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  #1  
Old 03-04-2012, 06:27 AM
aldiboronti aldiboronti is offline
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Identifying heroin (or another drug) by taste. Possible?

I've seen it a hundred times on cop shows and in the movies. Our hero finds a stash of white powder, dips his finger in and tastes it. "100% pure unadulterated heroin!" (That one is a direct quote from the David Janssen TV movie Warning Shot).

Am I right to be highly suspicious of this? I've known TV to lie to me before.
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  #2  
Old 03-04-2012, 07:14 AM
psychonaut psychonaut is offline
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This question was the subject of a 2003 SDSAD column, though it was more about tasting cocaine.
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  #3  
Old 03-04-2012, 07:20 AM
aldiboronti aldiboronti is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by psychonaut View Post
This question was the subject of a 2003 SDSAD column, though it was more about tasting cocaine.
Thanks for that. I'm assuming then that with cocaine it's barely possible because of the numbing effect (although lignocaine would do that too and that's useless for getting a buzz) but with heroin and other drugs quite impossible?

Last edited by aldiboronti; 03-04-2012 at 07:21 AM..
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  #4  
Old 03-04-2012, 07:21 AM
spankthecrumpet spankthecrumpet is offline
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You will totally get a characterstic numb from cocaine, although I don't know if you could differentiate it from lidocaine or benzocaine. Also cocaine tends to have a solventy smell to it.

For those who haven't had the pleasurable experience of snorting a drug before, when you do it eventually goes down the back of your throat and a tiny bit mixes in with your mouth, so you get some taste there to get to know it.

I don't think heroin has a particularly distinctive taste though.

Some of these new synthetic cathinones are seriously harsh, they actually burn. Whether you can differentiate between them I don't know as I'm a bit old for all that now.
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  #5  
Old 03-04-2012, 07:21 AM
Joey P Joey P is offline
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I didn't read the article psychonaut posted, but cocaine has a very distinct taste.
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  #6  
Old 03-04-2012, 07:41 AM
psychonaut psychonaut is offline
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If heroin is like other opiates, it's probably bitter. If you had a bag of unidentified powder, and knew for certain that it was either heroin or (say) flour, then you could probably identify it by taste.

