The Nose Knows: A Parent’s Guide to Drug Smells and Odors

Last updated on June 2nd, 2020

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.

How do you know if you or a loved is addicted? Find out here.

What Is That Smell?


Here’s a brief guide to help parents fine-tune their sense of smell and crack this dangerous drug puzzle:

What is Methamphetamine?

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

What Is Heroin?

Generally speaking, all forms of heroin give off 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.

What Is Marijuana?shutterstock_1278130477

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 Is PCP?

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 Is Crack Cocaine?

Crack doesn’t release a pleasant 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.

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

Image Source: iStock

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