Stimulant drugs are used to treat narcolepsy, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and other ailments, but they are also popular as illicit recreational substances. Cocaine and meth are among the most intense and most popular stimulant drugs today. Before the opioid crisis of the 2000s, cocaine saw its drug epidemic in the 1980s and 1990s. Both meth and cocaine continue to cause addiction and overdoses today, especially as users combine them with opioids and other substances.
Meth and cocaine are similar drugs. Both are in the broad category of substances called central nervous system stimulants, which work by increasing activity in your nervous system. That means they both can have similar exciting effects like alertness, euphoria, and a sense of empowerment. However, meth and cocaine have some important differences. Though they are both stimulants, they are far from the same drug.
Is meth or cocaine more powerful? Which one is more addictive? Learn more about the effects and differences between cocaine and meth.
What Is Cocaine?
Cocaine is a highly addictive stimulant drug derived from coca leaves. Its freebase form is called crack, which consists of small, irregularly-shaped chunks. Cocaine can be ingested in several ways. In its powder form, it can be snorted or dissolved in water and injected. The freebase form, called crack, can be smoked. While on a cocaine binge, people will use it until they exhaust themselves or run out.
Drug dealers often mix coke with other ingredients to increase its addictiveness and keep people coming back for more. Some basic additives may include talcum powder, flour, or cornstarch. Some more dangerous additives may include synthetic opioids, including fentanyl and amphetamine.
What Is Methamphetamine?
Methamphetamine is a powerfully addictive stimulant drug that affects the central nervous system. In its crystal form, it looks like shards of glass. Chemically, it’s similar to amphetamine, which is used to treat narcolepsy and ADHD.
Methamphetamine can be ingested in a few different ways:
- Snorting powder
- Swallowing in pill form
- Injecting the powder after it’s dissolved in water or alcohol
The Differences Between Cocaine and Meth
Cocaine and meth are central nervous system depressants, but several key differences set them apart. Still, both illicit drugs can be powerfully addictive. Misusing or abusing them can lead to substance use disorders and overdose.
Still, there are a few areas of difference worth noting:
A drug’s half-life is the amount of time it takes for your body to reduce it to half of its original concentration in your blood. Half-life is often used to measure the amount of time it takes for your body to process a substance, and it also indicates how long it will take before the drug loses potency.
Cocaine’s half-life is relatively short. It only takes about an hour for it to be reduced to half of its concentration in your blood. Meth has a half-life that is much longer—as much as 10 to 12 hours after your last dose. However, that doesn’t mean the euphoric effects of meth will last very long.
Both math and cocaine cause an initial high that is incredibly powerful, but it only lasts for a few minutes before wearing off. However, the drugs will remain active in your system for their full duration of action. This can mean other effects like sleeplessness, alertness, hypervigilance, and anxiety. As the drugs wear off, you may experience uncomfortable comedown symptoms like insomnia, panic, and paranoia.
Both cocaine and methamphetamine influence dopamine levels in the brain and nervous system. However, there is a slight difference when it comes to how they work in the brain. Cocaine blocks the reuptake of dopamine in the brain. Reuptake is a process by which excessive amounts of a neurotransmitter are removed from your system to avoid a buildup. Cocaine blocks this process so that a buildup occurs, causing stimulating symptoms.
Meth also blocks dopamine reuptake, but it also increases the amount of dopamine that is released, causing an intense feeling of euphoria. However, it can also cause meth to release so much dopamine that subsequent doses are less potent. Your body only produces so much dopamine at once before needing to recharge.
Cocaine and Meth: Which Is More Addictive?
While cocaine and meth have some differences, both are powerfully addictive. Different factors can influence how and why a person becomes dependent on cocaine or meth. It can be equally as difficult to quit either drug.
As mentioned above, cocaine has a short half-life, so it takes effect quickly but doesn’t last long. When smoked, it takes effect almost immediately. When snorted, it takes up to five minutes to get high. The comedown process can take up to three hours, and you’ll start to experience withdrawal symptoms quickly. This is what creates the “binge and crash” cycle, which is what leads to addiction and dependence.
The signs and symptoms of cocaine addiction include:
- White powder around the nostrils
- Frequent sniffling or runny nose
- Dilated pupils
- Mood swings
- Loss of appetite
- Poor performance in school or work
- Legal and financial troubles
Meth is incredibly addictive. Once someone tries it, they may immediately want more due to the euphoric high it creates. When the first high wears off, the second dose will not be as strong because the brain can only release a certain amount of dopamine at once. The more someone does meth, the weaker the potency will seem, indicating that their tolerance is higher. They will start taking larger doses to achieve a stronger high and quickly become addicted. Meth’s effects tend to last longer because of the prolonged dopamine release. It can take up to 12 hours for half of the drug to pass from the body.
Symptoms of meth addiction include:
- Withdrawal from the activities you enjoy
- Lying about your activities or whereabouts
- Unexplained weight loss
- Strange sleep patterns
- Dilated pupils
- Tooth decay or missing teeth
- Skin picking or sores on the skin
- Increased distractibility
- Excessive talking
Is Meth or Cocaine Stronger?
Meth is notorious for its physical effects on the body, which are not frequently associated with cocaine. People who get caught in a cycle of meth abuse often experience tooth decay, skin irritations, and malnutrition. However, many of these are meth’s indirect effects. Meth users may experience stimulant psychosis in the form of seeing or feeling bugs crawling on their skin. This combines with meth’s ability to cause itchy skin to cause users to scratch at their skin compulsively, leading to lesions and scars. Intense stimulants may also cause teeth grinding, which can wear away enamel and lead to tooth decay.
Still, many of these severe side effects are caused by meth’s intensity as a stimulant. Does that mean meth is stronger?
Both meth and cocaine are active with a dose of around 5 mg. Common illicit drug use can involve the use of doses around 30 mg. When it comes to the potency of a single dose, both stimulants are fairly evenly matched. However, meth lasts longer in the body, and it has the additional effect of causing more dopamine to be released. Even though they have similar effective doses, meth may have more intense stimulating effects.
However, that doesn’t mean meth is inherently more pleasant to illicit stimulant users. Meth’s intense effects can also mean more intense side effects like paranoia, sweating, and panic.
Meth and cocaine are dangerous drugs that can lead to substance use disorders and potentially dangerous overdoses. Using high doses of either stimulant can cause you to experience heart palpitations, chest pains, heart attack, and stroke. Long-term meth or cocaine addiction can also lead to problems with your health, social life, and financial stability.
Cocaine and Meth Addiction Treatment
Even though cocaine and meth can cause chronic substance use issues, addiction can be treated effectively. Addiction is a disease that affects the way your brain’s reward system interacts with drugs. Your reward system is designed to work with chemicals like dopamine, and other feel-good chemicals, to encourage you to repeat important tasks like finding food and companionship. Meth and cocaine cause an unnatural increase in dopamine levels in the brain, causing your reward system to mistake one of these stimulant drugs for an important task.
Addiction can cause powerful drug cravings that become out of control quickly. However, addiction can be treated with medications and therapies. Medications may be used to ease your transition from chemical dependence to sobriety. Stimulants don’t usually cause dangerous withdrawal symptoms, but they can cause uncomfortable symptoms like hypersomnia, fatigue, lethargy, depression, and suicidal thoughts. Going through withdrawal with help can make it safer and easier to manage.
Treatment can involve several approaches, including many psychotherapies. Cognitive behavioral therapy, group therapy, one-on-one therapy, and other options may be helpful. Addiction treatment is a personalized process. When you enter an addiction treatment program, you’ll create a personalized treatment plan with the help of your therapist.