The general problem of identifying an unknown powder is very stupid to solve by taste. You have no idea what the powder could be—it might be something completely innocuous like flour, or it might be a deadly poison. Even if you're certain that the substance is some sort of recreational drug, it's still pretty stupid to taste it. Some drugs are sufficiently potent that putting even a tiny amount on your tongue will give you a massive overdose. For example, LSD is also a white powder, but its recreational doses are measured in micrograms—putting a macroscopic quantity on your tongue, or even on your skin, is a recipe for disaster (albeit likely a non-life-threatening one).
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  #7  
Old 03-04-2012, 07:46 AM
Loach Loach is offline
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Tasting has never been part of law enforcement training so it would be difficult to testify as to why you know what it tastes like. And since you don't know what is in that mysterious white powder you have found, its not a good idea to put it in your mouth. There are field testing kits or you can arrest them using the white powder as probable cause pending lab results. Even with the field kit results it will go to the lab as well.
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  #8  
Old 03-04-2012, 08:09 AM
Mogle Mogle is offline
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I always liked Terry Pratchett's parody of this trope.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Terry Pratchett, Feet of Clay
Detritus blinked at his finger, which was still white with the dust, and sidled over to Carrot. 'Did I just lick dis?' he said.
'Er, yes, ' said Carrot.
'T'ank goodness for dat,' said Detritus, blinking furiously. ' 'd hate to believe dis room was really full of giant hairy spide...weeble weeble sclup...'
He hit the floor, but happily.
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  #9  
Old 03-04-2012, 10:33 AM
jtgain jtgain is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Loach View Post
Tasting has never been part of law enforcement training so it would be difficult to testify as to why you know what it tastes like. And since you don't know what is in that mysterious white powder you have found, its not a good idea to put it in your mouth. There are field testing kits or you can arrest them using the white powder as probable cause pending lab results. Even with the field kit results it will go to the lab as well.
I'm sure it is this. For TV and movies it's probably a device to keep the plot moving. Let the audience immediately know that it is cocaine/heroin instead of adding 20 minutes to the story by showing cops smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee while waiting for the lab results to come back.
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  #10  
Old 03-04-2012, 11:33 AM
psychonaut psychonaut is offline
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Originally Posted by jtgain View Post
I'm sure it is this. For TV and movies it's probably a device to keep the plot moving. Let the audience immediately know that it is cocaine/heroin instead of adding 20 minutes to the story by showing cops smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee while waiting for the lab results to come back.
Except in rush jobs for life-and-death matters, I think it normally takes a lot longer than 20 minutes for forensic lab reports to arrive. The cops are probably looking at a wait on the order of days, weeks, or even months. Twenty minutes probably isn't even enough time for the cops themselves to write up and submit the lab request and evidence.
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  #11  
Old 03-04-2012, 12:22 PM
simster simster is online now
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It's Iocane Powder - I'd bet my life on it.
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  #12  
Old 03-04-2012, 12:46 PM
Mr. Excellent Mr. Excellent is offline
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It's Iocane Powder - I'd bet my life on it.
But not, one hopes, against a Sicilian.
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  #13  
Old 03-04-2012, 02:46 PM
simster simster is online now
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But not, one hopes, against a Sicilian.
Especially when death is on the line... a ha, a hahaha <thump>
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  #14  
Old 03-04-2012, 03:13 PM
PlanetCharlie PlanetCharlie is offline
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In short, heroin tastes like vinegar (acetic acid). Very distinctive taste and smell as well. I can go in more detail later if anyone would like.
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  #15  
Old 03-04-2012, 03:40 PM
Loach Loach is offline
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Originally Posted by psychonaut View Post
Except in rush jobs for life-and-death matters, I think it normally takes a lot longer than 20 minutes for forensic lab reports to arrive. The cops are probably looking at a wait on the order of days, weeks, or even months. Twenty minutes probably isn't even enough time for the cops themselves to write up and submit the lab request and evidence.
Our evidence guy takes drugs to the lab maybe once or twice a month. More if the vice guys have been particularly busy. It takes several weeks before the results come back. We use the State Police lab. There are just a couple of regional labs that together cover the entire state. Because of this, the lab report is usually the last thing done. And usually not on the day of the arrest.
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  #16  
Old 03-04-2012, 03:41 PM
psychonaut psychonaut is offline
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Originally Posted by PlanetCharlie View Post
In short, heroin tastes like vinegar (acetic acid). Very distinctive taste and smell as well. I can go in more detail later if anyone would like.
Pure heroin should be odourless. Any vinegar smell comes from impurities introduced through the acteylation reaction in its manufacture.
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  #17  
Old 03-04-2012, 03:48 PM
jtgain jtgain is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Loach View Post
Our evidence guy takes drugs to the lab maybe once or twice a month. More if the vice guys have been particularly busy. It takes several weeks before the results come back. We use the State Police lab. There are just a couple of regional labs that together cover the entire state. Because of this, the lab report is usually the last thing done. And usually not on the day of the arrest.
So let's say you have a warrant and enter a house where there are pallets full of bags filled with white, powdery stuff.

Do you lecture everyone to wait a few weeks to a couple of months and if these lab results come back positive, then they are in for it?

Do you arrest them immediately? On what charge? How can you hold them that long without charging them?
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  #18  
Old 03-04-2012, 03:54 PM
Loach Loach is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jtgain View Post
So let's say you have a warrant and enter a house where there are pallets full of bags filled with white, powdery stuff.

Do you lecture everyone to wait a few weeks to a couple of months and if these lab results come back positive, then they are in for it?

Do you arrest them immediately? On what charge? How can you hold them that long without charging them?
Bags full of white powdery stuff= probable cause.

Lab results = beyond a reasonable doubt.

Probable cause is needed for an arrest.
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  #19  
Old 03-04-2012, 03:55 PM
simster simster is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jtgain View Post
So let's say you have a warrant and enter a house where there are pallets full of bags filled with white, powdery stuff.

Do you lecture everyone to wait a few weeks to a couple of months and if these lab results come back positive, then they are in for it?

