Is Cocaine an Amphetamine?

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As cocaine and amphetamines remain at the forefront of the discussion for commonly misused drugs, the question is often raised, “Is cocaine an amphetamine?” Though they have many similarities, throughout this article you will learn how cocaine does not qualify as an amphetamine, why this is true, and some properties that make amphetamines a very distinct group of substances on their own.

One of the similarities they both share are their highly addictive qualities. Many use these substances and realize that they have become addicted long after there is a need for outside intervention. Guardian Recovery understands this need extremely well and is available to meet the specific treatment needs of those using cocaine and amphetamines. Reach out today for a free no obligation insurance check or to speak with an admissions coordinator.

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What Are Amphetamines?

Amphetamines are a specific type (1) of stimulant. Stimulants react with the body’s central nervous system causing an increase in brain and nerve activity. This mixed with the release of high concentrations of dopamine causes an intense euphoric high. Amphetamines are typically synthetic, or “man made”, and can serve as both medical and recreational in their use. It is for this reason that they are often classified as a Schedule II drug (2).

Commonly Used Amphetamines

Amphetamines vary in their legal status anywhere between over the counter purchase to illegal in all forms. Below are some of the most commonly used and abused amphetamines.

Methamphetamine

This highly addictive and fully synthetic substance is a commonly abused form of amphetamines. With its high potency and ability to be manufactured using household items, methamphetamine (3) has continued to remain at the forefront of addictive substances. Originally designed for nasal decongestion, it is commonly manufactured into a clear or white crystal that easily dissolves in water.

Adderall

Adderall is a commonly prescribed amphetamine used in the treatment of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). In a recent study (4) of college students, 13.3% of freshmen, 17.9% of sophomores, 20.1% of juniors and 16.1% of seniors reported using Adderall that they were not prescribed or improperly using their prescription.

Concerta

Another prescription amphetamine often prescribed for ADHD is Concerta. Though less popular than Adderall, it mirrors many of the same effects and can be abused for recreational purposes as well.

Ritalin

This central nervous system stimulant is also prescribed for ADHD, ADD and narcolepsy. (5) It interacts with the body to stimulate the parts of the brain involved in hyperactivity and impulse control.

Dexedrine

Primarily prescribed to treat narcolepsy (6), this powerful amphetamine carries the same stimulating effects and potential for abuse that other prescription amphetamines carry.

How Are Cocaine & Amphetamines Similar?

Though they are classified separately, both of these stimulating substances cause similar effects of the central nervous system.

Stimulant Effects on the Brain

Both amphetamines and cocaine are stimulants meaning that they stimulate, or speed up the body’s systems, especially the brain (7). Specifically, these substances affect how the brain’s reward system communicates with itself. Once these portions of the brain are stimulated, an increase of dopamine floods the brain causing the euphoric high that those who abuse these substances seek.

Effects on Dopamine Reuptake & Levels

In a naturally functioning brain dopamine is released for a short period of time and then reabsorbed into the brain (7) where it can be stored for later use. When stimulants are introduced, not only are the levels of dopamine being released extremely high, but the reabsorption (or reuptake) is limited. This causes an extended high for the user that disrupts the body’s regulatory systems. This means that the user will feel the effects of these brain chemicals for much longer and much more intensely than the body is able to naturally handle.

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How Are Cocaine & Amphetamines Different?

Though cocaine and amphetamines are both generally classified as stimulants, they interact with the brain and body differently. This means there are a few key distinctions between both the direct effects and side effects of these substances.

Differences in Duration of Stimulant Effects

One of the key differences between cocaine and various amphetamines is the half life. Half life (7) refers to the amount of time it takes for half of the initial dose of a substance to be removed from the bloodstream. The half life of cocaine is around 60 minutes while the half life of methamphetamine is around 10 hours. Some prescription amphetamines even have a half life lasting up to 13 hours.

With an extended half life, this means that the duration for the effect or “high” of an amphetamine will be extended for a longer period of time than the brief but intense high of cocaine. Though the exact length of time will vary greatly depending on factors like tolerance, amount, and route of administration, amphetamines are synthetic and designed to stay in the user’s system for longer.

Side Effects & Withdrawal Symptoms

Due to the length of effect (7) being much longer for amphetamines, the associated side effects will intensify as well. One of the effects that someone using stimulants will feel is the stunting of their appetite. With this extended over a longer period of time, amphetamine users can become more prone to malnourishment, dehydration, and the effect that these conditions lead to.

Though both substances have significant mental and physical withdrawal periods, the intensity of the “come down” period for extended amphetamine use tends to last much longer. This is due in part to the lengthy periods of sleeplessness associated with amphetamine use. This is also due to the brain’s adjustment period of learning the appropriate time to release the chemicals that were synthetically released with amphetamine use. Mood swings, extended periods of sleep, and increases in anxiety all can be symptoms of someone going through the withdrawal period from amphetamines.

Addiction & Overdose Risks

Though each of these substances interact with the brain and body differently, it should never be assumed that one is safer than the other. Both Cocaine and amphetamines are highly addictive producing an intense high and escape that is difficult for many that use to leave behind.

Each carries risks of overdose. Both amphetamines and cocaine affect (8) the body’s temperature regulatory system as well as the cardiovascular system. Placing too much strain on either of these systems can lead to heart attack, stroke, or death.

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If you or someone that you know finds yourself in addictive cycles brought on by these substances or the many others available, there is hope. At Guardian Recovery we understand the damage that a substance use disorder can cause to a person’s life but also the joy that a fresh start in recovery can bring. With a simple phone call our admissions coordinators can provide you with the resources you need to begin your journey to freedom. Call Guardian Recovery today for your free insurance check with absolutely no obligation. The journey of recovery can start today.

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  1. https://www.dea.gov/sites/default/files/2020-06/Amphetamines-2020_0.pdf
  2. https://www.dea.gov/drug-information/drug-scheduling
  3. https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/methamphetamine/what-methamphetamine
  4. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18174822/
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2518387/#:~:text=Stimulants%20are%20the%20most%20effective,(Spencer%20et%20al%202005).
  6. https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/drugsatfda_docs/label/2007/017078s042lbl.pdf
  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK576548/
  8. https://www.dea.gov/sites/default/files/2020-06/Stimulants-2020.pdf

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Reviewed professionally for accuracy by:

Ryan Soave

L.M.H.C.

Ryan Soave brings deep experience as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, certified trauma therapist, program developer, and research consultant for Huberman Lab at Stanford University Department of Neurobiology. Post-graduation from Wake Forest University, Ryan quickly discovered his acumen for the business world. After almost a decade of successful entrepreneurship and world traveling, he encountered a wave of personal and spiritual challenges; he felt a calling for something more. Ryan returned to school and completed his Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counseling. When he started working with those suffering from addiction and PTSD, he found his passion. He has never looked back.

Written by:

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Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark grew up in Santa Barbara, CA and graduated from UCLA with a degree in playwriting. Since then she has been writing on addiction recovery and psychology full-time, and has found a home as part of the Guardian Recovery team.

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