The discovery of drug paraphernalia can be strong evidence that someone is using drugs. A person can spot paraphernalia if they know which type of drug the person may be using and which methods of consumption they are using. The most common methods of drug ingestion and the associated drugs are:

  • Inhaling: gasoline, nitrites (poppers), aerosols (whip-its)
  • Injecting: heroin, methamphetamine
  • Smoking: marijuana, crack cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine
  • Snorting: cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine
  • Swallowing (oral ingestion): alcohol, marijuana, heroin, LSD, ecstasy and methamphetamine

What Is Paraphernalia?

Drug paraphernalia includes equipment or tools used for making, concealing or consuming drugs. Paraphernalia can include items used with legal or illegal drugs, but usually refers to the latter.

Each drug has a different type of paraphernalia commonly associated with it. Typically paraphernalia is categorized based on the ingestion method and not the drug itself. For example, the drugs methamphetamine and heroin can be injected, so they share paraphernalia used for injection. 

Is Paraphernalia Illegal?

Paraphernalia used to consume illegal drugs is illegal under federal law in the United States. Even without possessing a drug, possessing paraphernalia is illegal if it can be linked to the consumption of an illegal drug. Paraphernalia often retains traces of drugs, long after use.

Possession of paraphernalia a criminal charge that will usually result in penalties like fines and jail time. Although possession charges are typically classified as misdemeanors, the penalties can be amplified based on circumstances (e.g., if the person charged has been charged for possession in a school zone or if they’ve been charged with possession before).

Paraphernalia possession charges can stick to a person’s criminal record and can make it difficult to find employment.

How Do People Use Drugs?

If you suspect your loved one may be using drugs — maybe they are exhibiting common signs of addiction, like changes in appearance, worsening health, suspicious behavior and suddenly performing poorly in school — consider looking for common drug paraphernalia.

Sometimes it can be difficult to spot paraphernalia because many are designed to look like items that can be used for legitimate purposes. Some are items with legitimate purposes.

Ultimately, drug paraphernalia by itself is not total evidence of drug use. However, paraphernalia is an initial indication that drug use may be happening.

Types of Paraphernalia

  • Paraphernalia Linked to Alcohol Abuse:

    • Bottles and cans of alcohol
    • Drinking vessels like water bottles, flasks and coffee cups
    • Cocktail shakers, shot glasses and other barware

  • Paraphernalia Linked to Cocaine Abuse:

    • Glass or metal pipes
    • Butane (torch) lighters
    • Small mirrors
    • Plastic straws, rolled-up paper tubes or rolled-up dollar bills
    • Razor blades

  • Paraphernalia Linked to Ecstasy & Club Drug Abuse:

    • Glow sticks
    • Surgical or dust masks
    • Pacifiers
    • Lollipops
    • Bags of candy
    • Empty gelatin capsules

  • Paraphernalia Linked to Heroin Abuse:

    • Needles and syringes
    • Spoons, typically with burn marks on the bottom
    • Cotton balls
    • Butane (torch) lighters
    • Tinfoil
    • Glass or metal pipes
    • Plastic pen case
    • Drinking straw
    • Small mirrors
    • Razor blades

  • Paraphernalia Linked to Inhalant Abuse:

    • Tubes of glue
    • Bottles or aerosol cans with hardened glue, sprays, paint or chemical odors
    • Rags
    • Balloons
    • Nozzles
    • Small brown glass bottles

  • Paraphernalia Linked to LSD Abuse:

    • Sugar cubes
    • Gelatin
    • Blotter paper decorated with art or designs, similar in size and look to postage stamps
    • Eyedropper bottles

  • Paraphernalia Linked to Marijuana & Synthetic Marijuana Abuse:

    • Rolling papers
    • Cigar or cigar papers
    • Pipes made from wood, acrylic, glass, stone, plastic or ceramic
    • Bongs
    • Roach clips, a metal holder for a marijuana cigarette or joint
    • E-Cigarettes

  • Paraphernalia Linked to Methamphetamine Abuse:

    • Needles and syringes
    • Spoons, typically with burn marks on the bottom
    • Cotton balls
    • Butane (torch) lighters
    • Tinfoil
    • Glass or metal pipes
    • Plastic pen case
    • Drinking straw
    • Small mirrors
    • Razor blades

Where Do People Buy Paraphernalia?

Drug paraphernalia is usually purchased online. Online shopping is popular with people using drugs because it offers them a fast and easy way to privately buy paraphernalia. A variety of websites dedicate themselves to selling paraphernalia, and some can even be found on creative and craft websites like Etsy.

Some items are also available at brick-and-mortar locations like tobacco shops, head shops, novelty stores, gift shops and gas stations. Head-shop stores are mostly dedicated to selling drug paraphernalia, particularly items to smoke marijuana with. Although selling drug paraphernalia is illegal, the stores operate by advertising the items as use with tobacco only.

Where Do People Hide Their Drugs?

If someone is using drugs, drug paraphernalia may be located in plain sight. However, often times people who use drugs do not want to get caught by friends, family or other authority figures; therefore, hiding places may be clever. Some paraphernalia is intended to look like other objects.

  • Some examples of paraphernalia designed to blend in are:

    • Belt Buckles: Can be used as a hollow hiding place.
    • Books: The inside of books can be hollowed into an empty container used for hiding items
    • Candy or mint containers: Commonly used for small amounts of drugs or drugs that take up small amounts of space. Small bags of powder and pills can be hidden here.
    • Cans: Fake soda cans are designed with a chamber in the bottom. It can be accessed in different ways and may be used as a hiding place.
    • Cars: Under the hood, behind the dashboard and below the seats are common places for paraphernalia or tea bags filled with drugs to be taped to those surfaces.
    • Mattresses: An exposed or dislocated mattress may suggest that a hole has been cut in the mattress for storage.
    • Personal hygiene and makeup containers: These items can be emptied, hollowed out and used to store drugs, particularly alcohol. Makeup mirrors can be used for snorting drugs like cocaine.
    • Writing utensils: These can be used for storage as well as consumption. A pen can be disassembled and used as a snorting or smoking device. Small amounts of drugs can be hidden in the pen as well.

  • Some examples of items used to cover the symptoms of drug use:

    • Eye drops
    • Sunglasses
    • Body sprays
    • Mouthwash, mints or breath sprays

Drugs and paraphernalia may be hidden in an individual’s personal space, so looking through their belongings may be an invasion of privacy. People should always consider speaking with a loved one about suspected drug use before looking through their belongings.

Drug Addiction Treatment

Drug paraphernalia can indicate drug use and possibly a drug addiction. If you are concerned about a loved one, consider speaking to them about your concerns. The person should always be brought into the decision-making process and treatment should never be forced on anyone. Addiction treatment is not successful if it is forced on someone unwillingly.

If you or a loved one have identified an addiction (or think there might be one), The Recovery Village has resources available to help. We can help identify and locate potential treatment options, such as inpatient or outpatient drug rehab.