Although both cocaine and methamphetamine are psychostimulants that trigger the release of dopamine, the drugs are quite different. For one thing, methamphetamine produces a stronger and longer-lasting high than the high produced by cocaine. Animal studies conducted at UCLA show that cocaine releases 350 units of dopamine, while methamphetamine releases almost four times as much — about 1,200 units. Similarly, smoking meth produces a high that lasts from six to 24 hours, while smoking cocaine produces a high that lasts only 20 to 30 minutes. And it takes the human body about 12 hours to remove about 50 percent of methamphetamine, compared to only one hour for cocaine.
In addition, drug enforcement officials have a better opportunity to limit the spread of methamphetamine than cocaine because of the way the drugs are produced. Cocaine is a natural (as opposed to synthetic) drug derived from plants that can be grown throughout the world. Methamphetamine is a man-made drug that requires a supply of ephedrine or pseudoephedrine, chemicals found in cold and cough medicines and produced in bulk by only nine factories around the world. If drug enforcement officials could tighten control over the supply of these chemicals and to whom they are sold, experts says the meth epidemic could be stopped.