Many drugs have specific looks, textures and smells that make it easy to identify. Learn about the possible smells of heroin here.

Many drugs have specific looks, textures and smells that make it easy to identify them. Unlike marijuana’s pungent herb and sage smell before and after being burned, heroin is oftentimes odorless in its purest form. However, when diluted or manipulated, heroin is recognized from its acidic, vinegar-like smell.

Why Does Heroin Smell Like Vinegar?

The general answer to why heroin smells like vinegar is because it’s a result of the chemical processes that are used to make the drug. The smell is a result of the final steps of the synthesis process, and while vinegar is a smell often associated with heroin, it doesn’t always have a strong smell of vinegar. The better heroin is washed at the end of synthesis or the purer it is, the less likely it is to have a strong vinegar odor.

Black tar heroin is cheaper and less pure than other forms of heroin. The reason it’s dark in color is that the processing it goes through leaves impurities that are both chemical and bacterial. The solid form of heroin isn’t as strong as pure heroin, so this form of the drug is often mixed with acid and other additives to increase the high the person achieves. Ultimately, it’s these additives and other chemicals that contribute to why heroin smells like vinegar. With that being said, black tar heroin will have a much stronger smell of vinegar than any of the other types of the drug.

What is Heroin?

Heroin, scientifically known as diacetylmorphine, is a powerful and highly addictive opiate drug processed from morphine. In the early 1900s, heroin was intended to be a non-addictive substitute for pain relief. It was also used as a cough suppressant for children through the Bayer pharmaceutical company. Once the addictive qualities were realized, heroin was banned and made illegal across the United States.

This opiate drug comes in many forms, but it is typically sold as an off-white or brown powder that can be eaten, smoked, snorted or injected. In its purest form, heroin is sold as a pure white powder with a bitter taste. On the street, users are likely to come across black tar heroin, a lower quality of the drug in solid form. Unlike pure heroin, black tar is impure and cheap, typically appearing black or dark in color with the consistency of a rock or roofing tar. What helps to distinguish this form is its potent vinegar or medicinal smell.

Black Tar Heroin

Black tar heroin is a cheaper, impure version of heroin. Its dark color is a result of synthetic processing that leaves behind remnants of chemical and bacterial impurities. Because the solid form is not as potent as pure heroin, black tar is manipulated with other acidic additives to enhance and prolong the high. These additives in combination with other chemicals added to the mix produce a vinegar-like smell.

Street heroin or black tar is never exactly the same from batch to batch. Because it may be cut with so many things, it is more difficult to understand correct doses and the potency, increasing the likelihood of overdose or adverse reactions to the drug. Users will also spend more money for larger portions of black tar since the high is short-lived.

If you or a loved one live with addiction or are using drugs recreationally and want to stop, The Recovery Village can help. Reach out to one of our representatives today to learn how you can start on your path to recovery.

Thomas Christiansen
Editor – Thomas Christiansen
With over a decade of content experience, Tom produces and edits research articles, news and blog posts produced for Advanced Recovery Systems. Read more
Kevin Wandler
Medically Reviewed By – Dr. Kevin Wandler, MD
Kevin Wandler holds multiple positions at Advanced Recovery Systems. In addition to being the founding and chief medical director at Advanced Recovery Systems, he is also the medical director at The Recovery Village Ridgefield and at The Recovery Village Palmer Lake. Read more
Christina Caplinger
Medically Reviewed By – Christina Caplinger, RPh
Christina Caplinger is a licensed pharmacist in both Colorado and Idaho and is also a board-certified pharmacotherapy specialist. Read more
Sources Editors. “Heroin, Morphine and Opiates.” June 12, 2017. Accessed on November 03, 2020.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Heroin Research Report.” June 2008. Accessed on November 03, 2020.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.