Meth And Other Stimulants


Methamphetamine is a synthetic psychostimulant that physicians have legally prescribed as a treatment for attention deficit disorder under the brand name Desoxyn. The drug can be made easily in clandestine labs with over-the-counter ingredients. For addicts, it is relatively inexpensive to purchase and has desired effects that last for hours. The desired effects of meth use can last from six to eight hours, followed by a coming-down period when the user becomes agitated and potentially violent.

Drugs, such as meth, labeled as psychostimulants include a diverse range of CNS (central nervous system) stimulants such as amphetamine, cocaine, methylphenidate (Ritalin), methylene dioxy-methamphetamine (MDMA, or ecstasy), caffeine, and nicotine, to name a few. A number of prescription drugs, in addition to Ritalin, such as Dexedrine (dextroamphetamine), Cylert (pemoline), and Adderall (adderall) are psychostimulants as well. Psychoactive stimulants activate the CNS by increasing pulse rate, alertness, blood pressure, restlessness, euphoria, excitement, increased energy, talkativeness, and other changes. Users of psychostimulants experience euphoria, increased sense of well-being, more energy, more confidence or overconfidence, improved cognitive and psychomotor performance, suppression of appetite, and insomnia.

Users of stimulants experience “highs,” which are a temporary heightened sense of euphoria during a portion of the stimulant’s use. With use, the user runs the risk of not being able to sleep, becoming violent, paranoid, anxious, depressed, and losing interest in food. Major stimulants are amphetamines, cocaine and crack, methylphenidate, and methamphetamine. Other minor stimulants include or are found in caffeine, chocolate, nicotine, and tea. Meth can be compared to other categories of drugs and substances such as alcohol, but most commonly it is compared to the stimulant cocaine.

Methamphetamine is sometimes called the poor man’s cocaine for a reason. In many respects, they are indeed similar powerful psychostimulants (National Drug Intelligence Center 2002). Users who have used both drugs report similar experiences, such as a sense of euphoria and increased alertness. Users of both drugs report experiencing an initial rush and high. If the cocaine is in crack form, the rush and high are much shorter. Users of both drugs can smoke, inject, snort, or swallow either illicit drug. Both drugs may produce anxiety, increased blood pressure, increased temperature, higher pulse rates, and possible death. Short-term effects of both include increased activity, decreased appetite, increased self-confidence, insomnia, increased pulse rate, hallucinations, grandiosity, impulsivity, irritability, confusion, anxiety, agitation, paranoia, increased libido, and increased respiration. Chronic cocaine or meth use disrupts the individual’s ability to feel pleasure he or she would normally experience from positive or rewarding events. Prolonged use of either drug can lead to psychotic behaviors, hallucinations, mood disturbances, and/or violence. When users of either drug withdraw, they report cravings, paranoia, and depression. Meth users were found to have more severe psychiatric consequences than cocaine users.

However, differences between the two drugs exist. Cocaine is derived from the refined leaves of the South American coca plant; consequently, almost all cocaine is imported into the United States. Most of the meth used in the United States is also imported from Mexico, Southeast Asia, and other countries. However, unlike cocaine, meth can be domestically manufactured in large or small operations. Large open spaces, while often desirable, are not required for the production of methamphetamine. Meth can be produced in small rooms or spaces, such as motel rooms, toolsheds, bedrooms, kitchens, or other small areas. The production of meth is relatively easy compared to importing cocaine. All of the necessary chemicals to produce meth are commercially available, thus making law enforcement control difficult.

Cocaine and meth abusers have different use patterns. For example, meth users typically report they use the drug on a more regular basis than that reported by cocaine users. Rawson et al. (2000) also found that many meth users reported daily use. Meth’s effects require less frequent administration than cocaine because meth leaves the system slower and thus has a longer half-life than cocaine. Cocaine users, especially those using crack, need to administer and re-administer the drug more frequently to remain high. They report usage in the evening, and less frequently than meth users, who often use throughout the day and evening. Meth has a half-life often to twelve hours, compared with only about one hour for cocaine. While cocaine is quickly and almost completely metabolized in the body, meth has a longer duration, and a larger percentage of the drug remains unchanged in the body (Center for Substance Abuse Prevention/ National Prevention Network 2006; National Institute on Drug Abuse 2002). Thus, the brain is affected for more prolonged spans of time. Cocaine is not neurotoxic to dopamine and serotonin neurons, but meth is neurotoxic. “Meth has more long-term, serious effects on the brain than cocaine” (National Institute on Drug Abuse 2002). In general, meth users were found to have more serious medical effects than cocaine users.

Another difference is cost. Meth is cheaper on the street than cocaine. Meth has a longer duration for the initial rush and high. Crack cocaine offers a high of about 15-20 minutes and meth 8-24 hours. Cocaine users report spending more money on cocaine than meth users do on buying methamphetamine. The perceived cost-benefit ratio to the user is much greater for the meth addict. Rawson et al. (2007) wrote, “Methamphetamine effects are long lasting and methamphetamine users typically spend about 25 percent as much money for methamphetamine as that spent by cocaine users for cocaine.” In addition, according to NIDA (National Institute on Drug Abuse) Director Nora Volkow (2006), amphetamines such as meth are the most potent of stimulant drugs. The result is more release of dopamine, linked to pleasure, and about three times the dopamine than cocaine.

According to research by Dr. Sara Simon, abuse patterns are different between meth and cocaine abusers. Meth abusers typically take the drug early in the morning, in intervals of two to four hours, similar to being on a medication. In contrast, cocaine abusers typically take the drug in the evening over a period of several hours in a way that resembles a recreational use pattern. They continue using until all of the cocaine is typically gone. Another pattern was that continuous use was more common among meth abusers than those abusing cocaine. According to other NIDA-sponsored research by Dr. Simon, the effects of meth and cocaine abuse resulted in similar cognitive deficits, but meth abusers had more problems than cocaine abusers at tasks requiring attention and the ability to organize information.

In the 1980s, cocaine use became epidemic, but in recent years has declined among the middle class. Crack cocaine remains a serious blight in some inner cities. Cocaine’s use, similar to other drugs, is cyclic with periodic increases and decreases. In contrast, meth has the potential of enduring, similar to marijuana and alcohol. In addition, cocaine users are also more likely to abuse alcohol, while meth users smoke marijuana.

Cocaine addicts typically experience profound life changes in a relatively short time frame because of higher costs of use and use patterns, which involve binging. Cocaine users typically hit bottom sooner than many meth users. Meth addicts experience the same losses and also hit bottom but in many cases do so over a longer period of time. Some meth addicts use at levels that allow them to maintain jobs, homes, some money, or at least maintain the appearance of being in control.