Close this search box.

What Is Black Tar Heroin?

picture of Joe Gilmore
Medically Reviewed By: Diana Vo, LMFT

October 11, 2023

Table of Contents

Black tar heroin significantly differs in appearance from the typical powdered white or brown form of the drug. However, like its counterparts, it is an extremely dangerous drug and is highly addictive, requiring heroin addiction rehab if dependence forms.

While it is commonly claimed that black tar heroin is weaker and more impure than powdered heroin, the purity of heroin can vary dramatically. Most black tar heroin is around 30% pure due to its crude and accelerated production process.  Although some brown heroin and white heroin are much more potent, the drug is frequently adulterated with other substances, impacting potency. Heroin cut with fentanyl, a deadly synthetic opioid, is a growing concern throughout the United States.

heart icon that is 2 hands holding

Need help getting addiction treatment?

This guide addresses the following issues:

  1. What is black tar heroin?
  2. What does black tar heroin look like?
  3. What are the different types of heroin?
  4. How can you connect with heroin addiction treatment in Southern California?
a man has his hands on his face to represent the question: what is black tar heroin?

Black Tar Heroin

Black tar heroin, sometimes known as black sticky heroin or Mexican black tar, is a relatively unrefined form of heroin, a semi-synthetic opioid and Schedule I controlled substance. This form of heroin can be identified as having a dark, sticky texture. The substance is easily distinguishable from powdered heroin.

All types of heroin are synthesized from morphine – a natural substance found in the seeds pods of certain types of poppies. Some black tar heroin is exported from producers in Asia and South America, but black tar heroin is primarily produced in Mexico. An abundant supply of black tar heroin from Mexico means that the use of this form of heroin is most widespread in western United States – black tar use is especially prevalent in Los Angeles.

Those who use black tar heroin typically inject the drug intravenously. Less commonly, this form of heroin is smoked or snorted. Those who snort heroin tend to use powdered heroin, though – more on this directly below.

Regardless of the route of administration, heroin reaches the brain quickly and induces a powerful euphoric rush. This is the primary reason for the widespread popularity of this drug. Heroin also triggers short-term effects that include:

  • Nausea
  • Dry mouth
  • Heavy limbs
  • Clouded thinking
  • Nodding in and out of consciousness

Black Tar Heroin Vs. Heroin

Black tar heroin and heroin are two different forms of the same drug. Heroin is a white or brown powder derived from opium poppies, while black tar heroin has a dark and sticky appearance that resembles roofing tar. Black tar heroin is mainly made in Mexico, while powdered heroin from South America is more common in the United States.

The process of manufacturing black tar heroin involves less refinement compared to the production of powder heroin, resulting in a more impure and less potent product. This means that black tar heroin is frequently adulterated with other substances like sugar to increase its volume and make it more profitable for dealers.

Black tar heroin is commonly injected into the skin, muscles, or veins, while powdered heroin may be smoked or snorted as well as injected. Studies show that black tar heroin can cause a range of health complications due to its impurities, including collapsed veins, infections, and blood-borne diseases such as HIV or hepatitis C.

Additionally, black tar heroin has been found to contain high levels of contaminants, including acetic acid, which is used in its production and can cause burns and other injuries to the skin and mucous membranes. Because of these risks, the same research shows that black tar heroin use is associated with a higher rate of health complications and overdose deaths than other forms of heroin.

Despite these differences, both black tar heroin and heroin are highly addictive and can cause a range of physical and psychological problems for users. Treatment for heroin addiction typically involves a combination of medications, psychotherapy, and support groups, and requires a long-term commitment to recovery.

a woman sits with her head on her knees to represent different types of heroin use.

Forms of Heroin

Heroin is a potent semi-synthetic opioid drug that is derived from the opium poppy plant and is further synthesized. Heroin can be found in different forms depending on its origin and manufacturing process.

The most common types of heroin are powdered heroin and black tar heroin. Powdered heroin usually comes as a white or light brown powder that can be smoked or snorted. Black tar heroin, by contrast, is sticky and dark brown to black in color. This type of heroin is named for its resemblance to roofing tar.

Heroin from different regions has different characteristics. Most of the heroin in the United States is exported from South America and comes as a white powder. Black tar heroin, which is more prevalent in the western United States, is exported from Mexico and is known for its sticky consistency.

