Methamphetamine, also known as meth, can create many different smells when it is being manufactured or smoked. These odors can help people to recognize meth labs, and in some instances, it can even help them find out if someone else is smoking meth.

Recognizing the Smell of Meth

There is some debate whether meth itself actually has a smell. Some people say that it does have a subtle smell, while others believe it is odorless. However, the chemicals produced when meth is being made do have a strong odor that can indicate that meth is being created.

What Does Cooking Meth Smell Like?

When meth is made, or “cooked,” it produces chemical byproducts that occur as gasses. The smell made by cooking meth depends on the chemicals produced. Cooking meth may create odors that are:

  • Sweet: This smell is produced by chemicals called ethers. This smell is also described as a “hospital smell.”
  • Solvent: This smell comes from different solvents, such as paint thinner and cleaning fluids, that are used while making meth.
  • Sharp and pungent: This smell comes from ammonia. It is similar to the smell of stale urine and glass cleaner.

What Does Meth Smell Like When Smoked?

Meth is not likely to have a noticeable odor, as pure meth has little to no odor. Some people believe that meth may have a slight sweet smell when being smoked, but others do not believe it has a smell. Either way, the odor is not strong or characteristic of meth. However, meth that has impurities may have smells that come from the process of making it.

What Does Crystal Meth Smell Like?

Crystal meth is a solid, and it does not release gas like meth does when it is smoked or manufactured. This means that crystal meth is unlikely to have a smell by itself, and any smell that crystal meth has would likely be due to contaminants.

Why Does Meth Smell?

Meth itself does not really have a significant smell; rather, it is the pungent odor of the chemicals used to create meth that creates a smell. If meth itself seems to have a smell, it is likely because chemicals from the manufacturing process are still in the meth. The stronger the smell of meth, the more likely it is to be contaminated by the byproducts of making it.

What Is Meth Made Out Of?

There are many different chemicals used to make meth. The drug can be made in many different ways by using a variety of different chemical combinations. Chemicals that can be used in the process of making meth include:

  • Acetic acid 
  • Acetic anhydride 
  • Acetone 
  • Aluminum
  • Ammonia 
  • Benzene
  • Benzyl chloride 
  • Chloroform 
  • Ethanol 
  • Ethyl ether 
  • Freon 
  • Hexane
  • Hydroiodic acid 
  • Iodine
  • Isopropanol 
  • Lead acetate 
  • Lithium aluminum hydride 
  • Magnesium 
  • Mercuric chloride
  • Methanol
  • Methylamine 
  • Palladium
  • Perchloric acid 
  • Petroleum ether
  • Phosphine 
  • Potassium metal
  • Pyridine 
  • Red phosphorous 
  • Sodium acetate
  • Sodium metal 
  • Sodium hydroxide
  • Thionyl chloride

Many of these chemicals are health hazards on their own or when combined with other chemicals.

Dangers of Meth Lab Exposure

Meth labs can be very dangerous. The two main dangers of meth labs are both related to the chemicals that occur or are made when meth is created. The first danger is that many of these chemicals, whether gas, liquid or solid, can be very toxic when encountered. Gasses are particularly dangerous, as they fill the room and are impossible to avoid without protective equipment.

The second main danger from meth lab chemicals is that these chemicals can easily combust. Because of this, an accident in a meth lab can easily cause a large explosion. Explosions from meth labs will occasionally be in the news because of the damage and harm they can cause.

Meth and Environmental Contamination

Meth can lead to environmental contamination, both when created and when used. One pound of meth creates six pounds of toxic waste, according to the U.S. Forest Service. This can cause harm to people or animals when not disposed of correctly and can lead to lasting environmental problems. 

While meth labs create contamination, smoking meth also leads to environmental hazards. Research shows that meth can remain on household surfaces for up to four weeks. This can result in inadvertent exposure to meth by others, including children or people with illnesses that compromise their health. The creation and use of meth ultimately has a far-reaching effect that negatively impacts individuals as well as the environment.

If you or someone you love shows signs of meth abuse and addiction, The Recovery Village Columbus can help. Contact us today to learn more about meth addiction treatment programs that can work well for you.

Editor – Jonathan Strum
Jonathan Strum graduated from the University of Nebraska Omaha with a Bachelor's in Communication in 2017 and has been writing professionally ever since. Read more
Medically Reviewed By – Benjamin Caleb Williams, RN
Benjamin Caleb Williams is a board-certified Emergency Nurse with several years of clinical experience, including supervisory roles within the ICU and ER settings. Read more

U.S. National Library of Medicine. “Methamphetamine.” MedlinePlus, May 6, 2016. Accessed June 2, 2022.

Indiana Meth Watch Program. “Employees/Home Visitors Safety Tips.” Accessed June 2, 2022.

Oregon Health Authority. “Chemicals in Meth Manufacture.” Accessed June 2, 2022.

North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation. “Signs of A Meth Lab.” Accessed June 2, 2022.

U.S. Forest Service. “Dangers of Meth Labs.” Accessed June 2, 2022.

Bitter, Julie L. “The persistence of illicit drug smoke re[…]n household surfaces.” Drug Testing and Analysis, April 14, 2016. Accessed June 2, 2022.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.