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Updated on December 9, 2022

Crack vs Meth

What is the Difference Between Crack and Meth?

Crack cocaine and methamphetamine (meth) are both stimulants that affect the central nervous system. These drugs work by increasing the number of neurotransmitters (chemical messengers) in the brain. 

However, while both illicit (illegal) substances share similarities, differences do exist. 

For example, the high produced by smoking crack cocaine does not last long. Therefore, if you smoke crack, you may have a desire to smoke it more frequently to maintain the drug’s effects. Meth, on the other hand, can last up to several hours or more. 

Despite these differences, meth and crack are dangerous to your health. Side effects can be severe, and the risk of overdose or death is extremely high. 


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What is Crack?

Crack is a common term used to describe a specific form of cocaine. Crack is often available as white or off-white rocks. It also has the same pharmacological characteristics as powder cocaine. However, because you must smoke crack, the drug can produce a high more quickly. 

For this reason, crack cocaine is labeled as a Schedule II substance under the Controlled Substances Act. The potential for abuse is high, and severe psychological or physical dependence can occur. 

The following list details street names used for crack:

  • 24-7 
  • Badrock
  • Beat Candy 
  • Chemical 
  • Cloud 
  • Cookies
  • Crumbs 
  • Electric kool-aid
  • Fat bags
  • French fries 
  • Glo 
  • Gravel 
  • Grit Hail 

What Does Crack Look Like?

Crack is different from powder cocaine. It will take on the shape of rocks, varying in size and shape. Also, crack will have a white or off-white color. 

To produce the stimulant, you have to dissolve powder cocaine in a mixture of water and either ammonia or baking soda (sodium bicarbonate). You then boil the mix until a solid substance comes together. Afterward, you remove and dry off the solid before breaking it down into the rocks or “crack.” 

Crack High

Smoking crack has immediate effects. It can produce a high because large quantities of the substance reach the lungs. However, these effects are not long-lasting. In other words, you would need to smoke the drug frequently to stay high.  

Constant use of the drug can increase the risk of addiction or overdose. 

Taking cocaine can have a dire impact on persons living with HIV. Various studies have shown that the substance can impair immune cell function and facilitate replicating the HIV virus in the body. 

Side Effects and Risks of Crack 

Crack cocaine or cocaine in any form is dangerous. The side effects can be severe, and the risk of addiction, overdose, or death is extremely high. 

Crack cocaine may lead some individuals to develop an addiction more quickly because the drug acts faster than other forms of cocaine. 

Cocaine can cause:

  • Constricted blood vessels
  • Hyperthermia (increased temperature)
  • Tachycardia (increased heart rate)
  • Hypertension (increased blood pressure)
  • Cardiac arrest 
  • Seizure 
  • Coughing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Lung trauma and bleeding
  • Mental issues, including aggressive and paranoid behavior

Drug Duration and Metabolism

Peak concentrations of crack cocaine will take place within 5-10 minutes of smoking the substance. This observation is different from intranasal cocaine use, i.e., snorting, where peak concentrations don’t occur until 60 minutes have passed. 

Crack cocaine, although a stimulant, is short-acting. Therefore, it is not like amphetamines or meth, which can produce long-lasting effects in the body. 

Regarding drug metabolism, some cocaine is excreted unchanged in the urine. However, most of the substance will metabolize to different cocaine metabolites (end products of metabolism). 

This fact is important because cocaine metabolites have longer elimination half-lives than cocaine. The elimination half-life refers to the amount of time it would take the body to eliminate half of any drug dose administered. 

Additionally, if you use crack or cocaine chronically, the half-life of the drug may increase. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, overdose deaths from cocaine use are increasing. In 2019, more than 16,000 people died of a cocaine overdose.4 

What is Meth?

Meth or methamphetamine is similar to cocaine. It is a stimulant substance that impacts the central nervous system (CNS). While amphetamine is the parent drug, some characteristics distinguish meth from the former. 

For instance, methamphetamine is longer-lasting. It is also more powerful. In addition, Meth can more easily reach the brain than amphetamine. 

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) labels meth as a Schedule II substance due to its high potential for abuse and severe psychological and physical dependence. 

However, amphetamine and methamphetamine have similarities. Both substances can result in the following:

  • Increased activity and talkativeness 
  • Less appetite
  • Euphoria (a vivid sensation of pleasure and happiness)

Also, both drugs are available as prescriptions. As a result, clinicians may use a weaker form of methamphetamine to help manage conditions like narcolepsy (a brain condition that leads a person to fall asleep at inopportune moments) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).  

Some forms of meth (e.g., crystal meth) are so addictive that those who try the drug for the first time may get hooked to the substance immediately after that. 

What Does Meth Look Like?

You can get meth in one of the five following forms:

  • Powder —  the power form will come in different colors, ranging from white and brown to orange and pink. It dissolves in a mixture of water and alcohol.
  • Crystal — this form is the strongest and purest of them all. It will take on the shape of chunks of glass or bluish-white rocks. Street names used to describe crystal meth include “glass”, “Ice”, and “rock”. 
  • Pill — as mentioned earlier, methamphetamine is available in weaker prescription tablets. 
  • Liquid — this form will take on a dark yellow. People may have meth as a liquid to avoid detection at airports or other locations and transport the substance more easily. 
  • Base — this form is not common. It is oily, waxy, or gooey and can be difficult to dissolve. It could also be brown, white, or yellow. 

Meth High

When a person gets high off of meth, the euphoric sensation lasts for an extended period. However, a high produced by meth is not like that caused by crack cocaine. In the latter example, the experience will last 10 to 15 minutes, and the person taking the drug will need to do so again to maintain its effects. 

