Adderall vs. Meth

Adderall and methamphetamine are stimulant drugs that speed brain activity. They share many side effects and health risks, but there are also key differences. Both can lead to addiction when abused.
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Adderall is the brand name of a prescription medication commonly used to treat attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Methamphetamine can also be prescribed by a doctor, but it is also made in illegal drug labs and sold on the streets. Illicit methamphetamine is known as meth, ice or crystal meth. Methamphetamine and Adderall belong to a class of drugs called amphetamines and have similar chemical structures. As a result, they cause the same general effects on the body. Both drugs increase heart rate and make a person feel more alert. “They’re all cousins,” Dr. Edward Bednarczyk told about the amphetamine class of drugs. “They all do similar things. But I would say methamphetamine has proven itself to be more addictive and more problematic than other amphetamines.” Bednarczyk is the director of the Center for Health Outcomes, Pharmacoinformatics and Epidemiology at the University at Buffalo. He said crystal meth is a particularly potent isomer of meth. That means crystal meth is made of the same chemicals as other forms of meth, but differences in its chemical structure make it more potent. “Overall crystal meth is the most addictive of the amphetamine isomers in the amphetamine family,” Bednarczyk said.
Side-by-Side Comparison of Adderall and Methamphetamine
Adderall Meth
Type of Drug Amphetamine Amphetamine
Legal Status Schedule II Schedule II
Form Pill Pill, Powder, Crystal
Method of Administration Swallowed, Snorted, Injected Swallowed, Snorted, Injected, Smoked
Street Names Addy, Beans, Black Beauties Chalk, Ice, Crystal, Glass
Side Effects Low Appetite, Irregular Heartbeat, High Blood Pressure, Fever, Heart Attack, Stroke Low Appetite, Irregular Heartbeat, High Blood Pressure, Fever, Heart Attack, Stroke
Symptoms of Overdose Agitation, Hallucinations, Convulsions Agitation, Hallucinations, Convulsions
Small differences in the drugs’ chemical structures affect the strength of the effects and how long they last.

Is Adderall Stronger than Meth?

It’s difficult to directly compare the strength of Adderall to the strength of meth. Adderall comes in immediate-release and extended-release pills. The pills range from 5-milligram to 30-milligram doses. The strength of meth that’s bought on the street is difficult to determine. Most people have no idea how strong or pure street meth is. Most of it is mixed with other substances that may affect how strong it feels. “Not everybody is like ‘Breaking Bad’ where they’re going for the most pure stuff they can make,” Bednarczyk said. “A constant unknown is variability in potency. And then you add in the risk of contaminants. That’s not because someone’s doing it intentionally to spike something. It’s just because they’re sloppy in their chemistry.” Different methods of abuse can also affect how strong a drug feels. This makes comparing the strength of the drugs difficult. Crystal meth is usually smoked. The full force of the drug reaches the brain in seconds when it’s smoked. Other methods of abuse, such as shooting meth or snorting Adderall, can affect how strong the drug feels. In real life, it’s nearly impossible for people who misuse drugs to compare the strengths of Adderall and meth. In experiments, researchers can compare the drugs in a controlled setting. Few studies have examined the combined effects of both of Adderall’s ingredients — amphetamine and dextroamphetamine — compared to meth. But the chemicals have been compared individually.

Dextroamphetamine vs. Methamphetamine

Studies have examined how dextroamphetamine and methamphetamine affect the brains of animals. Researchers have also conducted human observations to see which drug people who use drugs prefer. The results of these studies indicate that methamphetamine and dextroamphetamine cause similar effects. A 2012 study published in the journal Addiction found that comparable doses of dextroamphetamine and methamphetamine caused similar effects on heart rate and mood. However, the effects of methamphetamine were stronger in some situations.

Amphetamine vs. Methamphetamine

Research that compared the effects of amphetamine and methamphetamine produced similar results. Studies have found that neither rats nor humans could tell the difference between the drugs when they consumed both. Animal studies have also concluded that the effects of amphetamine are similar to the effects of meth. When people binged on the drugs or used them repeatedly in small doses, meth caused a more sustained high. However, a 2008 study published in the journal Psychopharmacology found that amphetamine and methamphetamine produced similar effects in most situations.

Is Meth More Dangerous than Adderall?

When used therapeutically, Adderall and meth cause similar effects. Methamphetamine is the active ingredient in the prescription drug Desoxyn. It has limited medical use, but like Adderall, it can be prescribed to treat ADHD. In small doses, the drugs tend to improve focus and make people feel more alert. They also cause minor side effects, such as dry mouth, nausea, appetite loss and headache. When people abuse the drugs or buy them on the street, the side effects are more severe.
Both meth and Adderall can cause serious side effects, including:
  • High blood pressure
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Insomnia
  • Agitation
  • Paranoia
  • Hallucination
  • Seizure
  • Trouble breathing
  • Heart attack
  • Psychosis
In general, meth is more dangerous than Adderall because meth is usually purchased on the street. It’s more likely to have toxic impurities or to be mixed with dangerous chemicals. However, illicit Adderall pills that are bought on the street may have the same risks. “There’s a fair amount of variability in potency on the street,” Bednarczyk said. “So in other words, you may tolerate one batch OK, but the next batch may be potent enough to drive your blood pressure through the roof and you stroke out. That’s one of the wild cards with street drugs.” Meth is also more commonly associated with long-term health issues, such as mental health problems and infectious diseases. Many of these health problems are associated with meth abuse. When used as prescribed by a doctor, Adderall is considered safe. When the drug is abused, it can cause several serious health complications that are similar to the long-term effects of meth abuse.

Is Adderall More Addictive than Meth?

Meth addiction is relatively common, but Adderall addiction can also develop if people misuse the drug. Both drugs are Schedule II controlled substances. That means they have a high potential to cause addiction, but they have some medically accepted uses. The Food and Drug Administration warns about the potential for abuse and addiction on the labels of prescription drugs containing amphetamines. Rates of methamphetamine abuse appear to be higher than rates of Adderall abuse. In the National Survey on Drug Use and Health published in 2017, more than 14 million people misused meth in 2016. About 5 million people misused amphetamine-based products, such as Adderall or Vyvanse, that year. In 2016, more than three times as many people sought meth addiction treatment than rehab for all other prescription stimulants combined. That doesn’t mean that meth is more addictive than Adderall, though. Meth is more widely available on the street. It’s also cheaper than Adderall on the street. People who take Adderall are more likely to take it for medical use under a doctor’s supervision than people who use meth. A 2008 study published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry compared the effects of amphetamine to the effects of meth on a cellular level. It found that the effects of meth could make it more addictive than amphetamine. But the results were not conclusive. Meth and Adderall each contain powerful amphetamines that cause strong effects on the body. When used for medical purposes, the drugs are considered safe and effective. However, misusing either drug can lead addiction and other serious health problems. Neither drug is considered safe or less harmful to abuse.

Medical Disclaimer: aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a 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 provider.

Chris Elkins, MA
Senior Content Writer,
Chris Elkins worked as a journalist for three years and was published by multiple newspapers and online publications. Since 2015, he’s written about health-related topics, interviewed addiction experts and authored stories of recovery. Chris has a master’s degree in strategic communication and a graduate certificate in health communication.

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