Heroin is a potent, addictive and deadly opioid. Opioids bind to receptors located throughout the central nervous system, causing a euphoric high. This high triggers the brain’s reward system, which is how addiction develops.

Heroin comes in different forms. One of the most recognizable is known as black tar heroin.

What Is Black Tar Heroin?

Black tar heroin is a type of heroin. When people think about heroin, they often think of a white or off-white powder. However, heroin does not always look like that. Heroin can also come as a dark solid.

Black tar heroin’s name comes directly from its appearance: it looks like black tar. This type of heroin is a dark brown or nearly black, thick, gooey and similar to roofing tar in texture.

Because it’s the only type of heroin that comes as a solid, it is easy to tell it apart from other types of heroin, which come in powder form. Like other kinds of heroin, black tar heroin is derived from morphine, which comes from poppy plants. However, black tar heroin has unique risks and dangers.

Just like other kinds of heroin, people can snort black tar heroin, although it is commonly injected or smoked.

What Does Black Tar Heroin Look and Smell Like?

If you wonder what black tar heroin looks like, or if you’re searching for pictures of black tar heroin, you’ll discover that it looks like black tar.

Black tar heroin often looks like sticky tar, or can sometimes look like a hard piece of coal. In some cases, black tar heroin may also look dark orange or dark brown. The color and consistency of black tar heroin are due to the low-quality processing methods that leave impurities behind.

what black tar heroin looks like

The smell of black tar heroin can be one of its defining features, as people often say it has a strong, vinegar-like smell. This scent is due to the chemical processes that are used to make it. Higher-quality heroin tends to be washed after it’s made, so it has less odor. Black tar heroin, since it is less pure and may have additives, will usually have a stronger smell.

Depending on how it has been made, the black tar heroin smell may differ from batch to batch, but will generally be more pungent than purer heroin.

Is Black Tar Heroin Different Than Regular Heroin?

Black tar heroin is distinctive from other forms of heroin primarily because of how black tar heroin is made. It is much less pure than regular heroin. When heroin is produced traditionally, the result is a fine, white, pure powder. As the opioid epidemic spread across the United States, there was more of an effort on the part of drug dealers to cut corners and improve profitability. One result of that effort was black tar heroin.

The Process of Making and Trafficking of Black Tar Heroin

Black tar heroin is produced when the process to purify the drug is shortened. The processing methods that create black tar heroin are crude, leaving behind visible impurities. Entire steps of the traditional heroin purification process are skipped in the creation of black tar.

Most of the black tar heroin that makes its way into the United States comes from Mexico. As Afghan drug producers began importing high-quality heroin into the United States, Mexico created black tar heroin to compete. Because its quality is so low and it is not as pure as other forms of heroin, it is less expensive. This low price point is one of the biggest appeals for many buyers. Mexican black tar heroin is especially common in the southern and western regions of the United States. When someone purchases this type of heroin, there is no way to determine the purity or quality of the product as there’s very little consistency.

Side Effects of Black Tar Heroin

Most black tar heroin effects are the same as other forms of heroin. When someone uses black tar heroin, it creates a sense of euphoria. Like anyone who consumes heroin, black tar heroin users are at high risk of experiencing overdose and death.

Black Tar Heroin Risks

However, there are even more risks of using black heroin compared to traditional heroin, particularly for a person using intravenous drugs. When black tar is injected, there is a heightened risk for infections and conditions like venous sclerosis, where the veins become narrow and hard. There’s also a greater risk of bacterial infections when black tar heroin is injected. An example of possible bacterial infection is necrotizing fasciitis, which is a flesh-eating disease that destroys tissue because of the bacteria from the black tar heroin. Injection of black heroin increases the risk of abscesses and gas gangrene, which also destroys body tissue. There have even been cases of wound botulism that occurred in people injecting black tar heroin.

Black tar heroin is also dangerous due to its unknown additives and impurities. Black tar heroin often contains additives and substances that can cause infections and health problems on their own. It is almost impossible to know what was blended into the drug, making its consumption particularly risky.

Key Points: Black Tar Heroin

Black tar heroin is a unique form of heroin. The main facts about this type of heroin to keep in mind are:

  • Black tar heroin is an impure form of heroin sold as a dark solid
  • Black tar heroin is cheap and readily available in many parts of the country
  • The drug contains many impurities, making it appear like tar
  • When someone uses black tar heroin intravenously, they risk of getting an infection at the site where they inject it
  • Black tar heroin comes into the United States largely through Mexico and is commonly found in the southern and western regions of the country

If you or a loved one live with heroin addiction, The Recovery Village offers individualized treatment plans that address addiction along with any co-occurring mental health disorders. Begin your healthier future today.


  1. National Institute on Drug Abuse. “What is heroin and how is it used?” June, 2018. Accessed March 20, 2019.
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Wound botulism outbreak among persons who use black tar heroin.” January 4, 2019. Accessed March 20, 2019.
  3. New York Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services. “Black tar heroin.” June, 2010. Accessed March 20, 2019.