It’s no secret that addiction comes with a long list of risks. However, even within the realm of illicit substance abuse, some activities are more dangerous than others. Combining multiple drugs with different methods of action – a stimulant and a depressant – creates greater potential for fatal overdose. What is a speedball? Today, we’ll explain the dangers of this prevalent form of polysubstance abuse.
What is a Speedball?
When a person talks about a speedball, they are referring to the combination of a stimulant and a depressant (in this case, an opioid). Almost all individuals who use this term are talking about cocaine and heroin. However, it can also broadly apply to other mixtures (for example, substituting methamphetamine as the stimulant and taking opioid painkillers instead of heroin).
Most often, these drugs are injected at the same time. However, some people will snort them both in powder form. Why would someone decide to mix these two powerful substances? The answer is simple: to achieve a greater effect than either drug provides individually while negating side effects. However, combining heroin and cocaine can be a fatal decision.
Mixing Opioids and Stimulants
The idea behind the speedball is twofold:
To achieve a greater high. While each person will react differently to substance use, the reinforcing effects of heroin and cocaine are stronger than each drug by itself. With strong mu opioid receptor activation (and the resulting surge in dopamine) from heroin and increases in dopamine activity in certain regions of the brain (due to cocaine), the combination of drugs is extremely addictive. Because it activates different functions within the brain, speedballing is popular among intravenous drug users.
To negate the negative side effects of the drug. The prominent opinion among those who speedball is that using two drugs at once will “cancel out” the unwanted side effects of each substance. However, this is a massive misconception. By consuming a stimulant, they hope to achieve an opioid’s euphoric effects without fatigue. By taking an opioid, they seek to counteract the hyperactivity caused by cocaine. In reality, those who combine two drugs are at higher risk of side effects from both substances – as well as an increased risk of overdose.
The Dangers of a Speedball: Polysubstance Abuse
Taking a speedball pulls a person’s body in two directions; instead of processing one substance at a time, it must deal with multiple, opposing messages. For example, the consumption of cocaine increases the body’s oxygen intake, while heroin depresses respiration. The resulting turmoil can have incredible negative effects on the body, making it more difficult for a person to take in enough oxygen. Additionally, these two drugs do not have the same half-life, meaning that those who speedball inject more often than those who use these substances separately.
Speedball Side Effects
Combining heroin and cocaine can create severe, unpredictable side effects. Here are a few of the most common outcomes for those who speedball.
- Blurry vision
- High blood pressure
- Mental impairment
- Respiratory depression
- Rapid changes in heart rate
- Cardiac arrhythmia
- Jerky, uncontrolled movement
- Liver and kidney damage
- Lasting cognitive impairment
- Increased risk of HIV, skin infections, or abscesses
- Heart attack
- Respiratory failure
Help for Polysubstance Abuse
Compared to those who use cocaine or heroin alone, individuals who speedball exhibit more severe pathology and may resist addiction treatment. Even if someone feels better while using both drugs at once, the “push-pull” effects on the body can cause lasting internal damage. It’s important to get help for polysubstance abuse before an overdose occurs.
At Augustine Recovery, we offer comprehensive addiction treatment that addresses all aspects of a person’s substance use. Our counselors provide innovative therapies – both behavioral and experiential – that can help a person to recover for life. To learn more about our unique approach for polysubstance abuse, contact our admissions team.