In 2020, addiction and overdose rates reached an all-time high. More than 93,000 people in the United States died because of overdoses, exceeding the previous record high of 72,000. As drug misuse, abuse, and addiction increase as a public health risk, drugs like opioids and cocaine continue to be popular among people that use recreational drugs. However, many people that use drugs recreationally use more than one at a time. 

Plus, overdoses often involve multiple drugs rather than a high dose of just a single drug. According to a 2020 review, polydrug use is a significant problem that’s often overlooked. Around 30 to 80% of heroin users report also using cocaine. Between 2010 and 2015, overdose deaths that involved both cocaine and opioids more than doubled. However, this drug combination is particularly dangerous.

This dangerous drug combination is commonly referred to as a speedball. Speedball drug combinations involve a mix of recreational opioids and a stimulant, but it most commonly refers to a cocaine and heroin mix.

Speedballing is a dangerous practice of mixing heroin and cocaine. These two drugs are significantly risky to use on their own, but combining them is even more dangerous.

It is a practice that is likely to damage your body, mind, and quality of life if it doesn’t kill you.

But why is mixing cocaine and heroin together so dangerous, and why do people do it? Learn more about speedballing and how it can be inherently dangerous.

What is a Speedball

A speedball originally involved morphine sulfate and cocaine hydrochloride. Modern speedballs involve heroin and cocaine, but they can also involve several other substances like barbiturates, benzodiazepines, amphetamine, methamphetamine, and other opioids. Generally speaking, a speedball involves the use of a drug with depressant qualities that is mixed with a stimulant. Speedballs are notorious for their involvement in several high-profile overdose deaths. Speedballs and similar drug mixes have been linked to several celebrity overdoses, including John Belushi, Chris Farley, River Phoenix, and Phillip Seymore Hoffman. 

Speedballs are used in party settings and by experienced drug users to achieve a unique high that would be difficult to achieve with either of the drugs individually. Speedballs offer a unique high for two reasons: they counteract one another in some ways, and they potentiate one another in other ways. 

Cocaine is a stimulant that increases activity in your central nervous system. It works with a chemical called dopamine, which is tied to reward, motivation, and pleasure. Cocaine offers an intense, exciting high that comes with feelings of empowerment and high energy. However, it can also cause uncomfortable side effects like anxiety, jitteriness, and insomnia.

Heroin, and other opioids, offer a powerful, relaxing high marked by a feeling of physical and mental euphoria. It also has some qualities that are similar to a central nervous system depressant, including sedation and relaxation. However, it can cause side effects like fatigue, sleepiness, brain fog, and struggling to maintain consciousness. 

It’s thought that the drugs may combine to offer the same euphoric effects while counteracting their individual effects. For instance, heroin is thought to counteract cocaine’s anxiety and overstimulating side effects, while cocaine is thought to counteract heroin’s drowsiness and fatigue. 

Heroin and cocaine can potentiate one another by interacting with dopamine. Heroin stimulates the release of dopamine into your system, which contributes to the drug’s euphoric effects. Cocaine blocks a process called dopamine reuptake, which is when dopamine is removed from your system to avoid an excessive buildup. Together the drugs increase the amount of dopamine in your system and then stop it from being removed, causing an intense euphoric high.

Why Do People Try Speedballing?

It is important to remember that most people, both those who choose to abuse drugs and those who do not, are not highly medically literate. Their information about drugs comes from a variety of sources, including less reputable ones like the general rumor mill or even people who willfully mislead them into buying drugs.

Where the average person gets prescribed potent drugs from a doctor, who is obviously medically literate, people who choose to abuse drugs often don’t. While it is unrealistic to expect everyone to be fully knowledgeable, it is important to have accurate information when specifically choosing to put drugs as potent as heroin and cocaine in your body. Always get information from quality sources about the drugs you intend to take.

The idea of speedball is to take cocaine (a stimulant) and heroin (a depressant) for a push-pull reaction in the brain. Essentially, the goal is to achieve the high of both, but use their competing properties to avoid their adverse side effects. However, the reality of taking a stimulant on top of a depressant is much riskier than people who choose to take a speedball usually think.

Once a person begins speedballing, even if they realize the dangers, it can potentially be too late to stop without help. Both cocaine and heroin are highly addictive. Using them together puts a person at great risk for physical and psychological dependence.

Dangers of Mixing Stimulants and Depressants

Stimulants can indeed mask some of the negative side effects of depressants. One of the biggest dangers of this is that heroin outlasts cocaine in the body. This can then lead to the full effect of heroin hitting the user, who can easily have taken more heroin than intended while its effects were masked. The user is then at serious risk for heroin overdose.

Speedballing is more or less based on a false premise — that taking a stimulant and a depressant together will make both safer. In reality, it opens the user up to a host of risks, including the quite serious possibility of a lethal overdose.

Additionally, taking a stimulant with a depressant is noted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) to have the following potential side effects:

Side Effects of Mixing Stimulants and Depressants

  •  Confusion
  •  Blurred vision
  •  Drowsiness
  •  Serious sleep deprivation
  •  Paranoia

In addition to the person potentially being totally incapable of complex motor skills while high, the combination can also lead to stroke, heart attack, aneurysm, and respiratory failure.

A person speedballing is essentially turning their body into an amateur chemistry experiment where marginal failure could lead to serious problems, and serious failure can lead to death. The line at which this occurs is blurry and varies from person to person.

The body must try to balance two dangerous drugs. It’s incredibly easy for the body to get overwhelmed. Overdose is especially likely due to the heroin component of a speedball.

High Likelihood of Addiction

young woman with hands over her face addicted to heroin and cocaineCocaine is highly addictive, hijacking the brain’s dopamine circuits and forcing a feeling of extreme happiness. It additionally will weaken both the naturally occurring process and its own, causing it to be harder for the user to be happy unless they use more and more cocaine.

Heroin, meanwhile, is a notoriously addictive opioid. It binds to the brain’s opioid receptors and can affect how pain, pleasure, breathing, and other functions operate.

Long-time heroin users can experience fairly severe withdrawal even relatively soon after a dose.

They might feel highly restless, experience serious pain, and have an extreme craving for more heroin. A person who chooses to engage in speedballing is almost guaranteed to become addicted to one or both of these drugs.  These drugs are abusing the body in two different ways. This complicates the withdrawal process.

Is there a Safe Way to Speedball?

No, there is no safe way to combine heroin and cocaine.

Speedballing is always going to be a gamble with your life and health. Both cocaine and heroin are drugs that the body builds tolerance to. This means you have to take increasing amounts of the drugs to elicit similar effects over time. With higher doses, overdose is more likely.

At best, engaging in speedballing is putting two highly addictive drugs into your body. Both have long-term health effects, and both are often cut with cheap and potentially dangerous chemicals. There is no circumstance where a speedball should be considered a safe drug mix.

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