When a person takes meth, the substance increases dopamine, a neurotransmitter in the brain. This chemical plays a vital role in motivation and rewarding behaviors. For this reason, meth is a dangerous substance that can lead a person to repeat and eventually develop an addiction. 

Side Effects and Risks of Meth 

If you misuse or use methamphetamine, you face an increased risk of addiction, overdose, or death. 

The following side effects can take place shortly after you use meth:

  • More alertness and physical activity 
  • Decreased appetite 
  • More rapid breathing 
  • Hypertension (increased blood pressure)
  • Cardiac arrhythmias (irregular heartbeat) or tachycardia (increased heart rate)
  • Hyperthermia (increased body temperature)

The following side effects can take place after you use methamphetamine on a chronic basis:

  • Extreme weight loss
  • Addiction
  • Severe tooth decay and gum disease (“meth mouth”)
  • Excess itching and skin sores due to scratching
  • Anxiety
  • Neurological changes 
  • Disorientation or confusion
  • Memory loss
  • Violent behavior
  • Paranoia
  • Hallucinations

Meth, blue, ice, crystal, bikers coffee, tweak, yaba, shabu, and chalk are just some of the many street names used to describe methamphetamine. 

Drug Duration and Metabolism

The elimination half-life of methamphetamine is 12 hours. In other words, your body would require at least this amount of time to get rid of 50% of the drug. 

How Addictive is Meth?

Meth is highly addictive. 

There have been many cases of first-time users of meth developing an addiction. For this reason, the U.S. DEA has classified the substance as Schedule II. Meth has a high potential for abuse and physical and psychological dependence. 

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Is Meth Worse Than Crack?

Both meth and crack are illicit (illegal) substances. Also, both can cause serious health problems and result in overdose or death. 

That said, neither one is worse than the other. However, both can lead to addictions, and both require care and treatment from well-trained healthcare professionals. 

What is ‘Croak?’

Croak is a term to describe when a person smokes a mix of crack cocaine and methamphetamine. 

Because of a lack of drug oversight, though, croak batches may also have filler compounds alongside amphetamine, MDMA, and much more. 

Dangers of Mixing Crack and Meth

Crack and meth are both stimulants. 

However, when you smoke these illicit drugs together, the combination of substances can cause a severe reaction. While you can feel the euphoric and long-lasting high (longer than a cocaine high), the crash that occurs afterward is much more intense. 

Additionally, the combined substance use can increase the risk of overdose and death. Polysubstance use has been associated with more dangerous health effects. 

Symptoms of Meth Addiction

Meth addiction may cause the following symptoms and signs (although not limited to):

  • A sudden, decreased interest in hobbies, relationships, career, and other activities
  • Participation in violent crimes to get money for drugs
  • Risky behaviors like unprotected sex
  • Tweaking (does not eat or sleep for various days and experiences anxiety)
  • Crash phase (extreme exhaustion, depression, and intense cravings)
  • Paranoia and irritability
  • Skin sores
  • Severe tooth decay and gum disease
  • Extreme weight loss
  • Memory loss and poor motor skills and reaction time

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Symptoms of Crack Addiction

Symptoms of crack addiction include: 

  • Irritability
  • Aggression
  • Restlessness
  • Anxiety
  • Nervousness or paranoia
  • More alertness
  • Tachycardia 
  • Hypertension
  • Seizures
  • Pressured speech
  • Dilated eyes
  • Hallucinations
  • Decreased appetite
  • Disturbed sleep patterns
  • Contracted blood vessels
  • Hyperthermia
  • Hyperexcitability
  • Extreme euphoria
  • “Coke bugs,” or the hallucination that bugs are burrowing under the user’s skin

What is Treatment Like for Meth and Crack Addiction?

If you or a loved one have issues with stimulant use or addiction, you can get help. There are different substance use treatment programs, including:

  • The Matrix Model this 16-week, comprehensive program offers behavioral therapy, family education, personal counseling, 12-step support, drug testing, and encouragement for varying non-drug-related activities. 
  • Inpatient addiction treatment centers detox and withdrawal from stimulants like cocaine or meth can be complex without proper medical care. These centers have the staff and resources to provide you with the medical and psychological support needed for this particular stage.
  • Contingency management interventions these programs give incentives to people who can stick to treatment and abstain from methamphetamine or cocaine use.

Unfortunately, no drugs are available for effects caused by stimulant withdrawal or long-term abstinence. 
There is, however, an encouraging method from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) called MIEDAR (Motivation Incentives for Enhancing Drug Abuse Recovery). It has been used to promote cocaine and methamphetamine abstinence.

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  1. Cocaine DrugFacts.National Institute on Drug Abuse, 28 June 2021.
  2. Crack Cocaine Crack Cocaine Fast Facts: Questions and Answers.US Department of Justice, National Drug Intelligence Center - Department of Justice.
  3. Pharmacology of Cocaine.Department of Health | Pharmacology of Cocaine.
  4. Products - Vital Statistics Rapid Release - Provisional Drug Overdose Data.Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 16 June 2021. 
  5. Substance Use: Withdrawal from Government of Alberta Personal Health Portal, 29 Aug. 2019.
  6. What Treatments Are under Development for Methamphetamine Use and Addiction?National Institute on Drug Abuse, National Institutes of Health, 9 Apr. 2020.
  7. Why Are Cocaine Users at Risk for Contracting HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis?National Institute on Drug Abuse, 11 June 2020. 

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