Speedball: A Devastating Combination of Cocaine and Heroin

By
Shaindy Brecher
Medically Reviewed by
Dr. Jefferey A. Berman MD, DFASAM
Last Updated
September 11, 2023

Part of the complete guide to understanding addiction

Table of Contents
  1. What is a Speedball?
  2. Why is Speedballing Dangerous?
  3. What Does a Speedball Feel Like?
  4. A Form of Polydrug Abuse
  5. Speedball Drugs: The Risks Involved
  6. Common Side Effects of Speedballing
  7. Speedball and Drug Overdoses
  8. Celebrities Who Died From Speedball Overdose
  9. Unintentional Polysubstance Use
  10. Addiction Treatment at Avenues Recovery

Drug slang is commonly thrown around, allowing drug users to speak with codenames to avoid getting into trouble and calling attention to their conversation topics. “Speedball” is one such street name – a term that describes a dangerous doozy of mixing a stimulant with a depressant. Other slang names for speedballing include, “dynamite”, “belushi”, “bombita” and “snowballing”. Avenues Recovery provides an in-depth overview of what a speedball is, and symptoms of speedballing that one should be cognizant of.

What is a Speedball?

Speedball is a mixture of two illicit drugs: heroin and cocaine.

Heroin (a depressant) and cocaine (a stimulant) are each risky on their own, let alone when they are combined. It’s for good reason that this dangerous combination is referred to as “dynamite”; its effects on the drug user are explosive, and its long-term ramifications are devastating.

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Why is Speedballing Dangerous?

Heroin and cocaine have quite the opposite effects. While heroin relaxes the systems in the body, slows breathing, and causes the user to feel drowsy, cocaine causes an adrenaline rush, speeds up breathing, and gives the sought-after “high”. The effects of both drugs are only amplified when combined.

It’s a common misconception that mixing heroin with cocaine will “cancel out” the negative effects of heroin. The theory is quite simple: heroin (a depressant) will “calm down” the unique high that cocaine (a stimulant) gives off. Powerful drugs, however, don’t interact with each other like complementary personalities. On the contrary, speedball drugs can lead to extremely dangerous consequences.

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What Does a Speedball Feel Like?

When a speedball is injected, the body is forced to process the two types of drugs simultaneously. Taking heroin and cocaine together causes a “push-pull” reaction in the body. Since cocaine is a stimulant drug, the body works quickly to take in and use more oxygen to counter the extra energy. At the same time, heroin causes breathing to slow down – putting a strain on the overactive lungs, heart, and brain. The speedball causes confusion as the body tries to receive enough oxygen to balance out the effects of cocaine – a tough task when heroin actively works to slow down breathing.

A Form of Polydrug Abuse

When someone resorts to polysubstance abuse, the consequences can be fatal. Once the speedball is injected however, it’s too late to consider its severe and potentially deadly effects. Logic and reason cannot counter the blissful highs of a speedball. It requires a strong awareness and firm boundaries not to allow substance use to reach the point of a speedball addiction. In fact, nearly half of drug overdoses in 2019 were caused by polydrug abuse [1]. Similarly, illegal drug manufacturers are beginning to lace other drugs with fentanyl, as it increases the power of the drug. Drug users may not even be aware that the drug includes fentanyl and can potentially use more than they can handle, leading to terrible consequences. 

Speedball Drugs: The Risks Involved

The intense cocaine rush, and the longer-lasting high than that experienced when taking either drug alone, is enticing. Its harmful effects though, are long-lasting, too.

It’s impossible to know exactly which substances illegal street drugs are composed of; their compositions vary and can include random chemicals. (The manufacturers are not concerned with measured proportions and defined reactions.) Furthermore, exact side effects will depend on the individual user’s biological makeup, medical and mental history, and emotional state. Therefore, exactly what a speedball feels like will differ from one person to the other. 

 When drugs interact inside the body, the results are unpredictable and sometimes deadly. Speedball addiction primarily impacts the mental state of the drug user.

Common Side Effects of Speedballing

  • Confusion
  • Blurred vision
  • Paranoia
  • Anxiety
  • Uncontrollable movements
  • Drowsiness
  • Depression
  • Psychosis

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Speedball and Drug Overdoses

Aside from making it difficult for the body to receive enough oxygen, speedball holds other risks as well. The effects of cocaine wear off much faster than the effects of heroin. So, in order to maintain that euphoric and energizing high that comes from combining the two, additional injections of heroin are required. Speedball users tend to inject themselves with these potent drugs a lot more often than when using heroin and cocaine separately, causing an increase in drug overdoses.

If someone does manage to survive an overdose, there can be permanent disabilities such as:

  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • Aneurysms
  • Respiratory failure

It’s hard to differentiate between the behaviors of an individual experiencing a high or showing signs of an overdose. The fine line between the two is easily and quickly crossed, and if a bystander is unsure of the state of things, it’s best to err on the side of caution and seek immediate medical help.

Celebrities Who Died From Speedball Overdose

Speedballing has taken the lives of countless famed individuals. In fact, a street name for speedballing, “belushi,” is named after the famous comedian John Belushi who died from a speedball overdose in 1982. 

Other celebrities who died from speedballing include:

  • Actor, Phillip Seymour Hoffman (2014)
  • Comedian, Chris Farley (1997)
  • Actor, River Phoenix (1993)

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Unintentional Polysubstance Use

It’s important to be aware that polysubstance use can occur unintentionally, with doctors prescribing a prescription drug that is not safe to use in tandem with medication a patient is already taking. Mixing drugs is never safe and medical advice must be sought in regard to multiple medical prescriptions.

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Addiction Treatment at Avenues Recovery

When an individual reaches a point of being unable to help himself, it’s up to the loved ones to seek appropriate care. Since speedballing holds tremendous risks, it is vital for polydrug users to begin detox and treatment immediately.

Avenues Recovery Center, a name synonymous with professional care and sustainable recovery, is experienced with all kinds of drug addictions and has proved to be a place of solace in the frightening world of addiction. If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction or if you are interested in knowing more about what speedballing is, do not hesitate to get in touch. Reach out to Avenues Recovery Center today to speak to a trained and compassionate treatment specialist, who will help you begin your journey home to a full recovery and a brighter future.

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Sources

[1] cdc.gov


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