Amphetamines Vs Methamphetamines: What’s The Difference?

Published on

Table of Contents

When comparing amphetamines vs methamphetamines the first thing to know is that both are stimulant drugs with shared characteristics, inducing heightened alertness and increased neurotransmitter activity. The main difference lies in their formulation and regulatory context. Amphetamines, including medications like Adderall and Dexedrine, contain amphetamine as the active ingredient, often prescribed for conditions like ADHD and narcolepsy. 

Conversely, methamphetamines, such as crystal meth or ice, represent a more potent and illicit form, lacking the regulated oversight of medical amphetamines. Understanding their distinct compositions is crucial for learning the distinctions in effects and potential risks associated with these stimulant substances.

Using stimulants like amphetamines and methamphetamines requires caution, as they can lead to addiction and severe physical and mental health issues if used for prolonged periods. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) in 2019, approximately 5 million people aged 12 or older reported misusing prescription amphetamines like Adderall. This is why a clear understanding of the differences between amphetamines vs methamphetamines is vital for informed choices.

What Are Amphetamines?

Amphetamines are a type of drug that helps to stimulate the central nervous system, which is the part of the body that controls our thoughts and actions. They work by increasing the levels of certain chemicals in the brain that help us stay focused and alert. Doctors sometimes prescribe these drugs to people who have trouble paying attention or staying awake, such as those with ADHD or narcolepsy.

There are different drugs in the amphetamine family, including:

  • Adderall: A combination of amphetamine and dextroamphetamine, prescribed for ADHD and narcolepsy.
  • Dexedrine: Contains dextroamphetamine and is used to treat ADHD and narcolepsy.
  • Vyvanse: Lisdexamfetamine is the active ingredient approved for ADHD and binge eating disorder.
  • Concerta: An extended-release form of methylphenidate, also prescribed for ADHD.

The drugs mentioned before are all stimulants and are used to treat different conditions related to attention and hyperactivity. Misuse of any of these substances will lead to harmful effects and addiction.

Based on the 2021 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, approximately 3.7 million individuals aged 12 years and above in the US have misused prescription stimulants such as Adderall in the past year, which accounts for 1.3 percent of the population. This alarming statistic underscores the potential danger and addiction risks associated with amphetamines. 

Adderall is a medication that requires a prescription. However, some people misuse it for its cognitive-enhancing properties. When it is taken in large doses or without a prescription, the individual may experience feelings of euphoria, increased energy, and improved concentration. However, this misuse will cause tolerance, dependence, and in a lot of cases, addiction.  Be sure to always follow your medical advice and prescriptions when taking these medications.

What Is The Composition Of Amphetamines?

Amphetamines are man-made substances that have a unique chemical structure. They comprise a central part called phenethylamine, which has a benzene ring (a six-sided carbon structure) and an amino (NH2) group attached to it. Amphetamines also have a side chain that includes a carbon atom (Cα) linked to a methyl (CH3) group and a primary amine (NH2) group.

Amphetamines are chemical compounds that have a basic formula of C9H13N. Different types of amphetamines exist due to changes made to this basic structure, like the addition of certain groups. These changes can alter the drug’s strength and how it affects the body.

What Are The Common Uses of Amphetamines?

Some of the most common uses of amphetamines include:

  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): Amphetamines can help people with this condition focus better and control their impulses. 
  • Narcolepsy: Amphetamines are a type of medication that can be used for treating a condition called narcolepsy. This is a disorder where people feel very sleepy during the day and can suddenly lose muscle strength (cataplexy). Stimulant medications can help people stay awake and manage these symptoms.
  • Obesity (Off-label): Sometimes, doctors prescribe amphetamines to help people lose weight. These medicines can make you feel less hungry, so you eat less food and lose weight faster.

How Do Amphetamines Work?

Amphetamines have been found to be very useful in treating some medical conditions, mainly because they help stimulate the central nervous system. 

