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Meth vs. Crack: What’s The Difference?

John Schaffer, LPCC

Medically reviewed by

John Schaffer, LPCC

March 29, 2019

Methamphetamine (meth) and cocaine (crack) are both powerful and addictive stimulants, but there are some important ways in which they differ. The consequences of meth and cocaine abuse can be severe and may be most effectively treated within an inpatient rehab program.

Methamphetamine, or meth for short, and crack cocaine are potent substances that stimulate the central nervous system (CNS). This produces the well-known effects of increased energy, alertness, and talkativeness. They are also some of the most commonly abused illicit drugs.

These two stimulants drugs are sometimes mistaken for one each other due to some similar drug effects and similar appearance in their powdered forms. When taken, both meth and coke are known to produce an intense rush, and may quickly become addictive.

However, there are some significant differences between the two substances, including how long their effects last and how long they stay in the body following use.

A comparison of meth vs crack is provided below to highlight the main differences between the two substances, and the importance of seeking treatment for drug abuse.

What Is Meth?

Methamphetamine is an addictive stimulant that can be smoked, snorted, injected, or swallowed in its pill form. Meth used for recreational purposes is illegal. Medical use of methamphetamine is highly restricted, limited to rare cases in which it may be used to treat ADHD and narcolepsy.

When used, meth causes a rapid and intense rush of euphoria and energy. This pleasurable effect can be addictive and may lead to a pattern of bingeing to avoid a crash. This may result in a person going days on end without food or sleep while taking the drug every few hours. This is a dangerous phase of meth use sometimes referred to as ‘tweaking’, and may cause extreme paranoia and agitation.

The short-term effects of meth include:

  • euphoria
  • increased energy
  • talkativeness
  • faster breathing
  • reduced appetite
  • a sense of confidence and wellbeing
  • fast or irregular heartbeat
  • increased blood pressure
  • high body temperature

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What Is Crack?

Cocaine, also known as ‘crack’ in its rock crystal form, is a stimulant that comes from the leaves of the coca plant. It is illegal when abused for recreational purposes, with limited medical use as a local anesthetic. Cocaine is highly addictive and is commonly abused for its ability to produce a rapid and intense high.

Similar to meth, there are several ways cocaine may be used: it may be smoked, snorted, injected, or rubbed into the gums. The rock crystal form of cocaine, or crack, is produced through a process that involves mixing powdered cocaine with baking soda or ammonia. The resulting rock crystal can then be heated, producing vapors that may be inhaled or smoked.

The short-term effects of cocaine include:

  • euphoria
  • increased energy
  • mental alertness
  • extreme sensitivity to light, sound, and touch
  • paranoia
  • dilated pupils
  • fast or irregular heartbeat

What Are The Differences Between Meth And Coke?

Meth and cocaine are both commonly abused for their ability to produce a rapid and intense high. Despite some similarities, there are also important differences between the two drugs.

The most important differences between meth and coke include:

  • how long their effects last
  • their appearance in their rock/crystal form
  • how long they remain in the body
  • some long-term effects

Duration of Effects

One of the main differences between meth and cocaine is how long their effects last. Cocaine has rapid but short-lived effects, lasting a few minutes to up to an hour. The exact duration can vary depending on the amount, method of use, and other personal factors.

Meth produces effects that can last for up to 24 hours. Meth remains in the brain longer, which can cause longer-lasting effects. Even when the initial rush wears off, other symptoms such as paranoia may continue. Meth also causes a greater concentration of dopamine in the brain than cocaine. Over time, this can be toxic and have long-lasting effects on emotion and memory.

Origins And Appearance

Cocaine is originally derived from the leaves of the coca plant, which is native to South America. Crack cocaine, or the crystallized rock form of coke, is produced by processing the powdered form of cocaine with baking soda or ammonia. This creates a mineral-like substance with an off-white tint that can be heated and smoked.

Meth, on the other hand, is entirely man-made. It has a similar chemical makeup to amphetamines, which are sometimes used to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy. Unlike crack, the crystallized form of meth is clear and may resemble a shard of glass.

Drug Metabolism

Meth not only has longer-lasting effects than cocaine; it also remains in the body longer. Cocaine and meth are broken down by the body in different, resulting in different half-lives. A drug’s half-life refers to 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 has a half-life of 12 hours.

Long-Term Effects

Both methamphetamine and cocaine are dangerous for short and long-term use. While they have some similar effects in the short-term, chronic abuse can lead to serious and distinct long-term effects. One example is its effects on behavior. In large doses, cocaine is known to cause violent or erratic behavior. Long-term meth use, however, is more closely linked to aggression and violence.

Chronic meth use can also cause brain damage, including problems with memory and other cognitive functions. In some cases this damage may be irreversible. Additional effects specific to long-term meth use include ‘meth mouth’ (deterioration of the teeth and gums) and sores on the body, face, and mouth.

Long-term use of cocaine is also dangerous.

The most common symptoms and consequences tied to chronic abuse include:

  • extreme irritability
  • heart attack
  • movement disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease (after years of abuse)
  • infertility or reproductive damage
  • stroke

Both drugs can also lead to symptoms of psychosis, causing a person to lose touch with reality. The most common symptoms include auditory or visual hallucinations, delusions, and severe paranoia.

Addiction to these substances is a serious concern and can lead to frightening consequences. Treatment for meth and cocaine addiction may be able to help a person overcome their problem and continue on a path of recovery.

Treatment For Meth And Cocaine Addiction

Treating cocaine and meth addiction can be a difficult process, but recovery is possible.

The first step for those addicted to meth or cocaine is to undergo detox, the process of removing a drug from your system. Cocaine and meth can each cause distressing symptoms during this time, known as withdrawal symptoms.

The safest and most effective method to withdraw from a drug is to enter a medical detox program. Medical detox programs offer 24/7 supervision under the care of medical specialists who are trained to monitor and help ease symptoms of substance withdrawal.

Treatment within a residential rehabilitation program is also commonly recommended following detox to help patients overcome their addiction. Rehab programs provide a safe and structured environment for people in the early stages of recovery to continue healing and learn how to manage their drug cravings. These programs often offer treatments such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and group therapy, which can be effective in treating meth and cocaine abuse.

For more information about meth and cocaine treatment options, contact one of our treatment specialists today.

National Institute on Drug Abuse - DrugFacts: Methamphetamine, DrugFacts: Cocaine, How is methamphetamine different from other stimulants, such as cocaine?

NCBI Bookshelf: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration - Treatment for Improvement Protocol (Chp. 2)

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