The Dangers of Combining Crack and Heroin

Heroin is a highly addictive drug with the potential to cause severe health conditions and even death. And those dangers increase when heroin is combined with other potent drugs that have their own risks and potentially dangerous side effects, such as crack cocaine. Called a speedball, the combination of heroin and crack cocaine amplifies both the effects of the drugs and the risk of lethal overdose.

The Lure of the Speedball

Combining Crack and Heroin

A speedball amplifies the effects of heroin and crack cocaine.

A speedball can be any combination of a stimulant and a sedative substance, but this term is used mainly to describe the best known of these – heroin and the highly concentrated, and addictive form of cocaine, called crack. Though speedballs can be snorted, most users favor injection  – a method that delivers quick, intense effects.

Heroin is a sedative – a member of that group of pain relieving and relaxing drugs known as opioids. These drugs, which include morphine (heroin’s “parent” drug) and a long list of prescription pain medications such as OxyContin and Vicodin, act on natural opioid receptors in the brain and body to produce feelings of relaxation and pleasure.

These drugs depress the central nervous system, causing breathing and heart rate to slow down – the main reason for death from overdose. Heroin users typically experience a fast, euphoric rush and then feel sleepy and unfocused, frequently nodding off as the drug leaves the system.

Cocaine, extracted from the leaves of the coca plant, is a fast-acting stimulant that causes users to feel “wired” – energetic and extremely alert. Crack cocaine is a highly-concentrated, crystallized form of cocaine that delivers a faster, more intense high than the powdered form. Though crack is typically smoked, it can be crushed and mixed with heroin and other ingredients to make a speedball.

Because crack is a stimulant, it causes effects such as a racing heart and agitation. But adding the sedative effects of heroin to the mix can ease those effects and create a smoother comedown from the drug. When a speedball is injected, it causes a fast, intense euphoria that wears off quickly, so that users may repeat the process several times in a night to get the effect they want. But doing so can be deadly.

Two Drugs Double The Risks

Mixing the sedative heroin with the stimulant crack cocaine sends the body on a rollercoaster ride between two extremes, both of which are hard on the organs and brain. Rapidly cycling between high energy and relaxation can tax the heart, lungs and brain more than taking just heroin or cocaine alone, and this can lead to outcomes such as heart attacks or impaired breathing.

The risk of overdose rises with speedball use, too. Each drug in the combination affects the performance of the other, so it can be easy to reach dangerous levels without realizing it.

Since the effects of a speedball wear off quickly, users often end up taking much more heroin and cocaine than they would if using each drug separately. And the fast turnaround makes it more likely that users might share needles and other equipment, which raises the risk of diseases such as HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C.

Speedballs also increase the risk of consuming harmful toxins often found in street drugs, which can damage blood vessels and organs and cause chronic disease. When crack cocaine is crushed, lumps can remain, with the potential to damage or block veins and arteries.

Heroin and crack cocaine are powerfully addictive and potentially dangerous substances. Mixing them in a speedball can amplify not only the rush but also the risks of both these drugs.

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