There is a perception among people who use drugs that Adderall and cocaine are just about the same thing. Some even believe that there is cocaine in Adderall. However, this is not the case. Cocaine and Adderall are two different substances that have some similarities, but also a number of differences.

The most obvious difference between these two substances is that one is generally illegal, while the other is a well-known prescription drug. However, it might surprise some people to know that cocaine is also sometimes used for medical applications. This is just one of the similarities between the two drugs.

Prescription Drug Categories

Both Adderall and cocaine are nervous system stimulants, which act on the brain to increase synaptic activity – that is, they both increase energy, focus, and a sense of wellbeing. They also can both cause euphoria. As a result, another similarity is that both are abused and can result in addiction. However, there are differences in how they behave in and affect the body, how long their effects last, and what long-term effects may result from use. Below is a discussion of some of the similarities and differences between these substances.

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Formulation and Use

According to the National Library of Medicine’s Medline Plus, Adderall is made from a mixture of salts called amphetamine and dextroamphetamine. As mentioned above, these two substances are both nervous system stimulants that increase neurotransmitter availability in the brain; the drug is usually prescribed to help people who have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), improving their focus and concentration.

Another use of Adderall is for narcolepsy, an illness in which people are excessively sleepy and may fall asleep suddenly in inappropriate circumstances. By increasing brain activity, the drug can help prevent these “sleep attacks” from occurring.

How It Works

As described in an article from Quora, Adderall works through two mechanisms. First, it stops the brain from reabsorbing the neurotransmitters dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin so they can’t be used by the body. In other words, the drug makes sure that there are plenty of these neurotransmitters available in the brain for use, increasing the activity of the brain and resulting in the feelings of energy, focus, and alertness, as well as a mild sense of wellbeing. The other action of Adderall is to enter certain parts of the brain and encourage the release of more of these neurotransmitters.

As described by the expert in the article, Adderall has an equal preference for dopamine, which is part of the pleasure and reward mechanism, and norepinephrine, which is a stress hormone that increases awareness and brain response. It has a slightly lesser action on serotonin, which helps to control a person’s sleep and wake patterns.

How Long It Lasts

Adderall has two forms – short-acting and long-acting formulations – as described on WebMD. However, when compared with cocaine, both forms act significantly longer. The short-term version of Adderall works for 4-6 hours, while the long-acting version can last 8-12 hours. This results in a milder high for people who are abusing Adderall, but it lasts longer.

Also, as a result of its longer action, Adderall takes longer to be eliminated from the body. It can take up to three days, depending on the formulation, for Adderall to clear from a person’s system. This means that withdrawal symptoms will also potentially last longer.

Long-term Effects

Using or abusing Adderall for the long-term can result in some serious health risks. These include:

  • Cardiovascular damage and illness, including stroke and heart attack
  • Insomnia and fatigue
  • Anxiety and paranoia
  • Aggression
  • Anhedonia, or inability to feel pleasure

This last risk is the result of the fact that, in the long-term, drugs like Adderall can damage or destroy dopamine receptors, making it harder and harder to feel pleasure. This process, described in the Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics, often results in increased cravings for the drug, resulting in a self-sustaining cycle. It is through this type of misuse that addiction to Adderall is most likely to develop.



Formulation and Use

Cocaine is not an amphetamine; it is a natural extract from the coca plant, found in South America. According to the Drug Enforcement Agency Museum, cocaine was originally used by people who lived in the region where the plant naturally occurred up until about the 19th century; it was then discovered by Western medicine for use as a painkiller, helping to numb toothaches, calm nausea, and ease pain from sinus infections. At first, its stimulant properties were considered safe; however, it was soon shown to be extremely addictive.

Cocaine is still used medically as a local anesthetic. Otherwise, it is an illegal, Schedule II substance due to its high potential for abuse.

How It Works

Cocaine also acts on dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin, like Adderall. However, according to the Quora article, it has a different affinity for these neurotransmitters. Cocaine acts primarily on the dopamine system, meaning that it creates a much higher sense of pleasure or euphoria than Adderall. It works slightly less on norepinephrine, still causing a surge of energy, and much less on serotonin, so the person feels awake and aware.

The key is that cocaine’s main mechanism is the pleasure response. This euphoric reaction is part of the draw of the drug and its addictive potential.

How Long It Lasts

Cocaine has a very short half-life that is less than an hour. The high that results from use, however, depends on how the drug is administered. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), if it is injected or smoked, it takes about five minutes to feel the high, which then may last only about 10 minutes. On the other hand, snorting cocaine can create a longer high, lasting about 30 minutes or so.

Long-term Effects
Long-term effects of cocaine are the same as those for Adderall, with some additional issues that are caused by the ways in which people take cocaine. For example, snorting cocaine can result in damage to the nasal lining that can harm a person’s sense of smell, while injecting it can damage blood vessels. NIDA also cautions that prolonged cocaine use, like that of other drugs, can cause digestive issues, including abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting.

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