Cocaine vs. Meth: Difference in Potency, Effects, and Addiction

While the United States has been hyper-focused on the opioid crisis, officials misread the severity of stimulants. Although cocaine has been widespread for decades, its use around the country has dropped quite a bit in years past. Methamphetamine became popular in the Midwest, with clandestine labs in RVs and people’s homes producing it.

The operations were never significant, but that all changed with the introduction of Mexican super labs near the country’s borders, creating thousands of kilograms of the drug each month. These have changed the landscape in our country, causing methamphetamine use to spike dramatically. Even worse, with the global pandemic in our rearview mirrors, we’ve always witnessed a spike in cocaine use.

Cocaine and methamphetamine are stimulant drugs that can cause dependence and addiction in their users. Although each drug produces different effects and varies in potency, they’re both capable of catastrophic results. In the past three decades, we’ve witnessed many epidemics. In the late 1980s and 1990s, it was the crack cocaine epidemic that plagued cities across the United States. Over the past few decades, it has been opioids. Now, methamphetamine has become the frontrunner to take the crown. Recent data from the government shows that methamphetamine overdose deaths have surged dramatically over the past eight years.

From 2015 to 2018, around 1.6 million adults age 18 or older reported methamphetamine use, with 52.9 percent of them having a methamphetamine use disorder. What’s more, 22.3 percent of them reported injecting the drug within the past year. The most common link with meth use was mental illness. As a dangerous stimulant, methamphetamine produces more issues than just the addiction someone is dealing with. It can destroy the heart, cause psychosis, and lead to the body breaking down.

Since 2000, 700,000 people have lost their lives to drug overdose deaths. According to the National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics (NCDAS), 53 million people over the age of 12 have used illegal drugs within the last year. Cocaine accounts for 10% of drug users, 2% of them adults. Although cocaine abuse has tapered off in recent years, the pandemic caused overdose deaths to increase. Drug use is highest among those between the ages of 18 and 25 at 39 percent, compared to those aged 26-29, making up 34 percent. Cocaine consists of 874,000 new users each year, compared to methamphetamines 205,000.

In 2018 alone, 2.5 million people used methamphetamine, and an even more staggering 5.5 million people used cocaine. We know they’re dangerous, but when it comes to cocaine vs. meth, you might be wondering: What’s the difference in potency, effects, and addiction?

What Is Cocaine?

Cocaine is an extremely potent stimulant drug that originates from South America. It begins its life as a plant in which its leaves are picked and processed into a paste. The paste is then turned into a powder trafficked from mountainous regions into the United States and abroad. Cocaine is nothing new. It’s been around for hundreds of years. Before caffeine, it was the primary ingredient in Coca-Cola. Before local anesthetic was developed, surgeons used cocaine to block pain.

The U.S. government still classifies cocaine as a Schedule II drug, meaning it has a high potential for abuse but can be used by doctors for legitimate medical use. Once cocaine journeys from South America to its final destination, dealers usually cut the drug to stretch their profits. Typically, they’ll use cornstarch or baking soda and other products that cause less harm, but today many have been using fentanyl, which can lead to immediate overdose and death.

Cocaine comes in both a powder and crack-rock form. Powder cocaine is the most common type of cocaine. Its effects are dependent upon the route of administration, but they typically appear shortly after the first dose, disappearing within 15 minutes to an hour.

Potency, Effects, and Addiction That Cocaine Causes

Common side effects of cocaine include the following:

  • Decreased appetite
  • Anger/irritability
  • Extreme sensitivity to sound, touch, and sight
  • Intense happiness (feeling like you can rule the world)
  • Paranoia
  • Headaches
  • Sexual desire
  • Heart palpitations
  • Overdose

Long-term use of the drug can lead to changes in brain chemistry, making it harder to think, sleep, and recall things from your memory. It can also cause slower reaction times and put you at a higher risk of stomach, heart, and lung problems. Cocaine is extremely addictive, leading to the need for addiction treatment to overcome it due to these changes in your body.

What Is Methamphetamine?

Methamphetamine is among the most potent stimulant drugs in existence today. This addictive stimulant affects your central nervous system (CNS) and has become a significant issue in the U.S. today. The drug was developed early in the 20th century from amphetamine. It was initially used as a nasal decongestant and bronchial inhaler. Methamphetamine significantly differs from both cocaine and amphetamine in that, at comparable doses, higher amounts are able to get into the brain, causing it to be far more potent. In addition to that, it has longer-lasting and more dangerous effects on your central nervous system.

Another similarity shared by cocaine and methamphetamine is they’re both Schedule II stimulants, meaning it’s legal with a prescription from a doctor. Methamphetamine is commonly used to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Less often, it’s used to help individuals lose weight, but this is rare. Prescribed doses of the drug are much lower than when abused.

Potency, Effects, and Addiction That Methamphetamine Causes

Common side effects of methamphetamine include the following:

  • Excessive talking
  • Higher libido and increased interest in sex
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Intense feelings of pleasure
  • Shallow or rapid breathing
  • Extreme paranoia
  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions
  • Stomach pain
  • Agitation
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Overdose
  • Addiction

Addiction is one of the most common side effects of methamphetamine use. The longer you use the drug, the more you’ll depend on it to function, leading to higher doses and the risk of an overdose. Methamphetamine use will also lead to severe heart issues, a higher risk of anxiety, paranoia, and depression, as well as an inability to experience pleasure long after you stop its use.

Cocaine vs. Meth: The Differences

Cocaine and meth are often compared because they are both stimulants. Both are also extremely dangerous, but there are some differences you should know about before experimenting.

Cocaine and methamphetamine block the conventional breakdown of dopamine in the brain, increasing the chemical’s supply. However, unlike cocaine, methamphetamine forces the related cells to produce much more of the chemical. When this happens, it leads to a double threat – methamphetamine raises dopamine significantly more than cocaine. This can have far more long-term damaging effects.

That’s not the only difference – another significant difference is how long each drug lasts. As was mentioned above, cocaine effects appear instantly and last around 15 minutes to an hour, depending on purity. On the other hand, methamphetamine lasts much longer. In some cases, it can last for about 12 hours. Drugs begin to lose their effect as your body breaks down and metabolizes the toxins. Half of the cocaine you consume is broken down in an hour.

Methamphetamine’s half-life is much longer. It takes your body up to 12 hours to metabolize the same amount of meth in most cases. It results in a high that lasts much longer than cocaine, a selling point for many addicts. They’d rather purchase one gram of methamphetamine that lasts for a few days compared to the same amount of cocaine that lasts a few hours.

No matter the drug you choose to abuse, they’re both equally dangerous. When you consume cocaine, you tend to binge the drug and use high doses over the course of several hours, sometimes even days. When it comes to meth, you might be using smaller amounts, but its potency has a similar effect. Whether it’s cocaine or meth, you’re on the fast track toward dependence, addiction, or a potential overdose. With the number of users seemingly on an upward trajectory each year, getting help can be the difference between life and death.

Many people have a hard time dealing with their lives after they quit meth or cocaine. The damage to your dopamine receptors can last long after you stop. By committing yourself to long-term treatment, aftercare, and changing your life, you give yourself a fighting chance.

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