What Does Heroin Look Like?

Last Updated: November 2, 2023

Editorial Policy | Research Policy

Heroin can vary widely in appearance. If you suspect a loved one may be using heroin, it helps to learn more about the drug’s appearance and its related paraphernalia.

Heroin is a dangerous and highly addictive substance that is often used by people who have a more serious drug addiction. Knowing what heroin and related paraphernalia look like can help you determine whether a loved one or someone you know is using the drug.

About Heroin

Heroin is a powerful, addictive opioid that has no medical use and is only used to get high. Heroin works by stimulating opioid receptors in the brain. Overstimulating these receptors causes the euphoric, relaxed feeling that heroin creates, but it also slows brain function. In high doses, heroin can slow the brain to such an extent that breathing stops.

Often, people mistakenly think that there are multiple types of heroin because it has many different appearances. However, there is only one type of heroin. The different appearances of heroin occur from impurities and contaminants in the heroin. These can occur because it has not been fully purified or it contains byproducts of processing it. The appearance can also change when cutting agents are added afterward to increase the heroin product’s weight.

What Does Heroin Look Like?

Pure heroin is always white. However, heroin products can vary in appearance due to the different ways it is commonly processed.

Black Tar Heroin

Black tar heroin is not very pure and often appears as a sticky, black substance resembling tar. Black tar heroin may also be a solid black lump that resembles coal.

White Heroin

White heroin is a white powder. While pure heroin is a white color, heroin products can come in many different shades of white, ranging from pure white to a cream or even slightly yellow color. These different shades are not from the heroin itself; rather, they are caused by other additives or impurities in the heroin.

Brown Heroin

Brown heroin comes as a brown powder, often a light shade of brown. This common color occurs because of impurities that are not fully processed out of the heroin during the refining process. Brown heroin is generally purer than black tar heroin but not as pure as white heroin

How Is Heroin Packaged and Sold?

Heroin is often sold in tinfoil that is folded into a square and contains about a 10th of a gram of heroin. Heroin may also be transported in balloons with the tops tied or in capsules.

While there are a few ways that heroin is commonly packaged, it is important to understand that there are endless ways it could be packaged. Because heroin is an illegal drug, people transporting it may use many different creative methods to disguise it during transport. They may also sell it packaged in many different ways to avoid detection.

Heroin Paraphernalia

Heroin is often injected, and most heroin paraphernalia is related to the process of injecting it. For heroin to be injected, it must first be heated. This may be done in a spoon or a small piece of tinfoil. These instruments will often have heat marks on one side of the surface and residue on the other. They may be accompanied by a lighter or another heat source.

Once heated, heroin is drawn into a syringe with a needle. A filter, such as a cotton ball or something similar, is used to help ensure that only liquid is injected. The last common piece of paraphernalia is something used as a tourniquet. This tourniquet makes it easier to insert the needle into the vein during injection. A tourniquet can be anything long enough to tie around the bicep, such as a shoelace or bandana.

Finding Help for Heroin Addiction in New Jersey

Heroin use is very serious. Overdoses on opioids like heroin are quite common, killing tens of thousands of people every year. Heroin is a powerful drug that is typically only used by people who have used other substances so much that they no longer create a good high.

If your loved one is struggling with heroin addiction, their health is at serious risk unless they stop using the drug. At The Recovery Village Cherry Hill at Cooper, we understand how difficult it can be to stop heroin use and recover from a heroin addiction. This is why we offer a full continuum of care, ranging from medical detox and inpatient treatment to outpatient services and long-term aftercare. Our detox services help make withdrawal as safe and comfortable as possible, while our rehab services help clients learn how to remain heroin-free over the long term.

If someone you love is ready to begin the path toward lasting recovery from heroin addiction, our experts are here to help. Contact us today to learn more about heroin addiction treatment programs that can work well for your loved one’s situation.


U.S. National Library of Medicine. “Heroin.” MedlinePlus, March 17, 2021. Accessed July 15, 2022.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Heroin DrugFacts.” June 2021. Accessed July 15, 2022.

Drug Enforcement Administration. “Heroin.” Accessed July 15, 2022.

National Drug Intelligence Center. “Florida Drug Threat Assessment: Heroin.” July 2003. Accessed July 15, 2022.

Christianson, S. “Heroin Paraphernalia – Breakdown Of A Fix.” Criminal Law Bulletin, 1974. Accessed July 15, 2022.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Overdose Death Rates.” January 20, 2022. Accessed July 15, 2022.

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