Raman spectroscopy is rapidly finding favour for applications in the life science because of the ease with which it can be used to extract significant data from tissue and cells. However, the Raman effect is an inherently weak effect, which hinders the analysis of low concentration analytes. Raman sensitivity can be improved via the surface enhanced Raman scattering (SERS) effect. In SERS, Raman spectra are dramatically amplified when a molecule is adsorbed onto nano-roughened noble metal surfaces such as silver and gold. The degree of enhancement enables single-molecule detection, which offers the potential for the unambiguous identification of analytes at concentrations that are useful in both a forensic and a chemical biology context. Here we discuss some of the practical applications of SERS to both low-level narcotic detection, and how this can be applied to chemical biology.