When you hear the word speedball, your first thought might be of a particularly fast baseball pitch. Unfortunately, in the context of addiction, it’s something much more sinister. A speedball is a mix of cocaine and heroin or morphine that can be taken either intravenously or by snorting into the nose, which is called nasal insufflation. Both methods allow the drugs to quickly reach the bloodstream. Injected substances are administered directly into veins, and snorted drugs bypass the digestive tract and liver, where they would ordinarily be broken down somewhat. Instead, insufflated drugs go directly into the bloodstream via blood vessels in the nasal cavity and then quickly reach the brain. Speedballs may also contain what are called sedative-hypnotics, such as benzodiazepines or barbiturates, although these drugs have different effects and are known by the slang term “set-up.”

The cocaine acts as a stimulant, while the opioid in the mixture is a depressant. Combining the drugs can lead to euphoria as one receives the positive feelings from both chemicals. Sometimes, however, the side effects of each drug – including confusion, incoherence, blurred vision, and paranoia – can actually be exacerbated and overshadow the high. The combination acts on the autonomic nervous system, which controls the muscles of internal organs. Stimulants affect the sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for regulating the fight-or-flight response. Depressants trigger the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the body’s unconscious reactions like digestion and resting heart rate.

Speedballs are also theoretically able to negate the unpleasant side effects of both drugs, such as anxiety, hypertension, and heart palpitations caused by stimulants and drowsiness from the depressant. The effects of the cocaine wear off much more quickly than the depressants, however, which sometimes results in a delayed opioid overdose. The drug user is initially unable to notice the typical overdose side effects because the cocaine is countering them, and by the time the cocaine wears off it might be too late. The stimulant and depressant combination is highly addictive, because both cocaine and heroin act on the dopamine system, providing reinforcement to continue or repeat use. Speedballs can also increase the chances of developing mental disorders such as depression, severe anxiety, suicidal thinking, and psychosis.

To understand how dangerous speedballs are, one need only look at the number of casualties. There is a long list of celebrities who died from a speedball overdose, including: Jean-Michel Basquiat, an American artist; actor and comedian John Belushi; actor and Saturday Night Live cast member Chris Farley, actor Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Chris Kelly of the hip-hop duo Kris Kross; Brent Mydland, the keyboard player for the Grateful Dead; actor River Phoenix (brother of Joaquin); and Layne Staley, lead vocalist of the band Alice in Chains.

If you or a loved one need help with quitting drugs or alcohol, consider Asana Recovery. We offer medical detox, along with both residential and outpatient programs, and you’ll be supervised by a highly trained staff of medical professionals, counselors, and therapists. Call us any time at (949) 438-4504.



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