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What Is a Speedball? What Are the Dangers of a Speedball?

People who struggle with drug abuse and addiction often spend time seeking the next high, hoping that it will be bigger and better than the one before. Sometimes, in order to obtain, it they’ll combine or more substances. They may also combine drugs to take the edge off of one or the other substances. However, while they may be successful at getting the kind of high they seek, the put themselves in perilous situations where they may experience the side effects of both drugs as well as the effects of the drugs’ interactions. The result can be extreme mental and/or physical harm, overdose, or even death.

Speedballs are just one such combination—a potent mix that can lead to severe consequences for those who try it even once.

Elements of a Speedball

A speedball is the common name for a combination of two different drug types: an opioid and a stimulant. Technically, a classic “speedball” is specifically heroin and cocaine—both potent, illicit drugs that are risky on their own, let alone together.

Some people will create “speedballs” by substituting other drugs, although some argue that it’s no longer a speedball. Some substitutions include:

  • Methamphetamine or amphetamine as the stimulant
  • Opioid painkillers in place of heroin

Some users even replace the opioid with a benzodiazepine, another drug type with depressant effects.

In the case of a speedball, the heroin and cocaine are mixed together and injected in one shot, which results in an intense and rapid onset of the effects.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse states that people may take speedballs as a way to get an intense high that amplifies the euphoria and minimizes the negative side effects of each drug. The theory is that the energizing action of the stimulant can counteract some of depressant, sedating effects of heroin, while the heroin can allay the agitating effects of the cocaine. However, as with many drug risks, the reality doesn’t turn out to be quite that simple.

Effects of the Drug Combination

The full effects of heroin and cocaine on one another are not known. However, the reinforcing effects of the combination may be stronger than each drug taken alone. The combination acts on both dopamine and mu-opiate receptors, creating an extremely strong reinforcing effect that propels the compulsion to keep injecting this drug combination over and over. This can be extremely dangerous, as even one speedball injection can be deadly. The risks of the heroin/cocaine combination are many and very significant.

Risks of Use

Using speedballs can increase a person’s risk for mental health issues, such as:

  • Depression
  • Severe anxiety
  • Suicidal thinking
  • Psychosis
  • Addiction

One of the biggest risks of using speedballs, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, is related to the fact that the effects of cocaine wear off faster than heroin. Because the chief reason for using the two together is to minimize the negative effects of each, people who use speedballs believe they can use more of each drug than would necessarily be possible when they use just one or the other.

As a result, if the person takes much more heroin than their system can handle, they can overdose and suffer fatal respiratory depression when the cocaine begins to wear off and is no longer counteracting the effects of the heroin.

The risk of severe and possibly fatal respiratory depression is not the only risk. There are a myriad of effects that users may experience when taking these two very different drugs. Other short-term effects and risks of speedballs include:

  • Confusion
  • Trouble thinking or speaking clearly
  • Drowsiness
  • Stupor
  • Problems sleeping
  • Paranoia
  • Incoordination
  • Stroke
  • Aneurysm
  • Heart attack

Long-Term Effects

Of course, the biggest risk for those who continuously inject speedballs is that of potentially fatal overdose. Other long-term potential consequences of injecting heroin and cocaine include:

  • Ischemic or hemorrhagic stroke
  • Loss of period in women
  • Endocarditis
  • Abscesses, cellulitis, or necrosis from injection use
  • Myocardial ischemia
  • Suppression of the immune system
  • Acute injury of the kidneys
  • Heart attack

Getting Help for Speedball Abuse or Addiction

According to an article from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a challenge in the treatment of speedball abuse is that treatments for heroin addiction are only moderately effective in helping those who use speedballs. There is no FDA-approved medicine to treat cocaine addiction, and the medications targeted specifically for opioid addiction won’t address the addiction to cocaine.

However, addiction treatment involves more than medication and, in fact, behavioral therapy is at the core of treatment, even when medication is prescribed. Therapies may include cognitive-behavioral therapy, which helps you to uncover the reasons for using heroin and cocaine and help you to adjust harmful beliefs and learn new and better ways of coping. The Matrix Model is another therapeutic method that is geared toward the treatment of stimulant addiction and incorporates a number of different approaches, including relapse prevention, self-help program involvement, and drug abuse education.

With the long list of dangers that injecting speedballs brings, those who are struggling with the abuse of this substance combination are in urgent need of addiction treatment. Reaching out for treatment could save your life.