Learn about the differences between crack and heroin as well as the dangers of combining these two drugs.

Heroin and crack cocaine are two very different drugs that affect the body in a variety of ways. Many people wonder what the difference is between crack vs. heroin, how the drugs act on their own and how they interact with each other.

Article at a Glance:

  • Heroin is a sedative
  • Crack is a stimulant
  • Heroin causes side effects that slow the body’s normal functions
  • Crack causes side effects that speed up the body’s normal functions
  • Using heroin and crack together can be dangerous or deadly

Difference Between Heroin and Crack as Drugs

Heroin is a strong opioid drug that is considered a sedative. In addition to creating a high, heroin will also give a calming, sedating effect that can be deadly in excess. Crack also creates a high, but is crack an opioid as well? No, crack is not an opiate or opioid. It’s a concentrated form of cocaine, which is a stimulant that creates a high but also increases energy and activity.

Using crack and heroin together creates a dangerous and often unpleasant sensation called speedballing. This condition is dangerous because there are conflicting effects that each drug provides: heroin sedates and reduces activity while crack stimulates and increases activity.

Different Methods of Use

There are differences between how heroin and crack are typically used. Heroin is usually injected into a vein, muscle or under the skin. Purer forms of heroin are sometimes snorted but injection is the more common form of heroin use.

Crack is normally smoked but is sometimes injected or snorted. Other forms of cocaine are typically snorted.

Differences in Side Effects Between Heroin and Crack

Heroin interacts with opioid receptors in the brain, slowing or stopping certain nerve signals and releasing chemicals called endorphins into the brain. The endorphins that are released lead to a pleasurable and euphoric feeling called a high. The suppression of nerve signals leads to a relaxed and calm feeling. Suppression of these nerve signals also causes a decrease in breathing, as well as a decreased response to external events. These effects are dangerous, especially if too much is used.

Crack is a concentrated form of cocaine that increases the amount of dopamine chemicals in the brain. This increased dopamine causes the sensation called a high, and it is the reason that cocaine becomes addictive. The increased amounts of dopamine in the brain also heighten stimulation to the body, leading to a feeling of improved energy and ability. This drug can stimulate the body beyond what it is able to handle and can lead to dangerous side effects.

Different Side Effects Between Heroin and Crack

Because of the ways that heroin and crack act on the body, their side effects are very different. Side effects of heroin include:

  • Constipation
  • Excessive sweating
  • Decreased sex drive
  • Drowsiness
  • Itching
  • Flushed skin
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Withdrawal symptoms when use is stopped
  • Decreased breathing
  • Death

Crack side effects are different from heroin and are more related to the stimulatory effects of the drug. Crack side effects include:

  • Increased heart rate
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Dilated pupils
  • Increased rate of breathing
  • Excessive stimulation
  • Decreased appetite
  • Anxiety
  • Paranoia
  • Depression
  • Sudden death

These side effects can affect anyone who uses heroin or crack, even if it is for the first time.

Related Topic: What does crack look like?

Side Effects of Mixing Heroin and Crack

Mixing heroin and crack, also known as speedballing, is very dangerous and can lead to severe consequences. Because heroin is a sedative and crack is a stimulant, these two drugs cause opposite effects that can lead to several negative situations.

Crack causes your body to be more stimulated, increasing the need for oxygen and typically causing rapid breathing to compensate for this need. Heroin slows respiration, causing the body to breathe more slowly when it needs more oxygen because of the crack.

The side effects of these two drugs can cancel each other out to some degree, making the person using these drugs unaware of when they are approaching a lethal dose of either one. Essentially, speedballing is comparable to stepping on the gas and brake pedals of your car at the same time: It can be very harmful to the system.

If you or a loved one struggles with an addiction to crack, heroin or both, it’s important to seek professional help. The Recovery Village is able to help those with a substance use disorder overcome their addiction and lead a life free from substance abuse. Reach out to one of our understanding team members today to learn how you can start on the path to recovery.

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Editor – Jonathan Strum
Jonathan Strum graduated from the University of Nebraska Omaha with a Bachelor's in Communication in 2017 and has been writing professionally ever since. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Benjamin Caleb Williams, RN
Benjamin Caleb Williams is a board-certified Emergency Nurse with several years of clinical experience, including supervisory roles within the ICU and ER settings. Read more

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “What is heroin and how is it used?” June 2018. Accessed May 21, 2019.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “What is cocaine?” May 2016. Accessed May 21, 2019.

Center for Substance Abuse Research. “Crack Cocaine.” October 29, 2013. Accessed May 21, 2019.

O’Malley, Gerald & O’Malley, Rika. “Opioid Toxicity and Withdrawal.” Merck Manuals. March 18, 2019. Accessed May 21, 2019.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.