Street heroin is seldom pure and often diluted with other substances to increase potency or cut production costs. These cutting agents can range from harmless fillers like powdered milk or starch to dangerous drugs like fentanyl or cocaine. The purity of street heroin can vary greatly from 3% to 99%, making it difficult to predict the drug’s strength and leading to a higher risk of overdose.

Some countries have identified specific chemicals used for cutting heroin – caffeine and acetaminophen, for instance – that can be used to disguise poor-quality heroin. Fentanyl, a potent narcotic pain medication, is also commonly used as a cutting agent or fraudulently sold as heroin.

Fentanyl found in street drugs like heroin is extremely dangerous and has contributed to a growing number of deaths upon consumption.

It should be noted that all street drugs, especially now that Fentanyl is a common issue, should be avoided. Treatment is available at Renaissance Recovery for heroin addiction if you or a loved one need help to overcome a substance use disorder. 

Heroin Identification

Gunpowder Heroin: Gunpowder heroin is a relatively new form of heroin that comes from Mexico and has been penetrating the streets of the United States for the past decade. Unlike black tar heroin, gunpowder heroin resembles gunpowder or dried coffee grounds. It can be either a sticky powder, a crumbly solid, or a mixture of both. The color of this drug is normally a solid black or dark grey, with some specks of white or black.

Gunpowder heroin is significantly stronger than black tar heroin. It is also more soluble than black tar heroin, which makes it simpler to inject.

Liquid Heroin: Although heroin is most commonly found in powder form, it can also be sold as a liquid. Liquid heroin is black tar heroin suspended in water, and it has become increasingly popular among U.S. drug dealers due to the high potential profit margin. A single gram of heroin yields up to 100 doses of liquid heroin, generating up to $10,000 for the heroin dealer.

The crude methods used to process black tar heroin result in impurities that give the drug a dark color and sticky consistency. To create liquid heroin, black tar heroin is heated and mixed with warm water. The resulting solution is then packaged in small vials, making it difficult for law enforcement to detect.

Cheese Heroin: Cheese is essentially a homemade heroin pill. To make this drug, tablets containing acetaminophen are mixed with black tar heroin and snorted. Although cheese may contain relatively low levels of heroin, the high doses of acetaminophen make it potentially life-threatening to use this concoction.

a woman looking out a car window to represent heroin identification for a loved one.

Black Tar Heroin FAQs

What is Mexican black tar heroin?

Mexican black tar heroin is a form of the drug that is primarily produced in Mexico and is known for its dark, sticky, and tar-like consistency. It is a highly semi-synthetic opioid that can lead to physical and psychological dependence, along with a host of health problems.

What does black tar heroin look like?

Black tar heroin is a dark, sticky, and tar-like substance that is typically black or dark brown in color, meaning it is sometimes called brown tar heroin. It is different from other forms of heroin, which are usually white or brown in color. Black tar heroin may be less pure than other forms of heroin and can contain impurities and dangerous contaminants due to the crude production process.

Renaissance Recovery rehab in California logo.

Get Treatment for Heroin Addiction at Renaissance Recovery

If you or a loved one is struggling with the side effects of heroin use, Renaissance Recovery Center near Huntington Beach, Southern California can provide the support and specialized treatment you need.

Our outpatient programs offer a range of evidence-based interventions, including MAT (medication-assisted treatment), group and individual counseling, psychotherapy, family therapy, and holistic therapies. With our integrated dual diagnosis treatment, we can also address co-occurring mental health disorders that may be contributing to heroin addiction.

Our goal is to help you achieve lasting recovery and a healthy, fulfilling life. After completing our heroin addiction treatment program near Huntington Beach, we can help you transition into sober living or a less intensive form of care. We also provide aftercare planning to help you maintain your sobriety and prevent relapse.

Don’t wait any longer to get the help you need. Contact our admissions team at 866.330.9449 and take the first step towards a brighter future free from heroin addiction.



At Renaissance Recovery our goal is to provide evidence-based treatment to as many individuals as possible. Give us a call today to verify your insurance coverage or to learn more about paying for addiction treatment.

Close this search box.

Joseph Gilmore has been in the addiction industry for three years with experience working for facilities all across the country. Connect with Joe on LinkedIn.

Text a Recovery Expert

Text our team to get the help you need ASAP.

Close this search box.

Use Our 24 Hour text line. You can ask questions about our program, the admissions process, and more.