Emojis Are the New Language of Drug Deals—Especially for Teens

A digital illustration of yellow smiley emojis with different expressions, green and yellow circles, and green dollar signs.


Key Takeaways

  • Drug dealers, drug traffickers, and teenagers have been using emojis to buy and sell counterfeit pills and other illegal drugs on social media and e-commerce platforms.
  • The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has created an online guide called the “Emoji Drug Code” to raise awareness and educate people about the new language of drug deals.
  • While there are many common emojis used to represent drugs, emojis on their own are not necessarily an indication of illegal activity or substance abuse.

According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), criminal organizations and drug traffickers are using emojis to buy and sell counterfeit pills and other illegal drugs on social media and e-commerce platforms like Snapchat and Facebook.

Emojis are also used by teenagers to communicate drug names and other details when they’re buying and selling illegal drugs on social media apps. For example:

  • A maple leaf (🍁) is a universal code for all drugs
  • A crystal ball emoji (🔮) can be used to buy meth
  • A blowfish (🐡) or a diamond (💎) can be used to buy cocaine

In an effort to raise awareness and educate the public about the new language of drug dealing, the DEA created an online guide called the “Emoji Drug Code” as part of its #OnePillCanKill initiative.

Here are some of the emojis to be on the lookout for and what you should do if you’re concerned a loved one is using the emoji code to buy or sell illegal drugs.

Which Emojis Should You Look For? 

Specific emojis can be used as a code to represent drug names as well as the quality and quantity of drugs being sold, including illegal drugs and fake prescription drugs.

The DEA notes that this list does not include all emojis that could be associated with drug names or deals.

Illegal Drugs

Many illegal drugs have code names or “street names” that have been linked to emojis. For example, cocaine is nicknamed “snow,” so people use a snowflake, snowman, or diamond emoji for the drug. Likewise, methamphetamine is called “crystal,” so a crystal ball emoji is used to represent it.

The most common emojis for illegal drugs include: 

  • Methamphetamine: 🔮, 💙,💎,🧪 (crystal ball, blue heart, diamond, test tube)
  • Heroin: 🤎, 🐉 (brown heart, dragon)
  • Cocaine: ❄️,🌨️, ⛄, 💎,🎱,🔑, 😛, 🐡 (snowflake, cloud with snow, snowman, diamond, eight ball, key, face with tongue out, blowfish)
  • Methylenedioxy-methamphetamine (MDMA) and Molly: ❤️, ⚡, ❌, 💊, 🍬 (red heart, lightning bolt, cross mark, pill, candy)
  • Magic mushrooms: 🍄 (mushroom)

Fake Prescription Drugs

Fake prescription drugs are counterfeit pills that are made to look like popular prescription medications such as oxycodone and Xanax.

Some emojis used for fake prescription drugs include:

  • Adderall: 💊, 🚆 (pill, A-Train)
  • Oxycodone or Percocet: 💊 , 🅿️, 🔵 , 🍌 (pill, P button, blue circle, banana) 
  • Xanax: 💊, 🍫, 🚌 (pill, chocolate bar, bus)

These drugs are especially dangerous because they’re often laced with stronger medications like fentanyl (an artificial opioid that’s up to 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine).

Dealer Signals

Many drug traffickers and dealers use emojis to communicate when drugs are for sale, as well as the quality and quantity of drugs. Emojis are also used to discuss delivery or shipping.

For example, a shipping box or parachute emoji can be used to discuss shipping while a cellphone or gas pump may be used to communicate if sellers are willing to deliver.

Other emoji codes drug dealers may use include:

  • Universal symbol for drugs: 🍁 (maple leaf)
  • Dealer advertising: 🤑, 👑, 💰 ,💵 , 🔌 (money-mouth face, crown, money bag, dollar bill, plug)
  • High potency: 🚀, 💣, 💥 (rocket ship, bomb, collision)
  • Large batch: 🍪 (cookie) 

How To Use the Emoji Drug Code

You can use the Emoji Drug Code to start a conversation with loved ones about the dangers of drug use.

Davis Sugar, MD, doctor of medicine and medical reviewer for the addiction treatment provider Ark Behavioral Health, told Verywell that these conversations are especially important now when many young people are dying from using a drug just once.

“Many young people believe prescription drugs are safer to use and obtain than illicit drugs,” Sugar said. “[Illicit] drugs are often disguised to look like prescription pills, such as Xanax and Adderall, or opioids like Vicodin and Oxycontin.”

According to Sugar, the DEA’s tool can also help families become more aware of the risk factors that make someone more susceptible to drug use disorders, including a family history of substance misuse and co-occurring mental health conditions. 

“This is the latest effort by the DEA to curb the growing number of deaths from drug overdoses in the U.S. caused mostly by the powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl,” Sugar said. “A tool like this can help to keep parents and loved ones informed and equip them to more easily recognize the signs of prescription or illicit substance abuse.”

What Should You Do If a Loved One Is Using These Emojis?

Seeing certain emojis on their own without any context is not necessarily an indication of illegal activity. However, the DEA said that when the emojis come along with changes in behavior or appearance, or a major loss or increase in income, that “should be a reason to start an important conversation” with a loved one.

If you’re worried that a loved one is using drugs, watch for these warning signs:

  • Mood swings
  • Irritability
  • Aggression
  • Anxiety
  • Paranoia
  • Defensiveness
  • Loss of interest in activities they used to enjoy
  • Avoiding friends and family
  • Change in friends
  • Stealing or frequently borrowing money 

“Emojis are a very popular form of communication, with billions sent every day,” Sugar said. “Education plays a key role in preventing drug abuse in young people, and having open conversations can help establish and build trust between parents and children.”

What This Means For You

Using the emojis in the DEA’s Emoji Drug Code does not necessarily mean someone is buying or selling illegal drugs. However, if you see the emojis on a loved one’s device and have also noticed warning signs for drug misuse or addiction, start a conversation with them about getting help.

3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency. Emoji drug code decoded.

  2. Ark Behavioral Health. Emoji Drug Code. How teens use social media for illicit drug deals.

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Fentanyl facts.

By Alyssa Hui
Alyssa Hui is a St. Louis-based health and science news writer. She was the 2020 recipient of the Midwest Broadcast Journalists Association Jack Shelley Award.