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A speedball combines heroin and cocaine. Heroin is a depressant, while cocaine is a stimulant. The combination creates a ‘push-pull’ reaction in the brain and body that generates a very intense high.
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People speedball to achieve an intense rush. The aim is to experience the positive effects of both drugs while reducing each substance's adverse effects.
However, speedballing is a very dangerous form of drug abuse and can lead to fatal consequences.
Cocaine sends high levels of dopamine into the areas of the brain that control pleasure. Dopamine is a natural chemical messenger in the body.
The buildup of dopamine leads to intense feelings of alertness and energy. The effects of cocaine wear off after 15 to 30 minutes, depending on how it is used (IV or snorted - not mixed together but used consecutively).
Short-term stimulant effects of cocaine include:
Those who use cocaine often may experience more severe side symptoms, mental health problems, and long-term effects.
Long-term and negative side effects of cocaine include:
Users may develop strong cravings for cocaine and the intense rush it delivers. But the more a person uses cocaine, the more the brain will adapt to it.
Stronger and more frequent cocaine doses can lead to long-term adjustments in the brain’s chemistry. The body and mind will begin to rely on cocaine. This can lead to mental impairment and a lack of sleep. Reaction times may become slower.
Users will need a more potent dose to experience the same high. This can lead to addiction or overdose.
Heroin use leads to euphoric or pleasurable feelings in the body and mind. These effects are experienced almost immediately and last up to a few hours.
Following the initial high, a heroin user may feel drowsy for several hours.
Short-term effects of heroin drug use include:
The more an individual uses heroin, the more significant the toll on their body and mind.
Long-term and adverse side effects of heroin use include:
Heroin is an addictive opioid drug. Once someone is addicted to heroin, the drug's effects on the body can become more dangerous. Compulsive heroin use often overtakes daily life, and many people continue heroin drug use despite the damage it causes the body.
Heroin is a depressant, and cocaine is a stimulant, so the opposite effects of this drug combination delivers a ‘push-pull’ effect. When taken together, the drugs give users an intense rush while wiping out the other's adverse effects. In theory, heroin is meant to reduce cocaine-induced agitation and jitters. Cocaine is supposed to cancel out some of the sedating effects of heroin, so users don’t become drowsy or fall asleep.
The combination of cocaine and heroin is said to induce a more pleasurable high and an easier comedown. When cocaine and heroin mix, the side effects of each may feel more intense.
Short-term side effects of speedballing include:
A significant concern for people who speedball is the increased risk of overdose.
Other long-term side effects of speedballing include:
Combining cocaine with heroin can cause dangerous side effects. These side effects are typically associated with the abuse of either drug individually.
Speedballing can lead to uncontrolled and uncoordinated motor skills. It also increases the risk of significant health issues like stroke, heart attack, aneurysm, and respiratory depression or failure.
Respiratory failure or depression is particularly likely with speedballs. This is because the effects of cocaine wear off more quickly than the effects of heroin.
Speedballing is a combination of two highly addictive drugs. It is possible to develop an addiction to both drugs. Without treatment, speedballing can easily ruin lives.
Cocaine and heroin aren’t always pure and can include other substances, like fentanyl. Fentanyl is a potent, synthetic opioid. It is similar to morphine but is significantly more powerful.
As fentanyl is so potent, it takes a small amount of it to produce a high. Because of this, fentanyl is added to other substances like heroin and cocaine to reduce costs.
Fentanyl is often associated with contaminating opioids like heroin and oxycodone. However, it’s increasingly used for mixing substances. There have been several cases of unintentional fentanyl overdoses by people who thought they were taking cocaine or heroin.
Speedballing significantly increases the risk of overdose. Most fatal overdoses occur when someone uses more than one substance at a time.
Fatal slowing of the breathing can result when the stimulating effects of cocaine wear off. Once these effects wear off, the full effects of heroin are experienced.
Additionally, the effects of each drug may be muted when someone speedballs. This false sense of sobriety may result in frequent re-dosing. This could eventually lead to overdosing.
Heroin and cocaine overdose are two of the top ten most common causes of overdose deaths in the United States.Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2018
Speedball overdose symptoms include:
If you or someone around you exhibits any of these symptoms, call 911 immediately. Describe the symptoms as detailed as possible so that they can contact the appropriate response team. While you wait, lay the person overdosing slightly on their side and bend their top knee inward to keep their airways open.
Substance abuse, especially polydrug use is a very serious and dangerous issue that can ruin lives and lead to a high risk of death. If you or a loved one is suffering from substance use, seek medical advice immediately at a qualified treatment center.
Rehab centers will help you undergo detox safely and set you up for a successful recovery.
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Real Teens Ask About Speedballs, National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), 2020, https://teens.drugabuse.gov/blog/post/real-teens-ask-about-speedballs
Drugs Most Frequently Involved in Drug Overdose Deaths: United States, 2011–2016, National Vital Statistics Reports, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2018, https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr67/nvsr67_09-508.pdf
Armenian P, Whitman JD, Badea A, et al. Notes from the Field: Unintentional Fentanyl Overdoses Among Persons Who Thought They Were Snorting Cocaine — Fresno, California, January 7, 2019. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2019;68:687–688, https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/68/wr/mm6831a2.htm
What are the short-term effects of cocaine use?, National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), 11 Jun. 2020, https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/cocaine/what-are-short-term-effects-cocaine-use
What are the long-term effects of cocaine use?, National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), 6 Jun. 2020, https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/cocaine/what-are-long-term-effects-cocaine-use
What are the immediate (short-term) effects of heroin use?, National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), 28 May. 2020, https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/heroin/what-are-immediate-short-term-effects-heroin-use
What are the long-term effects of heroin use?, National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), 28 May. 2020, https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/heroin/what-are-long-term-effects-heroin-use
Negus, S S et al. “Discriminative stimulus effects of a cocaine/heroin "speedball" combination in rhesus monkeys.” The Journal of pharmacology and experimental therapeutics vol. 285,3 (1998): 1123-36, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/9618415/