Cocaine and methamphetamine are addictive stimulants that share several characteristics. They both enhance energy, alertness and happiness, and they can lead to numerous long-term health problems. Both drugs can be snorted, injected or smoked.
However, meth and coke differ from each other in many ways. Methamphetamine is a more addictive drug than cocaine. The drugs also differ in appearance, euphoric effects, long-term health consequences and street price. The body also metabolizes the drugs differently.
Knowing the differences between cocaine and meth can help people better understand the health implications of drug use and the importance of seeking treatment for problems that arise from stimulant abuse or addiction.
Because meth can be produced using a variety of methods, its appearance varies. Meth looks like a crystalline powder, rock-like chunks or small glass-like shards. Methamphetamine can come in shades of white, yellow, orange, gray, brown or other colors.
Cocaine is also sold as a crystalline powder on the streets. When laced with other drugs such as meth, it can appear off-white or pink. Crack cocaine looks like opaque or yellow rocks that vary in shape and size.
The body breaks down cocaine and methamphetamine differently, which means the duration of the effects also differ. Meth stays in the body longer than cocaine does.
The drugs have different half-lives, which is the amount of time it takes for 50 percent of the drug’s concentration to leave the body. Cocaine has a half-life of one hour. Meth’s half-life is 12 hours. But the amount of time a drug remains in your system depends on a variety of factors, including your history and pattern of use.
When people use meth or cocaine, levels of the pleasure neurotransmitter dopamine increases in the brain. Animal studies have indicated that methamphetamine produces higher levels of dopamine. Both drugs block a process that normally removes dopamine from the spaces between brain cells, but meth also increases the release of dopamine.
In fact, methamphetamine usually produces about three times more dopamine than cocaine. Meth releases about a thousand units of dopamine, according to Dr. Kevin Wandler, chief medical officer of Advanced Recovery Systems. This results in a more intense high than that of a cigarette or alcoholic drink, which release about 150 units.
The euphoria that results from the increase in dopamine can last one to two hours after using cocaine and six to 12 hours after using meth.
A study by researchers at UCLA examined differences in the onset and duration of effects that people who used cocaine or methamphetamine experienced. The report evaluated 14 cocaine-dependent and 11 meth-dependent volunteers.
Researchers found that the onset of effects on the heart and blood pressure was similar, but the effects of cocaine declined more rapidly than those of meth. The report also suggested that meth users typically use the substance daily and throughout the day, while cocaine users most often use the drug in the evenings.
Cocaine and meth produce many of the same short-term health consequences, including anxiety, paranoia, restlessness and insomnia. But the long-term health problems associated with the drugs differ.
Long-term effects of cocaine include:
Long-term effects of meth include:
Trademark characteristics of methamphetamine abuse include psychotic behavior, delusions, violence and auditory and visual hallucinations.
Tweaking can occur when someone craves more meth but cannot achieve the desired high. This stage of abuse is associated with irritability and paranoia. It typically happens when meth use prevents a person from sleeping for three to 15 days.
More individuals used cocaine than meth in 2016, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. The 2017 report showed that about 667,000 people aged 12 or older used methamphetamine in the past month, while about 1.9 million used cocaine in the past month.
|12 to 17||9,000||28,000|
|18 to 25||65,000||552,000|
|26 or older||594,000||1.3 million|
The survey found that the average meth user in 2016 was a white male with some college experience who did not hold a full-time job. The average cocaine user was a white male with a college degree and a full-time job.
The average street price for a gram of pure methamphetamine decreased from $98 to $58 from January 2011 to September 2016, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration’s 2017 National Drug Threat Assessment. The price reduced despite an increase in purity that the DEA detected over that time.
The price of a gram of pure cocaine rose from $116 to $202 from 2007 to 2015, according to the DEA report. In 2016, the average retail price of cocaine decreased to $165 per gram, while the average purity of the drug increased from 2015 to 2016.
Cocaine and methamphetamine can lead to addiction, severe withdrawal symptoms and overdose. Once dependence or addiction has been identified, it is important to seek professional treatment.
The longer a person avoids treatment, the more severe the addiction can become. In many instances, substance use disorders can lead to co-occurring mental health disorders such as depression. These brain diseases can linger for a lifetime.
However, cocaine and meth rehab use evidence-based treatment approaches that can help people overcome addiction and substance abuse.
Because both drugs are stimulants, they are treated similarly. No medication for meth or cocaine treatment has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. But several behavioral therapies have shown effectiveness in alleviating cocaine and methamphetamine abuse.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, therapies used to treat meth addiction include cognitive behavioral therapy and contingency management interventions. These approaches are also used to treat cocaine addiction. The Matrix model, a behavioral therapy specifically for people who abuse stimulants, has also helped people commit to treatment and quit using meth and cocaine.
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