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.
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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.
The Difference Between Meth & 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.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. “How is methamphetamine different from other stimulants, such as cocaine?” October 2019. Accessed November 5, 2019.
- Clark M.; Featherstone R. “Management of Acute Withdrawal and Detoxification for Adults who Misuse Methamphetamine: A Review of the Clinical Evidence and Guidelines.” Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technologies in Health, February 8, 2019. Accessed November 5, 2019.
- Sambo, Danielle O.; Lin, Min; Owens, Anthony; et al. “The sigma-1 receptor modulates methamphetamine dysregulation of dopamine 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 Dopaminergic Alterations in Users of Cocaine, Amphetamine, or Methamphetamine
- “A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis.” JAMA Psychiatry, May 2017. Accessed November 6, 2019.
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