ADHD Treatment

  • Effectiveness: Medications like Adderall and Dexedrine are often prescribed to help people with ADHD improve their ability to pay attention, stay focused, and control their impulses. These medications have been shown to be effective in helping people with ADHD do better in school and work.
  • Mechanism of Action: Amphetamines help people with ADHD by improving the way their brain works. These drugs increase the levels of certain chemicals in the brain that help with attention and self-control. By doing this, amphetamines help people with ADHD to better regulate their thoughts and behavior.

Narcolepsy Management

  • Effectiveness: Amphetamines are drugs that can help people with narcolepsy stay awake during the day. This is because they increase the activity in the brain by releasing certain chemicals called neurotransmitters. By doing so, they combat the feeling of being excessively sleepy during the day that people with narcolepsy often experience.

What Are The Side Effects of Amphetamines?

MedlinePlus highlights that the use of amphetamines can cause multiple harms to the body leading to:

  • Appetite decrease and weight loss.
  • Heart problems such as fast heart rate, irregular heartbeat, increased blood pressure, and heart attack.
  • High body temperature and skin flushing.
  • Memory loss, problems thinking clearly, and stroke.
  • Mood and emotional problems such as aggressive or violent behavior, depression, and suicide.
  • Ongoing hallucinations and inability to tell what is real.
  • Restlessness and tremors.
  • Skin sores.
  • Sleep problems.
  • Tooth decay (meth mouth).
  • Death.
  • Amphetamines can cause birth defects when taken during pregnancy. 

What is the Dosage of Amphetamines?

The dosage of amphetamines varies based on medication & condition. For ADHD with Adderall, the initial dose for adults and children over 6 years old is often 5 mg once or twice daily, with a maximum recommended dose of 40 mg per day.

Dexedrine and Vyvanse are two amphetamine medications for ADHD that have specific dosages. Dexedrine starts at 5 mg once or twice daily and has a maximum recommended dose of 40 mg per day. Vyvanse starts at 30 mg once daily and has a maximum recommended dose of 70 mg per day. Amphetamines can be administered orally (pills or capsules), intranasally (snorting), intravenously (injection), or by smoking. Oral administration is the most common method.

These recommended dosages are based on general guidelines, but your healthcare provider may adjust them according to your specific needs. If you experience any side effects or have concerns, it’s important to let your doctor know so they can make the necessary adjustments. 

Are there any Interactions and Contraindications of Amphetamines?

Amphetamines may interact with certain medications and have contraindications that individuals should be aware of. Concurrent use of amphetamines with Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors (MAOIs) can lead to hypertensive crises, and acidifying agents may impact amphetamine excretion. 

Individuals with cardiovascular issues, glaucoma, hyperthyroidism, significant agitation or anxiety should use amphetamines cautiously or avoid them. It’s essential to inform healthcare providers of all medications and conditions to prevent potential interactions.

What Are The Precautions Of Amphetamines?

When using amphetamines, individuals should adhere to several precautions to ensure safe and effective use:

  • Medical History Disclosure: Inform healthcare providers of your complete medical history, including any cardiovascular issues, high blood pressure, glaucoma, thyroid problems, and mental health conditions.
  • Medication Interactions: Disclose all medications, including over-the-counter drugs, supplements, and herbal products, to avoid potential interactions. 
  • Cardiovascular Monitoring: Regularly monitor blood pressure and heart rate, particularly in individuals with pre-existing cardiovascular conditions, as amphetamines can raise these parameters.
  • Psychiatric Conditions: Individuals with a history of mental health issues should use amphetamines with caution, as they can worsen symptoms of agitation, anxiety, and psychosis.
  • Pregnancy and Breastfeeding: Consult healthcare providers while pregnant or breastfeeding, as the safety of amphetamines, is uncertain in these cases.
  • Potential for Abuse: Individuals with a history of substance abuse should use amphetamines with caution due to their risk of dependency.
  • Driving and Operating Machinery: Amphetamines may impair driving and coordination. Caution should be exercised when operating machinery until familiar with the effects.
  • Regular Follow-ups: Regular follow-ups with healthcare providers is important to monitor the medication’s effectiveness and manage any potential side effects.

What Are The Age Restrictions For Use Of Amphetamines?

