What is a Speedball?

Drugs such as heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine can be dangerous on their own. Each year, millions of Americans struggle with an addiction to illicit street drugs and thousands die from an overdose.

When two narcotic drugs are combined to form a new substance, the new drug can be dramatically more potent and dangerous. One popular combination is called  speedball.

Many people have asked, “What is a speedball mixture?” The mixture is the combination of cocaine and heroin. While both are extremely potent and addictive, they often produce distinctly different effects when used separately. When used together in the form of speedball, the mixture produced extreme effects.

Understanding the effects of the combination and the unique high that comes from this concoction is important for anyone who has or knows someone who has a substance use disorder.

Speedball Effects

Since cocaine and heroin are mixed together form speedball, many of the effects from the individual drugs are felt when a person takes the combination.

Cocaine is a stimulant drug that often is linked to bursts of energy. The substance can cause paranoia, bursts of energy or elevated moods, anxiety, severe emotional swings, shortened attention spans, irritability or insomnia. Heroin, a member of the opiate family, is a depressant. This substance usually produces a high that involves sedation and a suppression of physical or emotional pain, the opposite of the high induced by cocaine.

Since these two drugs have conflicting effects, their combination creates a “push-pull” phenomenon for the body and brain. Stimulants, such as cocaine, interact with the sympathetic nervous system while depressants, like heroin, interact with the parasympathetic nervous system. The former system regulates the body’s fight-or-flight response while the latter regulates the rest-and-digest response. The concurrent activity of each system is what allows the body to remain properly balanced. Taking cocaine or heroin will disrupt that balance, which causes the side effects associated with each drug. Taking both at the same time, in theory, maintains the balance and keeps the positive effects while removing the undesirable ones from the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems.


Speedball High

Similar to other drug mixtures, such as combining heroin and meth, taking heroin and cocaine as one substance is done so because of the contradiction in effects caused by the two substances. People who take speedball usually experience an intense rush or high, due to the presence of cocaine, while heroin blocks some of the negative side effects that often come with taking stimulants (e.g., anxiety, irritability, hypertension, paranoia, etc.). Since heroin produces its own sedative sensation, people who take that drug usually feel drowsy. The presence of cocaine can prevent the drowsiness from occurring, thereby maintaining the desired burst of energy.

However, the combination of heroin and cocaine can have different effects with each use, or for different people. Depending on the amount of each substance that is used to create the speedball, the effects of one drug could wear off before the other, resulting in the negative consequences of the longer-lasting drug. The effects of cocaine wear off faster than the effects of heroin. Therefore, people who take speedball often experience more of the symptoms associated with depressant use the longer it has been since they took the drug. General confusion, incoherence, blurred vision, extreme drowsiness, or a lack of sleep are all potential speedball side effects. People can also experience a loss of motor skills or even a stroke, heart attack or respiratory failure.

While the speedball high can provide short-term pleasure, taking the drug is extremely risky. Thousands of Americans have overdosed from this drug.

Speedball Overdose

The drug became popular in the middle of the 20th century, originally as a combination of cocaine and morphine. Since then, most people have replaced morphine with heroin. The drug has become quite popular among celebrities and speedball has been blamed for the deaths of numerous beloved actors and musicians.

In 1982, comedian John Belushi was found dead in his Los Angeles hotel room after overdosing on speedball. Another well-known comedian, Chris Farley overdosed in 1997. In 2013, musician Chris Kelly died from a speedball overdose. Philip Seymour Hoffman overdosed a year later on a speedball combination that also included benzodiazepines and amphetamines.

Many other actors and musicians have survived life-threatening experiences caused by the drug. Guns N’ Roses guitarist Slash went into cardiac arrest for 8 minutes after taking the drug. Slash’s bandmate, drummer Steven Adler, suffered a stroke due to taking a speedball and now has a permanent speed impediment. David Gahan, the singer of electronic rock band Depeche Mode, survived a heart attack that was caused by a speedball overdose.

There are many reasons why speedball is so deadly. Individually, heroin and cocaine have accounted for thousands of overdose deaths. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, heroin use led to nearly 16,000 deaths in 2017 and cocaine use led to more than 14,500 deaths.

Another reason speedball is so dangerous is that the combination can make people think they have a higher tolerance than they actually do. Since the two components of speedball are so different, they can negate the negative results of each other. When this occurs, someone who has taken speedball might think they can take more of the drug since they have not experienced any unwanted effects. Doing so can lead to an overdose, often from respiratory failure since heroin stays in a person’s system longer than cocaine does.

Recognizing the signs of speedball use can help someone determine if they are at risk of an overdose. Since this drug combination has caused so many deaths, anything that indicates use of the mixture should be considered speedball overdose symptoms. Some of the most common physical and psychological side effects of speedball are:

  • Severe anxiety
  • High blood pressure
  • Strong or irregular heartbeat
  • Extreme paranoia
  • Loss of motor skills

Getting Help with Speedball Addiction

For anyone who craves heroin, cocaine or a combination of the two, help is available. Cocaine and heroin addiction have ended the lives of many people, and the use of these drugs continue to put many others through daily suffering. Rehabilitation facilities like The Recovery Village have doctors, nurses and counselors who can assist in identifying the specific substance use disorder along with any co-occurring mental health disorders. Calling The Recovery Village is a step toward healing and a life free of substance abuse.

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