What is the Difference Between Methamphetamines and Amphetamines

What is the Difference Between Methamphetamines and Amphetamines Featured Image

Methamphetamines and amphetamines, two potent psychostimulants, have significant impacts on the central nervous system. While they share some similarities in their origins and effects, important differences set them apart, including their chemical structures, potency, legal status, and health impacts. This article offers an in-depth look at these two substances, providing a thorough understanding of their medical uses, potential for misuse, and the effects they have on health.

What is Methamphetamine and What is Amphetamine?

Methamphetamine and Amphetamine are both psychostimulant drugs that affect the central nervous system.

Methamphetamine, often referred to as meth, is a potent central nervous system stimulant that is used primarily as a recreational drug. It was initially developed in the early 20th century from its parent drug, amphetamine, and was used in nasal decongestants and bronchial inhalers. Methamphetamine triggers the release of dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin in the brain, leading to effects like increased energy, focus, confidence, and euphoria. However, these effects come with many dangerous side effects such as severe physical and mental health issues, including addiction, heart problems, and cognitive impairment.

Amphetamine refers to a class of drugs that includes prescription medications like Adderall and Dexedrine. These drugs are commonly used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy, a sleep disorder. Like methamphetamine, amphetamine increases the levels of dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin in the brain. The result is heightened concentration, energy, and alertness. While these drugs can be beneficial when used under medical supervision, misuse can lead to serious health risks including addiction, cardiovascular disease, and mental health disorders.

Key Differences Between Methamphetamines and Amphetamines

  1. Chemical Structure: While both methamphetamine and amphetamine have similar structures, there’s a key difference: Methamphetamine has an additional methyl group attached to its nitrogen atom. This structural difference makes methamphetamine more lipid-soluble and allows it to cross the blood-brain barrier more efficiently, resulting in more potent effects.
  2. Potency: Methamphetamine is generally more potent than amphetamine due to its ability to cross the blood-brain barrier more efficiently. This results in a more intense and longer-lasting high, which contributes to the high potential for addiction and abuse.
  3. Medical Use: Amphetamine has more recognized medical uses than methamphetamine. It’s commonly prescribed for ADHD and narcolepsy. Methamphetamine does have one FDA-approved medical use, for treating ADHD and obesity, but it’s rarely prescribed due to its high potential for abuse.
  4. Legal Status: In the United States, most amphetamines are Schedule II drugs under the Controlled Substances Act, meaning they have a high potential for abuse but have accepted medical use. Methamphetamine is also a Schedule II drug, but it’s more heavily regulated due to its greater potential for abuse and addiction.
  5. Effects on Health: Both drugs can have severe health effects, but methamphetamine is generally considered more damaging due to its higher potency. Chronic methamphetamine use can lead to more severe physical and mental health problems, including cognitive impairment, heart disease, and mental health disorders.

Key Similarities Between Methamphetamines and Amphetamines

  1. Class of Drug: Both methamphetamine and amphetamine belong to the same class of drugs – psychostimulants. They stimulate the central nervous system to produce similar effects.
  2. Mechanism of Action: Both drugs increase the levels of certain neurotransmitters in the brain, specifically dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. This results in increased energy, focus, and euphoria.
  3. Potential for Abuse and Addiction: Both methamphetamine and amphetamine have a high potential for abuse and can lead to physical dependence and addiction, especially when used outside of medical supervision.
  4. Physical and Mental Health Effects: Misuse of either drug can lead to a range of severe physical and mental health problems, including cardiovascular disease, neurological damage, mental health disorders, and addiction.
  5. Legal Status: In many countries, including the United States, both methamphetamine and amphetamine are controlled substances due to their potential for abuse and addiction.
  6. Withdrawal Symptoms: Discontinuing use of either drug after prolonged use can lead to similar withdrawal symptoms, including fatigue, depression, and disturbed sleep patterns.


Understanding the nuances between methamphetamines and amphetamines is crucial for both medical professionals and the public. Although they share many similarities due to their shared class of drugs, their differences, particularly in terms of potency and health impacts, are significant. This underscores the importance of cautious use and medical supervision when these substances are involved. By educating ourselves about these substances, we can better understand the risks associated with them and contribute to safer, more informed decisions concerning their use.


What are the short-term and long-term effects of methamphetamines and amphetamines on the body?

Short-term effects of both drugs include increased heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature, and wakefulness, as well as decreased appetite. However, methamphetamines tend to have more potent effects due to their ability to cross the blood-brain barrier more efficiently. Long-term effects can include addiction, mental health disorders like anxiety and depression, heart problems, and severe dental issues (often referred to as “meth mouth” in the case of methamphetamine use).

How are methamphetamines and amphetamines typically administered?

Both methamphetamines and amphetamines can be taken orally, snorted, smoked, or injected. The method of administration can influence the intensity and duration of the drug’s effects. For example, smoking or injecting methamphetamine produces a more intense high than oral ingestion.

What are the signs of methamphetamine and amphetamine addiction?

Signs of addiction can include intense focus on obtaining and using the drugs, inability to carry out daily tasks without the drugs, needing higher doses to achieve the same effects (tolerance), and experiencing withdrawal symptoms when trying to quit. Withdrawal symptoms can include fatigue, depression, and disturbed sleep patterns. It’s important to note that addiction is a serious medical condition that requires professional treatment.

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