Updated on February 6, 2024
6 min read

What Are the Differences Between Crack and Meth?

Key Takeaways

What’s the Difference Between Crack and Meth?

Crack cocaine and methamphetamine (meth) are both stimulants that affect the central nervous system. These drugs increase the brain's neurotransmitters (chemical messengers). 

Despite the similarities, differences exist:

  • The high from smoking crack cocaine does not last long
  • The high from meth can last up to several hours or more
  • Meth is artificial
  • Cocaine is derived from a plant 

Meth is made by mixing various amphetamines with other chemicals to boost potency. On the other hand, crack cocaine comes from the dried leaves of a coca plant mixed with water and another substance like baking soda.

Despite the differences, both result in severe side effects. The risk of overdose or death is also extremely high.

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Is Meth Worse Than Crack?

Meth and crack are equally dangerous and harmful to your health. Both illicit substances can cause serious health issues, overdose, or death.

Meth and crack can have adverse mental and physical effects. A person who struggles with either is at risk for addiction.

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How Addictive is Meth or Crack?

Both meth and crack are highly addictive. There are many cases of first-time users developing an addiction to one of these substances.

Both substances have a high potential for abuse and psychological and physical dependence. Because of this, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has labeled both as Schedule II substances under the controlled substances act.

What is Crack?

Crack is a common term used to describe a specific form of cocaine. It has various street names, including badrock, beat candy, and chemical. Crack typically looks like white or off-white rocks of varying shapes and sizes. 

Smoking crack has immediate effects and produces an intense high that doesn’t last long, so people smoke more of the drug to stay high.

Side Effects and Risks of Crack 

Crack cocaine can quickly develop an addiction in some people because of how fast the drug acts. Frequent use can also lead to overdose and death.

The side effects of cocaine include:

  • 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

Taking cocaine can have a dire impact on persons living with HIV. Various studies have shown the substance can impair immune cell function and facilitate replicating the virus in the body.7

How Long Does A Crack High Last?

People typically feel the effects of crack immediately, and these effects can last a few hours after taking it. If you use crack or cocaine chronically, the drug's half-life may increase.

Peak concentrations of crack cocaine will occur within 5 to 10 minutes of smoking. This differs from snorting cocaine, where peak concentrations arise after 60 minutes.

How is Crack Metabolized?

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

Because of this, cocaine metabolites have longer elimination half-lives than cocaine. The elimination half-life refers to the time it would take the body to eliminate half of any drug dose administered. 

Here is how long crack can stay in your system depending on the type of test:

  • Blood test: up to 12 hours
  • Saliva test: up to 24 hours
  • Urine test: up to 4 days
  • Hair test: up to 3 months

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What is Meth?

Meth or methamphetamine is a stimulant substance that impacts the central nervous system (CNS). Meth has many street names, including blue, ice, and crystal. It also comes in five different forms:

  • Powder
  • Crystal
  • Pill
  • Liquid
  • Base form

Meth is a powerful drug that creates long-lasting euphoric sensations. Meth increases dopamine levels, affecting your brain's reward and motivation systems. It can quickly lead to repeated use and addiction.

Side Effects and Risks of Meth 

Meth has short and long-term side effects. Misusing meth can lead to addiction, overdose, and 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
  • Death

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

Drug Duration and Metabolism

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

Symptoms of Meth Addiction

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

  • A sudden, decreased interest in hobbies, relationships, careers, 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

Symptoms of Crack Addiction

Symptoms of crack addiction include: 

  • Irritability or aggression
  • Restlessness
  • Anxiety
  • Nervousness or paranoia
  • Increased 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 ‘Croak?’

Croak is a term to describe when a person smokes a mix of crack cocaine and meth. Because of a lack of drug oversight, croak batches may also have filler compounds alongside amphetamine, MDMA, and much more. 

Dangers of Mixing Crack and Meth

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 afterward is much more intense. 

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

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:

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.

Summary

Although they are both stimulants, crack and meth have differences. Crack is a short-acting drug. On the other hand, meth is a longer-lasting substance.

Despite their differences, they’re both considered Schedule II substances according to the DEA. Neither substance is worse than the other; both of them are dangerous.

Both substances are highly addictive and cause severe health problems when abused. Both substances can also cause dependence, overdose, and death.

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Updated on February 6, 2024
7 sources cited
Updated on February 6, 2024
  1. Cocaine DrugFacts.” National Institute on Drug Abuse, 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, 2021. 
  5. Substance Use: Withdrawal from Methamphetamines.” MyHealth.Alberta.ca Government of Alberta Personal Health Portal, 2019.
  6. What Treatments Are under Development for Methamphetamine Use and Addiction?” National Institute on Drug Abuse, National Institutes of Health, 2020.
  7. Why Are Cocaine Users at Risk for Contracting HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis?” National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2020.

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