In Pulp Fiction, when Vincent buys heroin from Lance, he informs Vincent that he only has baggies to hold his heroin:

I'm outta balloons. Is a baggie all right?

Later, Mia mistakes the heroin for cocaine and immediately over doses.

We see Mia use cocaine in two separate scenes and it is implied that she is a regular user due to the ease and familiarity that she cuts and snorts it...as if she does it all of the time.

How could a regular cocaine user such as Mia not know that she wasn't snorting cocaine?
I am assuming that heroin is normally stored in balloons due to Lance's earlier dialogue. Mia looked quite excited when she saw the baggie and had no reservations about snorting it.

Did Mia just assume that it was cocaine due to the fact that it was in a baggie rather than a balloon?

  • 8
    This would certainly add yet another way all those stories are intertwined with. But I neither got that she actually snorted heroin, I just thought it was a normal overdose.
    – Napoleon Wilson
    Commented Dec 1, 2016 at 10:22
  • 1
    @Walt I always assumed that a regular user like her would know that you don't snort heroin, but I don't know. Commented Dec 1, 2016 at 10:22
  • 9
    @NapoleonWilson It's definitely heroin. We see Vincent buy it earlier that day and Lance puts it in a baggie. Commented Dec 1, 2016 at 10:24
  • 1
    @steelersquirrel Yeah, IMDb agrees with you there.
    – Walt
    Commented Dec 1, 2016 at 10:26
  • 2
    @steelersquirrel actually, contrary to pop culture, snorting heroin is a fairly common practice. As is smoking it.
    – Jake
    Commented Dec 1, 2016 at 14:28

4 Answers 4


Yes, what Vince buys is absolutely heroin. Yes, Mia absolutely believes what Vince has is cocaine.

But wait. Do they really look the same? I thought heroin was brown (as in, "Mr. Brownstone", the Guns And Roses classic), and coke was white?

Well, low-grade heroin (from the Middle East) is brown. It'as ideal for smoking because it's not very soluble and burns at a lower temperature.

High-grade heroin (from the Far East) is white. Much more pure. Ideal for injecting or snorting. Yes, you can snort heroin. In small amounts.

Vince, if you recall, asked for the high-grade stuff. Unless you have specific tools at your disposal (like a microscope or a burner), it's very difficult to tell high-grade heroin and cocaine apart. So, usually, you put heroin in a balloon and coke in a bag. Most drug users will know the distinction. However, if it's not your stash it's always best to ask or do a small taste test, because they have distinctive tastes. Mia, likely, just saw the bag and assumed it was coke.

  • 5
    So, that's the reason why heroin is in a balloon and cocaine is in a baggie, to tell them apart? That's so interesting. I always wondered why movies use "balloon" to hold heroin in. Great information! Commented Dec 1, 2016 at 17:38
  • 4
    I believe one of the ways to tell is the fingertip test. No, not the "fingertip taste test" that they always do on TV, but simply checking for numbbess. Cocaine works as a topical anesthetic (and a vasoconstrictor as a bonus) while heroin has to be injected. Commented Dec 1, 2016 at 19:39
  • Both drug containers are wrong - cocaine was usually sold in small glass vials or foil for small amounts, and heroin in glassine envelopes - I have never seen or heard of using a balloon or a baggie for either - the fine powders stick to the plastic and rubber and you don't want that.
    – Jeff D.
    Commented May 4, 2017 at 17:13

It seems so.

The script indicates that she thinks it's cocaine...

But wait, her fingers touch something else. Those fingers bring out a plastic bag with white powder inside, the madman that Vincent bought earlier from Lance. Wearing a big smile, Mia brings the bag of heroin up to her face.

MIA: Disco! Vince, you little cola nut, you've been holding out on me.

Mia has the unbeknownst-to-her heroin cut up into big lines on her glass top coffee table. Taking her trusty hundred dollar bill like a human Dust-Buster, she quickly snorts the fat line.


Her head JERKS back. Her hands go to her nose (which feels like it's on fucking fire), something is terribly wrong.

Then... the rush hits...

How could a regular cocaine user such as Mia not know that she wasn't snorting cocaine?

Obviously, this is somewhat opinion based but if you see something that looks like what you're expecting, familiarity/confirmation bias would lead to you ignore any possible misidentification issues.

We tend to see what we want to see!

  • 8
    "How could a regular cocaine user such as Mia not know that she wasn't snorting cocaine?" - she figured that out pretty quickly once she snorted it! @JohnnyBones does a good job too describing why Mia may have thought it was cocaine, despite being a seasoned user.
    – BruceWayne
    Commented Dec 1, 2016 at 17:25
  • 3
    I love these stage directions! I want to read the whole screen play immediately.
    – Brian Risk
    Commented Dec 1, 2016 at 18:47
  • It's at the link I gave.
    – Paulie_D
    Commented Dec 1, 2016 at 19:01
  • @isanae. Yeah...probably. :)
    – Paulie_D
    Commented Dec 1, 2016 at 19:06

I agree that the scene was probably inaccurate.

Good cocaine, usually referred to as 'fishscale', looks like the picture on the left; White colored heroin, often referred to as 'china white' looks like the one on the right. (click to enlarge)

fish scale white powder (good cocaine) white colored heroin

They're both white powders, but they have different textures from different flake/grain sizes, and cocaine is shiny, while heroin is not. Both have clumping properties, and the type of clumps they form are similarly different.

Furthermore, the two have different smells. In my limited experience, and confirmed by poking around google, white colored heroin has no smell or a faint vinegar smell1, whereas cocaine has a chemical-ly smell, sometimes compared to rocks or gasoline2. The format of both will, of course, change depending upon how badly they are cut, and with what.

I would assume, given her status, that Mia had access to excellent cocaine. However, the theory I have come up with that best makes the movie make sense is that she's used to cocaine that is greatly cut. 'Fishscale' cocaine is usually of high purity, and is expected to come in a rocked form. When cut, fishscale cocaine it will be cut just slightly with something numbing like lidocaine, in order to keep it numbing if you test it by skin or gum absorption, and then 're-rocked' to make it back into a solid chunk, instead of powder. This is where all the jibberjabber about cocaine users requiring razor blades comes from - they have to chop their rock into a powder to snort it. However, highly and badly cut cocaine by a dealer that is not concerned with the appearance of good cocaine may be cut to the point where it becomes a straight white powder.

Thus, the situation that makes the scene make most sense to me is that Mia is used to terribly cut cocaine, and thus mistakes the white powdered heroin for the low quality white powder cocaine she is used to.

1, 2: Source links removed as I don't have enough rep to post multiple links. Google "china white smell" and "fishscale cocaine smell".

  • I'm not saying you're wrong but why would we assume Mia is used to "low quality white powder cocaine"? I strongly suspect her husband has access to the good stuf?
    – dtw
    Commented Jan 30 at 11:46

I think the scene was just inaccurate.

From experts on the subject, I have heard that Cocaine usually has a distinct, smoky smell that any regular cocaine user would recognize. Even if they look alike, high grade heroin does not smell right.

If she were desperate or intoxicated, she might not notice, but she would have to be very, very careless.

  • While I wouldn't call myself an expert I've handled the stuff and didn't notice any smoky smell. Maybe in large quantities it's more common, but even then I suspect any such smell is an artifact of production method and therefore not a reliable indicator. Commented Dec 3, 2016 at 16:52

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .