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Amphetamines vs. Methamphetamine

Amphetamine and methamphetamine are structurally similar. Both substances trigger significant symptoms within the brain, including euphoria.  Understanding these symptoms can help you stay safe. And if you’re abusing either amphetamine or methamphetamine, know you can quit with help.

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What is the difference between meth and amphetamines?

Quick Answer

Amphetamines are typically prescribed to treat ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) or narcolepsy, while methamphetamine is most often found as an illegal street drug made in an illicit laboratory.

Amphetamines vs. Methamphetamine 

Amphetamine and methamphetamine are stimulant drugs. Stimulants work by increasing central nervous system activity.[1] Using them can mean experiencing a burst of energy, accompanied by feelings of euphoria and productivity. 

Amphetamines are prescription stimulants. They’re used to treat conditions like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). When used per a doctor’s instructions, these medications don’t make patients high. Instead, people with ADHD often get symptom relief due to their prescriptions.[2]

Methamphetamine is closely related to amphetamine. However, chemical alterations mean more of the drug gets into the brain, and it lasts longer. Those changes make meth much more potent.[3] 

Most methamphetamine is produced illegally in clandestine labs, but some prescription forms are used as ADHD therapies and weight loss treatments. Prescription meth is rare and is often delivered in tiny doses.[3]

Here’s a breakdown of how amphetamine and methamphetamine compare:[1-3]

AmphetamineMethamphetamine 
Brand names Adderall, Dexedrine, Vyvanse, Ritalin, ConcertaDesoxyn
Street names Bennies, amps, black mollies, speed, dexies, footballs Speed, crank, ice, chalk, trash, gak, no doze, white cross, cotton candy, Scooby Snax
Drug classStimulantStimulant 
Legal status Schedule II, legal with prescriptionSchedule II; Desoxyn is legal with prescription; illicit forms are never legal
Addiction potential HighVery high 
Overdose potential HighHigh 
Method of abuseOral, crushed/snorted, crushed/injectedOral, smoked, crushed/snorted, crushed/injected

Method of Use 

Prescription amphetamines and methamphetamines are typically sold as oral capsules. Patients are instructed to swallow them whole. People who abuse these drugs can take larger oral doses, crush their pills and snort them, or crush their pills and inject the solution. 

Illicit methamphetamine is typically sold as a clear, glass-like substance that can be smoked. Some meth can be injected or snorted if it’s sold as a powder. 

Addiction Potential 

Both amphetamine and methamphetamine can spark addiction. At comparable doses, more meth gets into the brain than amphetamine. Meth is stronger, and it lasts longer.[3] These alterations can make meth more addictive than amphetamines. 

Common Brand & Street Names 

Commonly prescribed amphetamine brand names include Adderall, Dexedrine, Ritalin, Concerta, and Vyvanse. Street names for these drugs are typically wordplays on how the substance looks or is named. People call them bennies, amps, black mollies, speed, dexies, and footballs.

One prescribed methamphetamine medication exists: Desoxyn. Street names for meth are plentiful and include the following:

  • Speed
  • Crank
  • Ice
  • Chalk
  • Wash
  • Trash
  • Dunk
  • Gak
  • Pookie
  • Cookies
  • Christina
  • No doze
  • White cross
  • Cotton candy
  • Rocket fuel
  • Scooby Snax

How Do These Drugs Work?

Stimulants work by increasing the amount of dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain. Researchers say dopamine is directly responsible for the addictiveness of substances in the stimulant class. Dopamine makes drugs seem more “rewarding,” so they’re harder to quit once you’ve used them.[4]

Amphetamines 

Amphetamines are central nervous system stimulant medications that increase the amount of serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine that are present in the brain. This can serve to increase energy, wakefulness, focus, alertness, and concentration while depressing appetite.[4]

Researchers say people with ADHD have a lower quality of life, along with cognitive and emotional problems.[5] Medications in the amphetamine class can help. Dosage is highly individualized. Some people need more than others to keep symptoms under control.[2]

Common benefits associated with amphetamines include the following:[4,6]

  • Reduced fidgeting 
  • Increased focus
  • Improved wakefulness
  • Better concentration 
  • Appetite suppression 

Methamphetamine 

Methamphetamine is a dangerous drug that quickly crosses the blood-brain barrier and causes an intense rush of euphoria. Methamphetamine, or meth, is chemically similar to amphetamine. 

In rare cases, meth is prescribed to treat ADHD as the brand name Desoxyn.[6] However, most meth is mostly made in illegal laboratories and used as a street drug. Meth is available in pill, powder, and rock (crystal meth) form. It is typically smoked, injected, or snorted.[7]

Meth is extremely addictive and increases the amount of dopamine in the brain while acting as a central nervous system stimulant.[7] Long-term effects can include anxiety, itchy skin, extreme weight loss, and rotting teeth.[7]

Is One Drug More Addictive Than Another?

Meth is stronger than amphetamines.[3] Since it causes bigger dopamine surges, and each dose lasts longer than amphetamines, it’s typically considered more dangerous and more addictive. 

Routes of administration can make meth more addictive too. Researchers say people who inject drugs tend to have a higher rate of dependence than those who use substances via other routes.[8] Injecting drugs puts more of the power in contact with your brain cells, leading to very high addiction rates. 

Overdose Potential 

All stimulants, including amphetamine and methamphetamine, can lead to an overdose. Without proper treatment, these episodes can be life-threatening.[1]

Methamphetamine Overdose 

Large amounts of meth can lead to an overdose. Common side effects include the following:[9]

  • Agitation 
  • Chest pain 
  • Coma
  • Heart attack
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Difficulty breathing 
  • High body temperature, leading to kidney damage
  • Paranoia 
  • Seizures
  • Stomach pain
  • Stroke

Amphetamine Overdose 

Prescription medications containing amphetamine can lead to an overdose. Symptoms can vary by the drug used and the dose taken. 

Common signs of amphetamine overdose include the following:[10]

  • Tremor
  • Agitation 
  • Combativeness 
  • Confusion
  • Hallucinations
  • Anxiety 
  • Paranoia
  • Seizures 

Key Differences Between Amphetamine & Methamphetamine 

While methamphetamine and amphetamine are structurally similar, important differences separate them. These are some of the most crucial points that differentiate these two drugs:[11-13]

  • Manufacturing: Most amphetamine drugs are made in tightly controlled laboratories for the pharmaceutical market. Most meth is made in clandestine laboratories. 
  • Legal status: Amphetamine and methamphetamine prescription drugs are legal with a prescription. Illicit meth is never legal. 
  • Safety: Prescription amphetamines and methamphetamine are safe when taken as directed. Illicit meth always comes with significant risks and no doctor oversight. 
  • Abuse potential: Both drugs are addictive, but meth is more powerful and typically causes an addiction faster than amphetamines do. Crystal meth brings a potent rush that users repeatedly seek, often taking increasingly higher doses despite the damage the drug causes.

Side Effects

Methamphetamine and amphetamine cause similar side effects. 

Common short-term side effects associated with both drugs include the following:[6]

  • Increased alertness
  • Elevated breathing rate
  • Rapid heart rate 
  • Decreased appetite 
  • High blood pressure
  • High body temperature
  • Higher energy level 
  • Increased wakefulness

Long-term side effects of both amphetamines and methamphetamine include the following:[6]

  • Weight loss
  • Meth mouth
  • Sores from scratching and lesions
  • Memory loss
  • Confusion
  • Anxiety
  • Violent behavior 
  • Paranoia 
  • Trouble sleeping
Updated February 7, 2024
Resources
  1. Stimulants. Farzam K, Faizy R, Saadabadi A. StatPearls. Published July 2, 2023. Accessed November 23, 2023.
  2. Common ADHD medications and treatments for children. American Academy of Pediatrics. Published October 20, 2023. Accessed November 23, 2023.
  3. What is methamphetamine? National Institute on Drug Abuse. Published October 2019. Accessed November 23, 2023.
  4. Prescription stimulants drug facts. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Published June 2018. Accessed November 23, 2023.
  5. The quality of life (QoL) in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Uneri O, Senses-Dinc G, Goker Z. ADHD. Published September 24, 2015. Accessed November 23, 2023.
  6. Drugs of abuse. U.S. Department of Justice, Drug Enforcement Administration. Published 2017. Accessed November 23, 2023.
  7. Mind matters: The body’s response to methamphetamine. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Published 2019. Accessed November 23, 2023.
  8. Comparing injection and non-injection routes of administration for heroin, methamphetamine, and cocaine users in the United States. Novak SP, Kral AH. Journal of Addictive Diseases. 2011;30(3):248-257.
  9. Methamphetamine overdose. Mount Sinai. Accessed November 23, 2023.
  10. Overdose of drugs for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder: clinical presentation, mechanisms of toxicity, and management. Spiller HA, Hays HL, Aleguas A Jr. CNS Drugs. 2013;27(7):531-543.
  11. The Methamphetamine Problem in the United States. Gonzales R, Mooney L, Rawson RA. Annual Review of Public Health. 2010;31(1):385-398.
  12. Recommended methods for the identification and analysis of amphetamine, methamphetamine and their ring-substituted analogues in seized materials. United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Published 2006. Accessed November 23, 2023.
  13. The effects of amphetamine and methamphetamine on the release of norepinephrine, dopamine and acetylcholine from the brainstem reticular formation. Ferrucci M, Limanaqi F, Ryskalin L, Biagioni F, Busceti CL, Fornai F. Frontiers in Neuroanatomy. 2019;13.
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