For family or friends trying to determine whether or not a loved one is abusing drugs, there are many challenges. One of these is recognizing the elements of drug use that might point to a problem. When it comes to drug use, concerned family may not even know what to look for, either physically or behaviorally.

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According to the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), the many elements of drug paraphernalia include:

  • Rolling papers and cigars
  • Roach clips
  • Bongs and hookahs
  • E-cigarettes
  • Pipes
  • Tin foil
  • Needles and small spoons
  • Straws or paper tubes, small mirrors, and razorblades or cards
  • Glow sticks
  • Surgical/dust mask
  • Lollipops and pacifiers
  • Aerosol cans, tubes of glue, balloons, nozzles, or rags

One thing that might help is recognizing the use of various drug paraphernalia – items and objects that are used to support or enable drug use – that can make a loved one’s drug use more apparent. Knowing what many of these items are and how they are used can help in recognizing them in a loved one’s possessions. In addition, knowing how everyday objects are applied for substance abuse can help loved ones recognize whether an item is being used inappropriately, rather than for normal daily use.

The following provides brief descriptions of associated drugs and uses of each of these items. It is important to note that, while the presence of only one of the more common items may not indicate drug use, several of them together may be stronger signs of use.

Rolling Papers and Cigars

Rolling papers are usually used with marijuana. These days, cigarettes are typically already rolled, so there’s little need for most people who smoke to use rolling papers. However, marijuana often comes loose, requiring it to be packed into something for smoking. Marijuana smoked in rolling paper is called a “joint.” When a joint is rolled with tobacco, it’s called a “spliff.”

Other objects used to contain marijuana for smoking are cigars. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, cigars are often hollowed out to make a smoking object called a “blunt.” Some marijuana shops and drug paraphernalia supply stores sell empty cigar casings. Other times, the person using the marijuana may have bought cheap cigars to hollow out.

Roach Clips

Some people think these small metal clips, sometimes adorned with feathers or other decorations, are simply used as hair clips and, in the past, that has sometimes been the case. However, they are regularly used by people who are smoking marijuana to hold onto the joint or blunt when it’s too short and could otherwise burn the fingers.

Bongs and Hookahs

Bongs and hookahs are special smoking devices used to smoke marijuana, tobacco, or other drugs in a different way: by filtering the smoke through water. It is believed that this helps remove some of the toxins from the smoke.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control, while many people believe smoking through a water pipe is safer, research shows that it carries many of the same risks as cigarette smoking. In fact, it is untrue that filtering the smoke through water removes the tobacco or marijuana toxins, and the damage done to the body and brain by the main addictive substance, whether nicotine, THC, or other chemicals, is still the same.

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E-cigarettes

Nicotine from tobacco is not the only drug that can be smoked in an e-cigarette – marijuana cartridges are also available. In other words, e-cigarettes could potentially suggest that marijuana is being used instead of tobacco.

E-cigarettes are thought to be safer for smoking too. However, research, as described by the American Lung Association and performed through the Federal Drug Administration, indicates that not only are there still risks, but there may be added unknown risks from the other chemicals that are added to the cartridges, including one that is similar to antifreeze.

Pipes

Pipes of various kinds can suggest multiple types of drug abuse. While most people know them as vessels for smoking tobacco, or even marijuana, pipes can be used to smoke all kinds of drugs, including:

  • Crack or cocaine
  • Heroin
  • Crystal meth
  • Some psychedelics

The appearance of pipes can vary in many ways. According to the DEA, crystal meth and crack cocaine are often smoked through a simple glass tube, often with steel wool to separate the burning drug from the mouth while letting the smoke get through.

Tin Foil

Tin foil is sometimes used to hold drugs that are being heated to release fumes, making it possible to inhale these drugs without any kind of pipe or other smoking implement. The tin foil may be found in small squares, often with burn marks on one side.

Needles and Small Spoons

Needles or syringes are a more obvious indication that an individual is injecting drugs. Many drugs can be dissolved in liquid and injected, including forms of cocaine, heroin, opiates, and meth. If the syringes themselves are not present, injection of drugs may be indicated by needle marks or “track marks” in the arm. Needles may be found with some type of object to constrict the upper arm in order to make veins more prominent before injecting.

For people who inject drugs like heroin, crack, or meth, small spoons are often used to help in liquefying or dissolving the crystalized form of the drug. The spoon has a dual function, as it conveniently holds the drug so a needle tip can be placed in the liquid. A lighter is used to heat the spoon, so spoons used for this purpose have scorch marks on the bottom.

Straws or Paper Tubes, Small Mirrors, and Razorblades or Cards

Short straws or small, rolled paper tubes, including rolled-up dollar bills, are some of the tools used by those who snort drugs like cocaine or heroin through their nose, as explained by the DEA.

The mirrors and razorblades, playing cards, or other types of cards are used to create a smooth surface and clean, even lines to make snorting large amounts of drugs easier.

Glow Sticks

As has been reported through a number of news outlets, including this story from CBS New York, glow sticks are often used at parties where hallucinogenic drugs or club drugs are used. Glow sticks are said to enhance the experience of a high or a trip.

Glow parties are often publicly promoted parties said to be substance-free. However, drug use is often carried on under the radar at these parties.

Surgical/Dust Masks

According to information from the Denver District Attorney’s Office, masks that cover the mouth and nose are sometimes used by people who abuse MDMA, or ecstasy. The inside of the mask is smeared with vapor rub, which is said to enhance the effects of this hallucinogenic drug.

Surgical masks also make it easy for people who inhale substances to keep the substance directly over the mouth and nose, maintaining the inhalation for longer.

Lollipops and Pacifiers

People who use drugs regularly, including hallucinogens or meth, may have problems with clenching teeth during their trips. In this case, they may use lollipops or pacifiers to help prevent tooth damage or to keep them from biting their tongues while high.

Aerosol Cans, Tubes of Glue, Balloons, Nozzles, or Rags

For people who experiment with inhalants, this list of items indicates the many ways that various substances can be inhaled. Some people have been known to inhale a frightening array of substances, including various aerosols, glues, gases that are used to fill balloons, and liquid-soaked rags. Nozzles may be used to inhale fumes from dangerous liquids as well.

These substances are inhaled to see if they provide a high or to create a hallucinogenic effect. Often, substances that are inhaled can lead to severe injury or even death.

Other Objects that Might Indicate Drug Abuse

Some common objects – while not used directly to smoke, inject, or snort drugs – may also be found among the belongings of those who are using drugs. These may include:

  • Breath fresheners: These are often used to cover up the odor of smoke. These may include mouthwash, oral sprays, or lozenges.
  • Eye drops and sunglasses: These are used to hide bloodshot eyes and dilated pupils that may be signs of drug use.
  • Empty lipstick or felt-tip marker casings, glass vials, candy wrappers or bags of candy, makeup bags, and plastic baggies: All these items are sometimes used to contain, carry, or hide drugs.


Finding items that are suspected to be drug paraphernalia can be disturbing. However, it can also provide an opportunity to help a loved one who is struggling with substance abuse or addiction. If these items are found, a reputable substance abuse treatment program can help with the next steps on the path to recovery from drug abuse.