Amphetamines can be prescribed to patients as young as 3 years old, depending on the medication and medical condition. However, non-medical use is illegal and can have severe health consequences, especially for minors.

What Are Methamphetamines? 

Methamphetamines belong to the amphetamine class of drugs and are a potent and highly addictive stimulant. They are commonly referred to as “meth” or “crystal meth” and are available in both illicit and prescription forms. Illicit methamphetamines are often illegally produced and sold, while prescription forms, like Desoxyn, are less common and strictly regulated.

Methamphetamines pose a significant risk in the context of addiction, due to their potent stimulant effects on the central nervous system. The use of methamphetamine can result in intense euphoria, increased energy, and a sense of heightened focus, all of which contribute to its addictive potential. 

Chronic use of methamphetamines leads to tolerance, dependence, and severe health consequences. The 2022 National Survey on Drug Use and Health conducted by SAMHSA revealed that around 2.7 million individuals aged 12 or above have reported misusing methamphetamines. This data emphasizes the alarming prevalence of methamphetamine abuse and its potential to lead to addiction.

The illicit production and distribution of methamphetamines, coupled with its addictive nature, highlight the importance of public awareness, prevention, and treatment efforts to address the challenges associated with methamphetamine addiction.

Although methamphetamines can take various forms, they all have the same basic structure. Differences typically arise from the method of production and the drug’s presentation. Here are some common types:

  • Crystal Methamphetamine: The most common illicit form, appearing as clear crystals or bluish-white rocks.
  • Powdered Methamphetamine: Resembles a crystalline powder or granules encountered in white or off-white color; can be ingested orally, snorted, or dissolved for injection.
  • Methamphetamine Pills: In some instances, methamphetamines may be pressed into pill form, although less common compared to other illicit drugs.
  • Prescription Methamphetamine (Desoxyn): A regulated medication containing methamphetamine hydrochloride, used under strict medical supervision to treat conditions like ADHD and obesity.

What Is The Composition Of Methamphetamines?

Methamphetamines, which include crystal meth, are drugs that belong to the amphetamine family. They comprise a core chemical structure containing a benzene ring (a six-membered carbon ring) attached to an amino (NH2) group. The structure also has a side chain with a carbon (Cα) connected to a methyl (CH3) group and a primary amine (NH2) group. Simply put, methamphetamines are a type of drug that can have harmful effects on the body and mind.

Methamphetamines are a type of drug that has a chemical formula of C10H15N. However, the way the drug is made and its form can affect how it looks and how it affects the body. For example, in crystal meth, the drug usually has a certain shape that makes it more powerful. This is because of a specific part of the drug that is positioned in a certain way.

What Are The Common Uses of Prescription Methamphetamine (Desoxyn)?

Prescription methamphetamine, which is marketed as Desoxyn, is only used to treat certain medical conditions under strict supervision, including:

  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): Desoxyn is prescribed to manage symptoms of ADHD, helping improve focus and attention.
  • Obesity: In some cases, Desoxyn may be prescribed to assist with weight loss, although this use is less common.

How Does Prescription Methamphetamine Work For ADHD And Obesity?

Desoxyn, a medication that contains methamphetamine, can be used to treat ADHD and obesity. It works by increasing certain chemicals in the brain that help improve attention and reduce impulsive behavior. For people with obesity, Desoxyn may also help reduce appetite by affecting the brain’s reward system. However, this use is not as common as its use for ADHD.

Both uses, however, come with a potential risk of tolerance, dependence, and addiction. Healthcare providers rigorously monitor and adjust the dosage to mitigate these risks, underscoring the importance of responsible use and ongoing communication between patients and healthcare professionals to ensure safe and effective treatment.

What are the Side Effects of Methamphetamines?

The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that Methamphetamine amplifies the quantity of the natural chemical dopamine in the brain, which is responsible for body movement, motivation, and reinforcement of rewarding behaviors. The drug’s capacity to quickly release large amounts of dopamine in reward areas of the brain strongly encourages drug-taking behavior, prompting the user to seek out repeat experiences.

