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This is a ridiculously common trope in cop shows and movies. I've seen movies where either a cop or a druglord was able to rattle off purity statistics after just a taste. The good guys bust into a room and find a bunch of drug bricks. They stab a hole in one and then dab a bit of the white substance on their tongue declaring, "Oh, this is the good stuff! X% pure!"

Is this possible? Can any of the following attributes be discovered purely through taste?

  • Type of drug
  • Quality of drug (presumably this is a mixed bag of potency and mixture?)
  • Place of origin
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I can recall TV shows where they taste the drug to establish if it is likely cocaine, but I don't recall any where they have made a purity claim. Do you have any you can reference? (Another question: If it was highly pure cocaine, and they weren't regular users, would a pinch not get them more than a little bit high?) –  Oddthinking Aug 25 '14 at 16:07
Another valid question: Do cops actually do this? straightdope.com/columns/read/2089/… –  Oddthinking Aug 25 '14 at 16:10
@Oddthinking: If I rephrase the question to ask, "type or quality of drugs" would that work better? (But yes, I have seen examples of people tasting for quality. I don't have the references handy but I'll try to look up specifics examples later.) –  MrHen Aug 25 '14 at 16:17
I can't recall any instance of "X% pure!" however I do have a notion of characters making more subjective claims on the substance's quality after a taste. –  Brian S Aug 25 '14 at 18:15
@ChrisW: I think it's a good and notable claim, as are many others here from fictional stories. See the relevant discussion on meta, and I know we have other questions asked about fictional-devices-posing-as-reality. The only other example I remember at the moment is the one I asked here. –  Flimzy Aug 26 '14 at 8:35

1 Answer 1

It is possible to taste the difference between one drug and another. But that implies they have tasted these different drugs in the past. So the cops in the movies would have to be drug users. When it comes to quality, you can also rougly estimate how strong/weak the drug is (just like with alcohol), but again you 'd have to have a bit of experience. The only way to definitely identify and assess quality is to do an analytical experiment. For purity and id of drugs methods based on mass spectrometry (and/or chromatography) are most commonly used.

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Some of the information contained in this post requires additional references. Please edit to add citations to reliable sources that support the assertions made here. Unsourced material may be disputed or deleted.

Welcome to Skeptics! Please provide some references to support your claims. –  Oddthinking Aug 27 '14 at 0:22
This seems to be simply repeating the claim, what am I missing? –  Sklivvz Aug 27 '14 at 6:53
What if the source is "I'm a former user and can vouch that it's true" ??? Because I seriously doubt there's any research on the tasting of drugs. –  Jasmine Jan 7 at 19:03

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