How to Identify Cocaine by Look, Smell, and Taste

identify cocaine by look smell and taste

How to Identify Cocaine by Look, Smell, and Taste

Most people believe that cocaine always comes in the form of a white, powdery substance with no observable odor. However, this is a common misconception about the drug. Cocaine is a very versatile substance that can come in many colors while having a pungent smell and taste. Knowing how to identify cocaine by look, smell, and taste can help you know whether or not a loved one is abusing this dangerous and addictive drug.

What is Cocaine?

Cocaine is a highly addictive stimulant drug that is often glamorized in movies and pop culture as a “rich man’s drug.” While cocaine is more expensive than many other substances, like heroin, meth, or crack cocaine, it is still extremely dangerous and addictive.

It is made from the coca plant – a plant that is native to South America. Solvents and acids are mixed with the plant to extract cocaine hydrochloride from its leaves.[1] After extracted from the plant, manufactured, and dried into crystals, powdered cocaine is formed. Cocaine usually looks like a fine, white powder, which is where the drug gets many of its street names. Slang terms for cocaine include:

  • Snow
  • Coke
  • Rock
  • Fish scale

Cocaine can be snorted, smoked, or injected. After entering the system, cocaine increases levels of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is a messenger chemical in the body that regulates pleasure and emotion. A buildup of dopamine leads to increased energy, alertness, and confidence. The brain is not meant to have high levels of dopamine like this for very long, so continued cocaine use severely alters brain function and ultimately leads to addiction.

Since cocaine is highly addictive and dangerous, it is important to be able to identify cocaine by look, smell, and taste so you can intervene if a loved one is using the drug.


What Does Cocaine Look Like?

It can be difficult to identify cocaine solely by the way it looks. Before cocaine is broken down into a fine powder, it may come in rock form. Whether the drug is in the form of a rock or a powder, the color of cocaine usually ranges anywhere from pure white to off-white. It may even have a shiny or pearly appearance. However, sometimes, cocaine can be light pink or beige in color.

Many street dealers add cheap cutting agents to their cocaine supply to boost their profits or make their supply seem more potent than it really is.[1] Additives such as talcum powder, baby laxatives, and fentanyl may make cocaine look more bright white. Other cutting agents, such as procaine, vitamins, or powdered caffeine can give cocaine more of an off-white or beige color.

What Does Cocaine Smell Like?

Pure cocaine will have a sweet, floral smell. However, due to the complex cocaine extraction process as well as the cutting agents found in cocaine that is sold on the streets, it usually has an underlying chemical or metallic smell to it. Some chemicals that are often used to manufacture cocaine have distinct smells that can help people identify the substance. These chemicals include:

  • Gasoline
  • Kerosene
  • Diesel
  • Carbonate salt
  • Sulfuric acid
  • Ammonia
  • Potassium permanganate
  • Caustic soda

What cocaine smells like may also vary depending on the method of administration a person uses. Someone who snorts cocaine will probably notice a chemical or metallic smell, but someone who smokes the drug may smell burnt plastic or rubber.

What Does Cocaine Taste Like?

One of the easiest ways to identify cocaine is by the way it tastes, however, we never recommend that you taste cocaine in an effort to identify the drug. People usually describe the taste of cocaine as very tart and bitter.

While people who use cocaine usually snort or inject cocaine, many taste it to see how pure the substance is. Others rub excess cocaine powder on their gums because it produces a numbing effect. In general, the stronger and more pure cocaine is, the more bitter it will taste.

What Does Cocaine Feel Like?

As a stimulant drug, cocaine increases vital body functions such as heart rate, breathing, and body temperature. It gives users a strong jolt of energy that makes them more confident, talkative, and awake. Knowing the short-term side effects of the drug can help you identify a cocaine user. Short-term effects include:[1]

short term effects of cocaine

  • Increased happiness and energy
  • Mental alertness
  • Dilated pupils
  • Nausea
  • High blood pressure
  • Fast or irregular heartbeat
  • Restlessness
  • Irritability
  • Talkativeness
  • Hypersensitivity to light, sound, and touch
  • Speaking quickly
  • Paranoia
  • Anxiety
  • Tremors or muscle twitches

The effects of cocaine appear almost instantly after consuming the drug and can last for a few minutes to an hour or more depending on the method of administration. For example, snorting cocaine can produce a high that lasts 15-30 minutes while smoking it will only produce a short high, lasting 5 to 10 minutes.

Identify Cocaine-Related Paraphernalia

Since the look, smell, and taste of cocaine can vary greatly, it can be helpful to be able to identify cocaine use by the paraphernalia that a person has. First, cocaine is usually sold in small plastic bags that can be found online or at specialty stores. These resealable bags look similar to your standard sandwich bag, but they are much smaller. Sometimes, the bags even have designs or pictures on them. Someone who has several of these baggies in their room or in their belongings may be using cocaine.

Other types of cocaine-related paraphernalia may vary depending on how a person is using the drug. Someone who snorts cocaine may have a razor blade, cut-off straws, and a small mirror or flat surface with powdered residue on it. Someone who smokes cocaine may have aluminum foil, a lighter, and a straw, or a small metal pipe with a hole at the top. Lastly, someone who injects cocaine may have tourniquets, spoons with bent handles, syringes, and lighters.

Find Help for Cocaine Addiction Today

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, more than 16,000 people died from a cocaine overdose in 2019 – and these numbers are thought to have increased in recent years. Being able to identify cocaine based on what it looks, smells, and tastes like can come in handy because it can help you know when a friend is struggling with cocaine abuse or addiction.

If you or a loved one are struggling with cocaine addiction, know that help is available. Here at Florida Recovery Group, our comprehensive addiction treatment program can help you get sober and stay sober. Contact us today to get started.