Short-Term Effects

Taking even small amounts of methamphetamine can result in many of the same health effects as other stimulants, such as cocaine or amphetamines. These include:

  • Increased wakefulness and physical activity.
  • Decreased appetite.
  • Faster breathing.
  • Rapid and irregular heartbeat.
  • Increased blood pressure and body temperature.

Long-Term Effects

Individuals who inject methamphetamine are at a higher risk of contracting infectious diseases such as HIV and hepatitis B and C. These ailments are transmitted through contact with blood or other biological substances that may remain on drug-delivery equipment. Methamphetamine use can also hinder a person’s ability to make sound judgments and decisions, thereby leading to risky behaviors like unprotected sex, which can further increase the risk of infection.

Using methamphetamines can speed up the progression of HIV/AIDS and worsen its effects. Research indicates that HIV causes more damage to nerve cells and cognitive function in individuals who use methamphetamine, compared to those who do not. Mental impairments include difficulties with thinking, understanding, learning, and memory.

Prolonged consumption of methamphetamine can result in numerous adverse effects, such as:

  • Extreme weight loss.
  • Addiction.
  • Severe dental problems
  • Intense itching, leading to skin sores from scratching.
  • Anxiety.
  • Changes in brain structure and function.
  • Confusion.
  • Memory loss.
  • Sleeping problems.
  • Violent behavior.
  • Paranoia—extreme and unreasonable distrust of others.
  • Hallucinations—sensations and images that seem real though they aren’t.

Long-term methamphetamine use leads to changes in the brain’s dopamine system, which can result in reduced coordination and impaired verbal learning. Studies have shown that severe changes also affect the areas of the brain responsible for memory and emotion, which may help explain the emotional and cognitive difficulties experienced by those who use methamphetamine.

When people use methamphetamine, it can cause changes in their brain. Some of these changes can go away if they stop using the drug for a year or more, but others may not go away even after a long time. A study found that people who used methamphetamine in the past are more likely to develop Parkinson’s disease, which is a condition that affects movement.

How Is Methamphetamine Misused?

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, methamphetamine can be smoked, snorted, injected, or orally ingested, and the preferred method of using the drug varies by geographical region and has changed over time.

Injecting or smoking methamphetamine delivers the drug quickly into the bloodstream and brain, creating an immediate and intense “rush” that amplifies the drug’s addictive potential and health consequences. The rush, also known as “flash,” lasts only a few minutes but is extremely pleasurable. 

On the other hand, snorting or taking the drug orally produces euphoria, which is a high, but not as intense as the rush. Snorting effects can be felt within 3 to 5 minutes, while oral ingestion takes about 15 to 20 minutes to produce effects.

Methamphetamine is a stimulant that is often misused in a pattern of binge and crash. Since the pleasurable effects of the drug tend to disappear before the drug concentration in the blood decreases significantly, users tend to take more of the drug to maintain the high. This is known as a “run,” where individuals may go without food or sleep while continuing to take the drug for several days.

Are there any Interactions and Contraindications of Methamphetamines?

Both illicit and prescription forms of methamphetamines, for example, crystal meth and Desoxyn respectively, can have interactions with other substances and contraindications. Individuals should know these potential interactions and contraindications to ensure safe use. Here are some important considerations to keep in mind:

Interactions with Other Substances

  • Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors (MAOIs): Concurrent use of methamphetamines with MAOIs can lead to hypertensive crises, as both substances affect neurotransmitter levels in the brain.
  • Acidifying Agents: Substances that acidify the urine may increase the excretion of methamphetamines, potentially affecting their effectiveness.


  • Cardiovascular Issues: Individuals with pre-existing cardiovascular conditions, such as heart disease or hypertension, may be at increased risk of adverse effects due to the stimulant properties of methamphetamines.
  • Glaucoma: Methamphetamines can exacerbate symptoms of glaucoma, and their use is contraindicated in individuals with this condition.
  • Hyperthyroidism: Methamphetamines can affect thyroid function, and caution is advised in individuals with hyperthyroidism.
  • Agitation or Severe Anxiety: Methamphetamines may exacerbate symptoms of agitation or severe anxiety, making their use contraindicated in individuals with these conditions.

