The Difference Between Cocaine and Meth

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Stimulant drugs like methamphetamine (meth) and cocaine are powerfully addictive substances that produce a similar high and pose similar challenges when trying to cease use. Addiction to either meth or cocaine can wreak havoc on every aspect of your life.

In order to overcome an addiction to these drugs, it’s important to understand the key differences between the substances. For although they are similar, they are chemically dissimilar substances that each pose their own unique risks for users.

How Are Meth and Cocaine Similar?

The main similarity between these two substances is that they are both stimulant drugs. While drugs like heroin and other opioids are depressants that serve to slow the natural function of the body’s nervous system, stimulants increase these functions.

Sometimes called “uppers,” stimulant drugs can induce a marked increase in energy, mental alertness, a sense of wellbeing, sexual arousal, disinhibition, confidence, and increased impulsivity. These drugs can be smoked, snorted, injected intravenously, or orally ingested.

Both drugs work to create these effects by inhibiting the body’s ability to break down one of the brain’s feel-good chemicals, dopamine, thereby increasing dopamine levels. It is important to note that with the use of both drugs, this increase is temporary and this short-lived elevation in mood is usually followed by a period of agitated dysphoria.

Rather than returning to their previous level of arousal, the user’s mood plummets in what is commonly referred to as “the crash.” In spite of these similarities though, there are a few key differences between meth and cocaine.

Cocaine vs Meth: The Key Differences

The key differences between the two substances are:

  • Source: One of the most essential differences between cocaine and meth is the source of each drug. Meth is a synthetic substance lab-made using a variety of chemicals. Cocaine, on the other hand, is a naturally derived drug made from the cocoa plant.
  • Drug Classification: While both are psychostimulants, meth is an amphetamine. This class includes a variety of man-made drugs with a similar psychoactive effect. Cocaine, however, is not classified as an amphetamine, and it also can have medical use as a topical anesthetic that can be used to numb accessible mucous membranes.
  • Half-Life: Another noteworthy difference is how long it takes each drug to metabolize in the users’ system. Cocaine is metabolized very rapidly. Within an hour, 50% of the dose has been eliminated from the body. While a dose of meth can take upwards of 10-12 hours to fully work its way out of the system.
  • Physical appearance: An easy way to differentiate between cocaine and meth is their actual appearance. Cocaine is a fine white powder that can sometimes be stuck together in a large ball that needs to be broken up. Meth, however, comes in a number of forms varying from a glassy crystal, white powder, or even a yellow-brown liquid.
  • Mental and physical effects: Though, as discussed, the highs are similar as both are stimulant drugs even the effects each drug has on the body vary greatly. While both drugs can induce paranoia, hallucinations, and psychosis with long-term use, research suggests that violent behavior occurs more commonly in those who abuse meth than cocaine.

Additionally, meth causes damage to the neurotransmitters that create dopamine and serotonin. By inhibiting the natural ability of neurons to perform their regular job, meth qualifies itself as a neurotoxin which distinguishes it from cocaine which has no neurotoxic effect as it only blocks the reuptake of dopamine rather than acting on the transmitters directly to create more.

Cocaine and Meth Pose A Real Threat to The Health of Users

In spite of their differences, both cocaine and meth are addictive substances that pose very real threats to the long-term health of those who abuse either drug. Psychosis, overdose, permanent damage to the brain, and an increased risk of contracting HIV/AIDS because of increased sexual risk-taking are all possible side effects of the abuse of both cocaine and meth.

Whether someone is addicted to cocaine or meth, it’s important to address the issue head-on and get free from the life-ruining disease of addiction as soon as possible. Methamphetamine-related deaths tripled between 2015 and 2019, and overdose rates in the US reached an 11-year high in 2020.

Quitting cocaine or meth can be incredibly challenging, but continued use could cost those who are addicted their friends, families, careers, or even their lives.

Find Treatment for Stimulant Addiction in New Jersey

The safest way to detox is in the care of a reputable, fully staffed rehabilitation center. Each drug poses its own challenges when achieving and maintaining sobriety, but the right rehabilitation center can equip one with the tools for long-term success and a life free from the pain of addiction.

If you or someone you love is seeking treatment for cocaine or meth addiction, New Jersey Interventions can help you find the right rehabilitation program for you. Contact us today for more information on how to get started.

Medically Reviewed: April 26, 2022

Dr Ashley

Medical Reviewer

Chief Editor


All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.

Dr Ashley Murray obtained her MBBCh Cum Laude in 2016. She currently practices in the public domain in South Africa. She has an interest in medical writing and has a keen interest in evidence-based medicine.

All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.

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