Amphetamine vs. Methamphetamine – What’s the Difference?



Amphetamine and methampetamine (meth) are both drugs with similar names. Are they similar themselves? Well, yes … and no. Whether they’re the same or different, though, amphetamine and methamphetamine can both be abused and can both be dangerous.

Chemically, both drugs are very similar. The chemical name for amphetamine is methylated phenylethylamine, while methamphetamine’s name is N-methylamphetamine.

Methamphetamine is double methylated, which means it contains double groups of a carbon and hydrogen compound. When human bodies break down methamphetamine, the substance reverts to amphetamine. Interestingly enough, MDMA (ecstasy or Molly) is another drug that is chemically similar to amphetamine.

But, the slight chemical difference between amphetamine and methamphetamine can produce a big difference in bodily functions. That’s because the double methylation in methamphetamine can affect the body more strongly and more quickly, so meth can be more dangerous than amphetamine.


Methamphetamine and amphetamine are stimulants

Methamphetamine and amphetamine are both drugs known as stimulants. As their name indicates, stimulants stimulate the body by

  • Elevating heart rates
  • Raising blood pressure
  • Increasing breathing
  • Making people more alert and attentive

Sometimes, doctors encourage these stimulating effects. They prescribe amphetamine-like drugs to people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) to help them focus. People might be surprised to learn that Adderall is an amphetamine because it’s a commonly prescribed drug.

Or, doctors might give amphetamine to people with narcolepsy, a condition that can cause rapid sleepiness and muscle weakness. Or, they might prescribe methamphetamine as a weight-loss tool (sometimes under the brand name Desoxyn).

Such prescribed uses for narcolepsy and weight loss are relatively rare, however. That’s because amphetamine-like stimulants can overstimulate people, causing

  • Shakiness
  • Nervousness
  • Nighttime sleep problems
  • Heart problems

Another risk of prescribing amphetamine-like and methamphetamine-like drugs is that people abuse them and form addictions to them.


Amphetamine vs methamphetamine

As bad as the side effects from stimulants such as amphetamine can be, the ones from methamphetamine can be even worse. The short-term effects of the stimulant meth include:

  • Rapid and erratic heartbeat
  • Elevated breathing
  • Euphoria and wakefulness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Elevated temperatures

These side effects can be dangerous. People under the influence of meth may feel intensely happy and not notice that their feverish, that their hearts are beating erratically, or that their breathing is different from normal. Using meth could trigger heart attacks or strokes.

Even if people are lucky enough to avoid heart attacks or strokes, if they use methamphetamine for extended periods of time, they could develop

  • Weight loss
  • Dental issues (tooth damage and loss often known as meth mouth)
  • Mood problems
  • Violent behavior
  • Memory problems and distraction
  • Problems with thinking and coordination
  • Hallucinations and paranoia
  • Changes to their brains’ structures and functioning

Of course, repeated use of methamphetamine or any other drug can also trigger addiction, a disease characterized by a physical and mental attachment to a drug. As a consequence, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) classifies meth and amphetamine as Schedule II drugs, a class of drugs “with a high potential for abuse, with use potentially leading to severe psychological or physical dependence. These drugs are also considered dangerous.”


How do people abuse amphetamine and methamphetamine?

The fact that people often abuse amphetamine and methamphetamine makes them very dangerous indeed. Instead of making such comparisons such as amphetamine vs methamphetamine, it’s probably more useful to explain how people abuse the drugs and how they can end such abuse.

While people do use amphetamines such as Adderall to focus, they only should do so if they have doctors’ prescriptions. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Students sometimes use Adderall illegally if they’re studying and want to improve their ability to focus.

This type of use is particularly dangerous, because they might be using dosages that are not recommended, or the Adderall could interact with other drugs or alcohol they might be using. Doctors aren’t monitoring people who are using Adderall in this way and can’t determine the signs of Adderall addiction because they don’t have the regular contact that they would have with patients with prescriptions.

Methamphetamine, on the other hand, is rarely used as a doctor-prescribed drug. As a consequence, doctors don’t monitor people who are taking it. When things go wrong for methamphetamine users – and they often do – doctors can’t help them because meth users use the drug secretly and illegally.

But, if people admit that they’re addicted to methamphetamine or amphetamine, doctors and other professionals CAN help them. It takes courage, but this admission can save their lives.