What Are The Precautions Of Methamphetamines?

Individuals using methamphetamines, whether illicit forms like crystal meth or prescription forms like Desoxyn, should take several precautions to minimize risks and ensure safe use. Here are important precautions:

  • Healthcare Communication: Keep healthcare providers informed about medical history and all medications.
  • Monitoring: Regularly monitor vital signs, especially for those with cardiovascular conditions.
  • Psychiatric Caution: Exercise caution if there’s a history of mental health issues.
  • Pregnancy and Breastfeeding: Studies suggest elevated risks of premature delivery, placental abruption, and adverse effects on babies, such as small size, lethargy, and potential heart and brain abnormalities.
  • Abuse Potential: Be aware of the potential for misuse and addiction, especially for individuals with a history of substance abuse.
  • Caution with Tasks: Be cautious with activities requiring alertness and coordination.
  • Regular Follow-ups: Schedule regular follow-ups with healthcare providers to monitor effectiveness and manage potential side effects.

What Is The Difference Between Amphetamines Vs Methamphetamines?

Amphetamines and methamphetamines are stimulant drugs. While amphetamines (e.g., Adderall) are often prescribed for ADHD, methamphetamines (e.g., crystal meth) are illicit and more potent. Methamphetamines carry higher addiction risks and severe health consequences compared to amphetamines.

Illicit meth is associated with heightened legal and social risks, while amphetamines have regulated medical uses and are subject to prescription requirements. The potential for abuse, strength, and side effects also differ between the two.

Chemical structureAmphetamines have a methyl group attached to their nitrogen atom.Methamphetamines have an extra methyl group attached to the carbon atom next to the nitrogen atom.
Legal statusAmphetamines are legal with a prescription.Methamphetamines are illegal except for prescription Desoxyn.
Medical usesAmphetamines are used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder Methamphetamines have no medical uses.
Route of administrationAmphetamines can be taken orally, injected, or snorted.Methamphetamines are most commonly smoked or injected.
Onset and duration of effectsAmphetamines take 15-30 minutes to start working and last 4-6 hours.Methamphetamines take 5-10 minutes to start working and last 6-12 hours.
EffectsAmphetamines increase alertness, energy, and focus. They can also cause anxiety, insomnia, and loss of appetite.Methamphetamines produce a more intense rush of euphoria and energy than amphetamines. They can also cause addiction, psychosis, and heart damage.
AddictionAmphetamines are addictive, but less so than methamphetamines.Methamphetamines are highly addictive.
Withdrawal symptomsAmphetamine withdrawal symptoms include fatigue, depression, and anxiety.Methamphetamine withdrawal symptoms are more severe and can include psychosis.
Long-term effectsAmphetamines are addictive, but less so than methamphetamines.Long-term methamphetamine use can cause serious health problems, including heart damage, brain damage, and psychosis.

Similarities Between Amphetamines and Methamphetamines

Amphetamines and methamphetamines are stimulant drugs that share similarities in structure and effects. Both are addictive and have the potential for misuse. They may cause similar side effects, such as insomnia and increased heart rate.

Doctors typically prescribe amphetamines, but amphetamines and similar substances can affect the central nervous system, thereby increasing alertness and energy levels in users. If misused, both substances can lead to legal consequences, and their potency can cause comparable physiological responses. It is important to acknowledge their shared risks and potential for harmful effects regardless of their legal status.

Get Recovery at Quest2Recovery

Quest2Recovery stands out as a beacon of hope, demonstrating excellence in evidence-based addiction treatment. Our commitment to cutting-edge practices, compassionate care, and transformative recovery journeys underscores the importance of seeking guidance when navigating substance use concerns. By combining scientific validation with empathetic support, Quest2Recovery empowers individuals to find their inner light, fostering lasting recovery and improved well-being. 

If you or someone you love is on the path to a brighter future, Quest2Recovery is here to offer assistance and support.

Share Our Blog With Someone It Might Help!


Getting help doesn't have to be scary, we are here for you.

When you are ready to rid your body of the toxic substances, contact us. We can make it easier and safer for you.