Although meth and coke are both stimulants, they have key differences in how they affect the brain and body. Learn the differences between methamphetamine and other stimulants.

Methamphetamines (meth) and cocaine are both types of stimulants that produce a powerful high and have addictive properties. Both meth and cocaine act on chemicals in the brain, like dopamine, to change perception and behavior. However, there are important differences between cocaine and meth that change how these drugs affect and are processed by the body.

Meth vs Coke: The Differences

A main difference is how they are metabolized by the body. This can contribute to the likelihood of abuse and addiction. There are several other key differences between the two substances that impact how they are used and their effects.

  • Drug type, classification & origination: Both methamphetamine and cocaine are stimulants, but cocaine can also act as a local anesthetic. These drugs also differ in their origins, as cocaine is a plant-derived substance from the coca plant and meth is man-made using various chemicals. The man-made origins of meth make it very hard to know the exact components of each batch, and can increase the risk of overdose.
  • Process of metabolization/half-life: A main difference between meth and coke is how it is metabolized in the body. Cocaine’s half-life is very short, with 50% of the dose taken eliminated from the body in an hour. However, the half-life of meth is significantly longer as it takes approximately 12 hours for meth to be removed from the body. This means that meth stays in the body much longer, and provides a longer-lasting high than most other stimulants.
  • Appearance: Differences in appearance between coke and meth depend on the form of meth. Meth can appear as a glass-like crystal, white powder or oily yellowish-brown substance. Coke comes in a fine, white powder that is sometimes stuck together in larger pieces. Differences in appearance and substance also affect how it is used. While cocaine is often snorted or swallowed, meth is often smoked or injected
  • Effects on the brain & body: Both meth and coke produce a high by blocking the reuptake of dopamine in the brain. This means that more dopamine than usual is bouncing between neurons, and can produce strong positive feelings or euphoria, but can also be toxic to the nerve cells. A key difference is that meth also increases the amount of dopamine that is released in the body and brain, which can make the effect stronger and longer-lasting.

Meth vs Other Stimulants

Methamphetamine and coke also differ from other stimulants in ways that can make using them dangerous. While some stimulants can produce a high for minutes or a couple of hours, meth has a particularly long-lasting effect of up to 12 hours. This can increase its appeal for substance abuse.

Also, meth differs from other stimulants in that it is man-made, rather than derived from a natural substance or plant. This can make it more difficult to know exactly what is in the drug, and can lead to increased risk of contamination, long-term health consequences and overdose.

Meth and other stimulants can cause long-term damage to the dopamine system and there are significant risks of overdose.

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Editor – Rob Alston
Rob Alston has traveled around Australia, Japan, Europe, and America as a writer and editor for industries including personal wellness and recovery. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Dr. Sarah Dash, PHD
Dr. Sarah Dash is a postdoctoral research fellow based in Toronto. Sarah completed her PhD in Nutritional Psychiatry at the Food and Mood Centre at Deakin University in 2017. Read more

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “How is methamphetamine different from ot[…]ts, such as cocaine?” October 2019. Accessed November 5, 2019.

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Sambo, Danielle O.; Lin, Min; Owens, Anthony; et al. “The sigma-1 receptor modulates methamphe[…]e neurotransmission.” Nature Communications, December 20, 2017. Accessed November 5, 2019.

Ashok, Abhishekh H.; Mizuno, Yuya; Volkow, Nora D.; et al. “Association of Stimulant Use With Dopami[…], or Methamphetamine

A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis.” JAMA Psychiatry, May 2017. Accessed November 6, 2019.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with 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 providers.