Meth and cocaine have a similar appearance, effect and set of consequences; however, their duration of high and half-life can differ significantly.
Meth and cocaine are commonly used stimulant drugs. Though they are distinct chemicals from vastly different sources, their effects and appearances are remarkably similar, and the two drugs are often combined or misidentified. Understanding the differences and similarities between meth vs. coke can be first step in getting help for yourself or a loved one.
Is Meth Cocaine?
The first critical point is that meth is not cocaine. Meth, short for methamphetamine, is a synthetic compound made in either pharmaceutical laboratories or illicit drug labs. It is available as a prescription medication sold under the brand name Desoxyn and is typically used to treat attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder or obesity. It is a close chemical relative to the medicines Adderall and Ritalin. In fact, the only difference in meth’s chemical structure from these medicines is an additional methyl group.
Cocaine, however, is derived from the coca plant. That doesn’t mean cocaine is a natural drug or that its plant origins make it somehow safer for consumption. Powdered cocaine is heavily processed and mixed with several toxic chemicals before being sold on the streets. Just a few of the chemicals used in making cocaine or coca paste include cement, sulfuric acid, gasoline and ammonia.
Meth is produced illicitly far more commonly than cocaine. Meth labs and houses make crystal methamphetamine, a powerful recreational drug that contains several contaminants and chemicals. But what is meth made of, exactly? Rather than the chemical purity found in pharmaceutical labs, these meth labs manufacture the drug using chemicals such as:
Several of these chemicals remain as contaminants in meth sold on the street.
Is Cocaine Cut With Meth?
Since cocaine must be grown and cultivated before being processed into a recreational drug, it can be more expensive to manufacture than meth. Many drug dealers and cartels will cut their cocaine with meth to make a cheaper and more potent product to reduce overall costs.
Since meth and cocaine are so similar in appearance and effects, many people who use cocaine won’t even know they have received drugs contaminated with meth. Without specifically testing a street drug to see what it contains, the only indications that cocaine is cut with meth are a greater burn when the drug is snorted or an extended duration of the drug’s effects.
Meth vs. Cocaine
Meth and cocaine, in their pure or uncut forms, are relatively easy to distinguish from each other. The difficulty comes when they are cut together, of exceptionally low quality or disguised as other drugs.
Both meth and cocaine fall into the category of stimulants. Stimulant drugs excite the body’s central nervous system, which controls automatic and life-preserving functions such as breathing, heart rate and blood pressure. Stimulants can make people feel more awake, energized and focused.
How They Work
Cocaine’s primary mechanism of action is blocking the dopamine transporter. In a healthy brain, dopamine moves between neurons via a space between them — the synaptic cleft. Excess dopamine is then recycled via the dopamine transporter on the first neuron. When a person uses cocaine, that recycling transporter is blocked, flooding the synaptic cleft with dopamine. Cocaine and meth affect dopamine, norepinephrine, epinephrine and serotonin transporters similarly, resulting in an overwhelming sense of pleasure and reward.
A drug’s half-life, or the time it takes to eliminate roughly half of the substance from the body, differs significantly between cocaine and meth. Cocaine’s half-life is just one hour, whereas meth’s half-life is 11 hours.
Meth and cocaine can look very similar when in powdered form. Powdered cocaine is white and flakey, similar to baking soda or flour. Powdered meth is also white, though it can have a more crystalline appearance. Meth can also come in the form of shards that are often clear, cloudy white or even pinkish. This form of meth most closely resembles glass or crystals and is why meth is frequently referred to as crystal, ice or glass.
Both cocaine and meth highs are similar, though they have very different durations. People may experience euphoria, high body temperatures and paranoia when using either of these drugs. While the effects are similar, cocaine wears off relatively quickly. In contrast, people who use meth may experience restlessness, anxiety, suppressed appetite and other effects for a day or even longer.
Effects on the Brain & Body
People who use coke or meth regularly experience significant brain changes in the reward network that make it harder for them to stop using. People who use either drug may also experience significant weight loss, lung or nose damage and skin problems. Using these drugs may also result in substance use disorders, which can wreak havoc on a person’s physical, social and mental health.
Signs of Meth and Cocaine Addiction
Meth and cocaine addiction have similar behavior patterns. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) has 11 key criteria for substance use disorders:
- Taking drugs in larger amounts or for longer than intended
- Repeated and unsuccessful attempts to stop on your own
- Spending a lot of time using, seeking or recovering from drugs
- Feeling drug cravings
- Drug use interferes with work or social responsibilities
- Continuing drug use even though it is harming personal relationships
- Giving up on favored hobbies or activities due to drug use
- Using drugs when it is hazardous to do so, such as while driving
- Continued drug use even though it is causing a worsening in mental or physical health symptoms
- Tolerance, where they need more to feel the same effects
- Withdrawal symptoms if you suddenly stop
Meeting just two of these criteria can result in a mild substance use disorder diagnosis. Four to five symptoms are considered moderate, and six or more is severe.
Treatment for Meth and Cocaine Addiction in South Jersey
Several evidence-based options can help people recover from meth and cocaine addictions. Targeted medical detox and rehab treatment can alleviate withdrawal symptoms and reduce cravings. With compassionate counseling support, you can empower yourself and learn the skills you need to lead a healthy life.
When you’re ready to start on the path to wellness, contact the team at The Recovery Village Cherry Hill at Cooper. Our treatment team is here to help you achieve your goals.
The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.