Do you arrest them immediately? On what charge? How can you hold them that long without charging them?
I'm sure loach will respond beter, but I think there are field kits that would be sufficient for the arrest while the lab results would then be used in the court proceedings.
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  #20  
Old 03-04-2012, 03:59 PM
Loach Loach is offline
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Also figure onto it that in order to get a search warrant there already needs to be probable cause. Most likely controlled buys that have already been tested, at least with a field kit. So drugs have been bought from the house. You find what appears to be drugs. Probably take a small bit to field test. Plenty of probable cause for an arrest.
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  #21  
Old 03-04-2012, 04:41 PM
Peter Morris Peter Morris is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by psychonaut View Post
Except in rush jobs for life-and-death matters, I think it normally takes a lot longer than 20 minutes for forensic lab reports to arrive. The cops are probably looking at a wait on the order of days, weeks, or even months. Twenty minutes probably isn't even enough time for the cops themselves to write up and submit the lab request and evidence.
Obligatory XKCD link : http://xkcd.com/683/
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  #22  
Old 03-06-2012, 12:41 PM
PlanetCharlie PlanetCharlie is offline
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Originally Posted by psychonaut View Post
Pure heroin should be odourless. Any vinegar smell comes from impurities introduced through the acteylation reaction in its manufacture.
Should be, yes, however we all know that theory and actuality are not always the same. A complete, perfect, 100% yielding reaction would leave no acetic anhydride or acetic acid, as it would all be bound to the 3- and 6- sites of the morphine (the hydroxyl groups). But this is rarely the case, I don't know about you but I never got fresh, 100% pure, heroin. I say fresh because heroin will degrade into morphine and acetic acid in the presence of water, even water vapor. So heroin on the "real world," never in ideal conditions and often not done by professional chemists will either have the acetic acid smell as a byproduct, or more likely, and harder to avoid, over time it gives off more and more of a vinegar scent. (Just like aspirin... pop open an old bottle of it and see how much its decomposed, giving off a vinegar scent).

I say this both as a student of chemistry, and a former user of heroin. It always smelled like vinegar to some extent, some more than others. Powder heroin is usually more pure, as further steps are taken to do so, and for this reason it isn't as vinegar-smelling as black tar heroin (what I'm most used to, here in California). Black tar, made in Mexico, by what I will assume are non PhD-holding chemists, and undergoing less purification than say South American/Golden Triangle/etc heroin, has always smelled (and tasted) like vinegar. Acrid and disgusting, but like vinegar (acetic acid).

I always read SD on my phone when I have a spare minute or two, so its hard for me to post up a proper reply, I hope this does for now but I'll be back later to see if anyone has anything to dispute or to add their own experiences.
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  #23  
Old 03-06-2012, 03:06 PM
Spectre of Pithecanthropus Spectre of Pithecanthropus is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by psychonaut View Post

The general problem of identifying an unknown powder is very stupid to solve by taste.
This seems like common sense. But don't people in the illegal drug trade sometimes do taste tests when buying a load from the wholesaler or smuggler? When working undercover, do LEOs sometimes have to do the same thing to appear authentic to the dealers?

I don't have a nonfictional cite, but from an Upton Sinclair novel it appears that Prohibition agents did drink the product, sometimes even to the point of significant intoxication, in the course their investigations and evidence gathering.


(Link to a Wikipedia stub article on the film adaptation.)
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  #24  
Old 03-06-2012, 03:07 PM
jtgain jtgain is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Loach View Post
Bags full of white powdery stuff= probable cause.
Probable cause for an arrest for possession of?

heroin/cocaine/sugar/flour/baking soda?
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  #25  
Old 03-06-2012, 03:23 PM
TroutMan TroutMan is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jtgain View Post
Probable cause for an arrest for possession of?

heroin/cocaine/sugar/flour/baking soda?
Controlled substances.

You're making this harder than it really is.
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  #26  
Old 03-06-2012, 03:31 PM
jtgain jtgain is offline
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Originally Posted by TroutMan View Post
Controlled substances.

You're making this harder than it really is.
Flour is a controlled substance? "Your Honor, we found a 5lb. bag of a white, powdery substance in the Defendant's kitchen!"

I'm only being slightly obtuse, but surely you need a specific charge to hold someone. Isn't there a quick and dirty field test that is "good enough" for PC?

Surely a suspect can't be held for months until the lab finds out he was doing his kid's science project..
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  #27  
Old 03-06-2012, 04:27 PM
TroutMan TroutMan is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jtgain View Post
Flour is a controlled substance? "Your Honor, we found a 5lb. bag of a white, powdery substance in the Defendant's kitchen!"

I'm only being slightly obtuse, but surely you need a specific charge to hold someone. Isn't there a quick and dirty field test that is "good enough" for PC?

Surely a suspect can't be held for months until the lab finds out he was doing his kid's science project..
It comes down to probable cause. As Loach said, they probably already have plenty of evidence leading them to believe it is a controlled substance. No one is being convicted based on this, but it is plenty to make an arrest. There are possibly some people who are freed when it turns out to be flour, but I bet the number is dwindlingly small

And yes, a field test can return a result faster than a month. I don't know how fast those are, but I'm sure others can chime in on that.
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  #28  
Old 03-09-2012, 06:14 PM
lawbuff lawbuff is offline
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Originally Posted by jtgain View Post

Surely a suspect can't be held for months until the lab finds out he was doing his kid's science project..

