A Staff Report from the Straight Dope Science Advisory Board

Why do cops in movies taste cocaine?

May 15, 2003

Dear Straight Dope:

I've seen dozens of police/drug movies and TV shows in my time, but one thing has always bugged me. What exactly are police tasting cocaine for? Does it have some kind of easily identifiable flavor and if so what is it? I would be very grateful of you could solve this for me, even if you have to break the law to do it.

We never break the law at the Straight Dope. Lawbreaking is for amateurs.

Cocaine has no flavor, in and of itself. It's possible to detect the flavors of its cutting agents, such as sugar, flour, cornstarch, or baking soda. But that's not why you would taste cocaine. Tasting is a quick-and-dirty method of cocaine identification.  Like the related drugs novocaine, benzocaine, and lidocaine, cocaine is an anesthetic, so it will numb the tongue.

That said, I've never known anyone to do this, ever, and I've been in the forensic pathology business for a long time.  The reality is that it's dangerous.  The cutting agents are usually harmless, but you don't want to be the one who got the coke that was cut with poison.  Further, such trace amounts could show up in the person's next urine drug screen, and a positive for cocaine metabolites in the urine would warrant disciplinary action.  There'd be no way for anyone to tell an "on-the-spot drug tester" from a recreational user.

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