Speedballing is a slang term that refers to the mixing of cocaine with heroin or benzodiazepines. Cocaine, a stimulant, combined with heroin, an opioid, yields a mixture that users usually inject directly into their bloodstream, or one after the other. Cocaine energizes the user with a sudden rush of energy and dopamine; heroin conversely slows down body functions like breathing and heart rate. Both drugs are illegal and very harmful to the body on their own, and the combination increases the risk of a deadly overdose.
What does speedballing do to the body?
Speedballing usually involves injecting or snorting the drug combination. People may consume it to lengthen or intensify a high. However, they will also experience the negative side effects of both drugs. Further, using both substances at the same time leads to an increased overdose chance for a number of reasons. One factor is an increased need for oxygen, paired with a decreased breathing rate.
To get the best picture of what speedballing does to a user, it can be helpful to understand what each drug does on its own. Heroin belongs to the opioid family, a group of legal and illegal painkiller drugs that are highly addictive and commonly abused. Heroin can be ingested in a variety of ways: smoking, injecting, sniffing, and snorting are all common. When consumed, the body converts heroin into morphine, where opioid receptors in the body bind with it.
When the converted morphine binds to receptors in the brain, the “high” occurs, and a rush of dopamine creates a strong feeling of euphoria. This euphoric feeling draws individuals to abuse heroin, and is also to blame for why heroin is so addictive. However, heroin also causes dozens of negative side effects, both short and long-term.
Side effects of using heroin
Short term side effects of using heroin include:
- Dry mouth
- Warm flushed skin
- Limbs feeling heavy
- Nausea or vomiting
- Severe itching
- Clouded judgement or mental capacity
- Drifting in and out of consciousness
Some long-term side effects of heroin may also develop:
- Collapsed veins if injected
- Damaged nose tissue if snorted or sniffed
- Heart infection
- Mental disorders
- Liver, lung, or kidney disease
Contaminants in heroin can also create complications when it is injected. When a foreign substance that the body can’t absorb is introduced, the substance may clog blood vessels, or cause tissue death in the area of injection.
If the list of side effects wasn’t enough, heroin can also cause an overdose, resulting in medical emergencies or even death. An overdose usually occurs when an individual takes too large a dose, and side effects become life-threatening. Since heroin is such a powerful drug, accidental overdose can happen easily. Severely slowed breathing or a massively reduced heart rate both put users in danger.
Cocaine and its side effects
Cocaine, on the other hand, is a powerful stimulant. Users usually take it by snorting it or injecting it, and sometimes smoking it. By restricting the brain’s ability to stop the production of dopamine, cocaine causes a surplus of dopamine in the brain, similar to heroin. This makes dopamine release makes cocaine addictive, but continued users will eventually build both a dependence and a lower sensitivity to it. People who ingest cocaine will experience effects almost immediately that usually fade within an hour. The high’s short duration sometimes leads people to take intermittent doses throughout the day.
Short term side effects of cocaine use include:
- Intense happiness or high energy
- Mental alertness
- Hypersensitivity of the senses
- Irritability or paranoia
- Raised body temperature
- Irregular or fast heartbeat
- Restlessness or muscle twitches
Long term side effects may also include:
- Loss of smell, difficulty swallowing, or nosebleeds from snorting
- Coughing, pneumonia, or high risk of infection from smoking
- Tissue infections, higher risk of HIV or other bloodborne diseases, or scarring/collapsed veins from injecting
A short high means users often use a large amount of cocaine at a time, either to increase the intensity of the high, or the length of it. However, this comes at a greater risk of overdose. One study noted that overdoses could occur in doses as small as a few hundred milligrams (~.01 ounces). Tolerance can also develop in long-term users, who need more and more of the drug to sustain the same feeling. Overdoses can lead to coma, seizure, respiratory failure, heart palpitations, or even death.
Why speedballing is so dangerous
When taken a look at separately, it becomes clear how each drug affects the body. Taking the two simultaneously results in a dangerous combination that can lead to a harmful or even fatal overdose. The main problem with speedballing lies in the time that each drug takes to wear off. Cocaine, depending on the mode of consumption, takes at the most an hour to wear off.
Meanwhile, heroin’s effects usually last several hours, well over the time it takes for cocaine’s high to subside. Since heroin slows down body processes and cocaine speeds them up, this wearing off can be the critical point of danger in an individual who is speedballing. As they come down from the cocaine high, their body functions no longer have the stimulated boost from it, and the effects of heroin can be felt much more intensely. The result is a drastically lowered heart rate and decreased breathing that can be deadly.
The bottom line
Speedballing is the product of two incredibly dangerous and addictive drugs. Unsurprisingly, the combination of heroin and cocaine has drastic effects, and a greater chance of overdose arises than when using either drug alone. The journey to recovery is difficult, but no one needs to start it alone. If you or a loved one is struggling with any addiction, contact us today, and we can help you on the journey back to sobriety. To read more about substance abuse, addictive drugs, and lifetime recovery, read our blog.