As long as Due Process and the federal constitution are followed, yes, they can be held.

The 4th AM is silent on what is necessary to arrest, that is, probable cause, it only concerns search warrants, but the SC has ruled the 4th AM's search warrant requirement to apply to arrest warrants and arrests without warrants.

IF arrested without a warrant, a probable cause hearing and or arraignment must take place within 48 hours from arrest, weekends are not a slip by either.


This is to have a neutral magistrate review the PC to see if it indeed still exists from the time of arrest.
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  #29  
Old 03-09-2012, 06:28 PM
Lazlo Lazlo is offline
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Originally Posted by jtgain View Post
I'm only being slightly obtuse, but surely you need a specific charge to hold someone. Isn't there a quick and dirty field test that is "good enough" for PC?
There is, but I have no idea how much they're used. My information comes from cheesy TV shows.

NarcoPouch.
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  #30  
Old 06-02-2013, 05:14 AM
JESS-A-MA-KESS JESS-A-MA-KESS is offline
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Originally Posted by aldiboronti View Post
I've seen it a hundred times on cop shows and in the movies. Our hero finds a stash of white powder, dips his finger in and tastes it. "100% pure unadulterated heroin!" (That one is a direct quote from the David Janssen TV movie Warning Shot).

Am I right to be highly suspicious of this? I've known TV to lie to me before.
Heroin does have a taste but I can't explain it completely different from coke, a little bitter with a hint of vinegar and that's also what it smells like. It also has a different look and consistency.
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  #31  
Old 06-02-2013, 05:24 AM
JESS-A-MA-KESS JESS-A-MA-KESS is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jtgain View Post
Flour is a controlled substance? "Your Honor, we found a 5lb. bag of a white, powdery substance in the Defendant's kitchen!"

I'm only being slightly obtuse, but surely you need a specific charge to hold someone. Isn't there a quick and dirty field test that is "good enough" for PC?

Surely a suspect can't be held for months until the lab finds out he was doing his kid's science project..
Yeah they have a field test for on the scene so they can prove you have something illegal and so they can know what to charge you with. I can't get arrested for having a bag of flour in my purse and the cops just saying they think its drugs but aren't sure but are arresting me anyway until they get lab results back. That's why they do the field test on the scene even able to test for residue and they then can charge and arrest you for a positive test result. Plus they have to know what it is because different drugs carry different sentences and bonds. But then they usually send to the lab to get verification and proof it is what they thought it was. Then said person can either take it to trial if they didn't do it or there isn't enough evidence against them to prove without a reasonable doubt they are guilty or they can take a plea deal and depending on their priors and if they are on papers then they can get on probation , go through a Pretrial diversion program, get mandated to rehab or go to prison. Oh but some felony charges take a long time to even get indicted so it could be a year before court so obviously it's ideal to bond out before court.
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  #32  
Old 06-02-2013, 06:12 AM
Little Nemo Little Nemo is offline
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And yes, a field test can return a result faster than a month. I don't know how fast those are, but I'm sure others can chime in on that.
Very quick. I use to get results back in less than thirty minutes.

Unlike this response, which took fifteen months.
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  #33  
Old 06-02-2013, 07:06 AM
JustinC JustinC is offline
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I knew* a guy who was arrested and his cold and flu tablets seized. His actions at the time weren't exactly the most innocent looking (like he was trying to sell drugs, on a Friday night, on a street in the middle of London) and we all (a group of around 8 young guys) were individually questioned (but not searched) by the uniformed and plain clothed police. He was taken away in one of the police vans and released later that night. Obviously the charges were subsequently dropped.

*but not for much longer
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  #34  
Old 07-06-2013, 06:27 AM
grizclaw grizclaw is offline
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Opium, smoked in a pipe, tastes distinctly like a field of very fragrant flowers. Sweet to the point of cloying.
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  #35  
Old 07-06-2013, 07:26 AM
John DiFool John DiFool is offline
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Sometimes
I feel the ocean in my blood
See rain from the sky above
Her salt brined tears
And now
Those tears leave taste on my tongue
Like the warm rush you get from
Black opium
Black opium


Oops-you mean this isn't the song lyrics thread?

Last edited by John DiFool; 07-06-2013 at 07:27 AM.. Reason: I am evil...
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