite Recovery Centers, we want to provide accurate information about health and addiction so that our readers can make informed decisions.

We have credentialed medical doctors & clinicians who specialize in addiction treatment review the information on our website before it is published. We use credible sources such as government websites and journal articles when citing statistics or other medically related topics.