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 abuse, concerned family members may not even know what to look for, whether it be physically or behaviorally. It can help to recognize the various types of 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.
According to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), drug paraphernalia includes:1
- Rolling papers and cigars.
- Roach clips.
- Bongs and hookahs.
- Tin foil.
- Needles and small spoons.
- Straws or paper tubes, small mirrors, and razorblades or cards.
- Surgical/dust mask.
- Aerosol cans, tubes of glue, balloons, nozzles, or rags.
Knowing what many of these items are and how they are used can help in recognizing a loved one’s struggle with substance abuse. And knowing how everyday objects are used to abuse drugs can help you avoid overlooking a sign that someone you love has a problem.
Common Drug Paraphernalia
The following provides brief descriptions of items, how they’re used, and what drugs they’re associated with. 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 tobacco 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.”2 When a joint is rolled with tobacco, it’s called a “spliff.”3
Another object used to smoke marijuana is a cigar. Marijuana rolled into a cigar is called a “blunt.”2 In many cases, the user will buy cheap cigars/cigarellos to hollow out and fill with marijuana.4
Some people think these small metal clips, sometimes adorned with feathers or other decorations, are simply decorative clips used for such purposes as pinning the hair back. However, while some people may in fact wear them in their hair, they are used for the purpose of holding onto the joint or blunt when it has become so short that holding it could burn the fingers.5
Bongs and Hookahs
Bongs are water pipes used to filter the marijuana smoke through water. Bongs are often believed to filter out some of the harmful tars; however, research shows that water actually filters out more of the THC, the psychoactive component in marijuana that makes the user “high,” than the tars.6
Hookahs are water pipes used for the purpose of smoking flavored tobacco. Hookahs are often smoked by groups of people, with the same mouthpiece being passed from person to person. Hookahs are regarded by many people to be a safer alternative to cigarette smoking; however, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that it carries many of the same risks.7
Nicotine from tobacco is not the only drug that can be smoked in an e-cigarette – marijuana cartridges are also available, so if you’re finding e-cigarettes, it could suggest marijuana use.8
E-cigarettes, or vape pens, are thought to be safer than traditional cigarettes; however, a report released by the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine found that e-cigarettes not only contain but emit toxic substances.9 And according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, some evidence suggests that young people who use e-cigarettes are more likely to some traditional cigarettes in the future.8
Pipes of various kinds can suggest multiple types of drug abuse, including use of:1,10
- Crack cocaine.
- Crystal meth.
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.
Pipes may be:11
When a pipe has a bulb on the end, as shown below, it may be used to smoke methamphetamine or crack cocaine.10
Tin foil is sometimes used to smoke heroin or to inhale methamphetamine fumes.12 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, prescription painkillers, and meth.13 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, such as a belt.1
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.1 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,14 so spoons used for this purpose may have scorch marks on the bottom.
Spoons may also be used for non-injection drug use, for example to bring cocaine up to the nose to snort.14
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.15
Mirrors along with razorblades, playing cards, or other types of cards are used to create a smooth surface and clean, even lines to facilitate snorting.
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.16 Glow sticks are often associated with the use of ecstasy/Molly. 1
According to an article in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, 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 euphoric effects of this the substance.16
Lollipops and Pacifiers
People who use drugs regularly, including ecstasy or meth, may have problems with jaw clenching and teeth grinding while intoxicated. In this case, they may use lollipops or pacifiers to prevent these issues while they’re high. 1
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. 1 Often, substances that are inhaled can lead to severe injury or even sudden death.17
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:1
- 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 indicate someone you love may be using drugs can be disturbing. However, it can also provide an opportunity to help that person sooner rather than later. Early intervention and treatment can provide a great opportunity for long-term recovery.
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- U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. (2017). How to Identify Drug Paraphernalia.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (n.d.). Marijuana (Weed, Pot) Facts.
- Goodman, Jonathon. (2017). What is the difference between a Blunt a Joint and a Spliff? Huffington Post.
- Koopman Gonzalez, S. J., Cofie, L. E., & Trapl, E. S. (2015). “I just use it for weed”: The modification of little cigars and cigarillos by young adult African American male users. Journal of ethnicity in substance abuse, 16(1), 66–79.
- Tobias, J. M. (1989). Kids & drugs: A handbook for parents and professionals. Annandale, VA: Panda Press.
- Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. (n.d.). FAQs: Marijuana and Methods of Use.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2018).
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2019). Quick Facts on the Risks of E-cigarettes for Kids, Teens, and Young Adults.
- American Lung Association. (2019). The Impact of E-Cigarettes on the Lung.
- U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. (2017). Pipe.
- National Drug Intelligence Center. (n.d.). Drug Paraphernalia: Fast Facts.
- U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. (2017). Tin Foil.
- U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. (2017). Drugs of Abuse: A DEA Resource Guide.
- U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. (2017). Small Spoon.
- U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. (2017). Straw or tube.
- Klein, H., Elifson, K. W., & Sterk, C. E. (2009). Young adult Ecstasy users’ enhancement of the effects of their Ecstasy use. Journal of psychoactive drugs, 41(2), 113–120.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2017). Inhalants.