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What Is The Difference Between Amphetamine And Methamphetamine?

Dr. Ted Bender, Ph.D., LCDC

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Ted Bender, Ph.D., LCDC

January 23, 2019

Amphetamine and methamphetamine are chemically similar stimulant drugs with comparable side effects and health risks. Though each creates euphoric effects when abused, methamphetamine is more potent and lasts longer, giving it a higher potential for abuse and addiction.

What Are Amphetamines?

Amphetamines are a group of drugs which stimulate the central nervous system (CNS) and cause psychoactive, or mind-altering, properties. This group contains the substances amphetamine, dextroamphetamine, and methamphetamine. Amphetamine is made up of two pure chemicals: dextroamphetamine and pure levoamphetamine.

Amphetamine is legally produced and used as a medication for a variety of medical concerns, including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), narcolepsy, obesity, and Parkinson’s disease. When taken for ADHD, amphetamines improve mental function by increasing focus, calm, and concentration. Amphetamine-containing ADHD medications include: Adderall, Adderall XR, Adzenys ER, Adzenys XR, Dyanavel XR, and Mydayis.

When a person without ADHD abuses amphetamine the drug produces euphoria and a highly energized state. On the street, amphetamine may be referred to as “bennies,” “black beauties,” or “speed.”

In the short term, amphetamine abuse may cause:

  • appetite suppression
  • cardiovascular system failure
  • euphoria
  • dilated pupils
  • dry mouth
  • headache
  • high energy
  • hostility
  • nausea
  • paranoia
  • quickened breathing
  • raised blood pressure
  • raised body temperature
  • talkativeness
  • twitching

Long-term use of amphetamine may cause:

  • behavioral disorders
  • dizziness
  • extreme tiredness
  • impaired coordination
  • malnourishment
  • mental illness
  • pounding heartbeat
  • repetitive motor activity
  • skin problems
  • trouble breathing
  • ulcers
  • vitamin deficiency
  • weakness

Chronic use of amphetamine may cause cardiac complications, physical collapse, convulsions, coma, and/or death.

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What Is Methamphetamine?

Though methamphetamine may be used for medical purposes, it’s also illegally produced for the sole purpose of recreational use. In these instances it’s referred to as “meth,” “crystal meth,” “ice,” and “glass. The only prescribed version of methamphetamine is a medication for ADHD called Desoxyn.

In the short term, taking meth may cause:

  • appetite suppression
  • dilated pupils
  • diarrhea
  • euphoria
  • extreme energy
  • fast breathing
  • headache
  • high blood pressure
  • jaw clenching
  • insomnia
  • irritability
  • nausea and vomiting
  • paranoia
  • sweating

Short-term meth abuse can cause seizures or sudden death.

Long-term use of meth may cause:

  • anxiety
  • birth defects
  • brain damage
  • cracked teeth
  • death
  • high blood pressure
  • infection of the heart
  • insomnia
  • organ damage
  • paranoia
  • stoke

Long-term use may lead a person to become violent, homicidal, or suicidal.

The Differences Between Amphetamine And Methamphetamine

Both amphetamine and methamphetamine are psychoactive CNS stimulant drugs. The chemical structure of each drug closely resembles the other, however, methamphetamine is generally considered to be more potent than amphetamine. Because of this, a person may become addicted to meth faster, though both drugs are highly addictive when abused.

When taken in similar doses, greater amounts of methamphetamine make their way into the brain. This is because methamphetamine has an easier time crossing the blood brain barrier. This is the primary reason why methamphetamine is a more potent and addictive drug. Methamphetamine also lasts longer and creates a more pronounced euphoric effect, making it more enticing to recreational drug abusers.

Both amphetamine and methamphetamine alter the production of key neurotransmitters in the brain responsible for mood, energy, and executive function. This includes serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. An excess of dopamine produces the pleasurable, euphoric feelings associated with abuse of these drugs.

While both drugs cause a surge of dopamine, research shows that methamphetamine may produce a greater amount. One study found that methamphetamine released five times more dopamine than did amphetamine. This action is likely another reason why methamphetamine is more addictive.

Methamphetamine activates the CNS more fully than amphetamine. It also places the CNS in greater danger than amphetamine does. However, methamphetamine causes less stimulation within the peripheral nervous and cardiovascular systems.

Due to its potency and greater potential for addiction, methamphetamine is prescribed less frequently for ADHD versus amphetamine-based medications. Because of this, and the fact that meth is produced illegally, many experts believe that methamphetamine is more accessible for abuse than amphetamine. In addition to the pill form, methamphetamine is available as a white, bitter powder, or as a glass-like, bluish rock called crystal methamphetamine.

The Similarities Between Amphetamine And Methamphetamine

Both drugs are abused for their stimulating and euphoric effects. Many individuals misuse the prescription versions as performance-enhancing drugs. For this purpose they may be used to do better within academic, athletic, or professional endeavors.

The pill form of each may be swallowed or altered to be administered a different way. Pills may be crushed and snorted, dissolved for injection, or smoked.

Both drugs may be taken in binges or in a “run.” A run is a pattern of binging where a person refrains from eating or sleeping over the course of several days. During this period the drug is taken every several hours. A person may “tweak” and become very irritable or paranoid during a run. Binging significantly increases the odds of overdose.

After a person binges their body and brain crashes. A person may become extremely anxious, depressed, and fatigued. In order to alleviate these feelings a person may start the binge cycle all over again.

Chronic abuse of either of these drugs may cause psychosis which resembles schizophrenia. When this occurs a person may become paranoid and hallucinate, seeing or hearing things which are not there. They may believe that there are bugs crawling on or beneath their skin (“crank bugs”), leading them to pick at their skin. Some individuals may become violent at this time, jeopardizing their safety or that of those around them.

When a person is physically dependent on either of these drugs they will likely go into withdrawal if they’re not able to use the drug. Signs of withdrawal include:

  • aches and pains
  • agitation
  • anxiety
  • depression
  • hallucinations
  • headaches
  • increased appetite
  • intense cravings
  • mood swings
  • poor concentration
  • sleep disturbances

Individuals experiencing severe withdrawal may require the support of a residential treatment program.

Getting Treatment For Amphetamine Or Methamphetamine Addiction

Amphetamine and methamphetamine addictions can rapidly destroy a person’s life. As abuse accelerates, a person’s mental and physical health will suffer. Without professional help, these adverse effects could continue to the point of overdose.

Treatment gives a person’s body and mind the opportunity to heal. Currently, there are no FDA-approved medications for these types of addictions, but this does not mean that these addictions cannot be treated.

Behavioral therapies have shown the greatest impact on stimulant addictions. Selecting an individualized inpatient drug rehabilitation program will give your loved one the greatest opportunity to benefit from these therapies.

Contact today to learn more about stimulant addiction treatment.

Center for Substance Abuse Research - Amphetamines

Center for Substance Abuse Research - Methamphetamine

MedlinePlus - Amphetamine

MedlinePlus - Methamphetamine

MedlinePlus - Substance Use - Amphetamines

National Institute on Drug Abuse - What Is Methamphetamine?

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