Sara Bellum
June 26 2013

This past Drug Facts Chat Day, teens from across the country submitted questions about drug abuse to NIDA scientists.

A teen from Kingswood Regional Middle School in New Hampshire asked, “Can you tell me what speedballs are and why they are so dangerous?”

”Push-Pull”

A speedball is a combination of heroin and cocaine. Cocaine acts as a stimulant and heroin acts as a depressant, so taking them together creates a sort of “push-pull” reaction in the body and brain.

People use cocaine and heroin at the same time to get an intense rush with a high that is supposed to combine the effects of both drugs, while hoping to reduce the negative effects. However, the combination of cocaine and heroin can have fatal consequences. Negative effects of stimulants include anxiety, high blood pressure, and strong or irregular heartbeat, while the negative effects of depressants include drowsiness and suppression of breathing.

Taking stimulants with depressants can cause negative side effects typically associated with the abuse of either one individually, such as a state of general confusion, incoherence, blurred vision, stupor, drowsiness, paranoia, and mental impairment because of lack of sleep. The combination can also result in uncontrolled and uncoordinated motor skills, and also the risk of death from stroke, heart attack, aneurysm, or respiratory failure.

Respiratory failure is particularly likely with speedballs because the effects of cocaine wear off far more quickly than the effects of heroin. Fatal slowing of the breathing can occur when the stimulating cocaine wears off and the full effects of the heroin are felt on their own.

What other questions about drugs do you have?

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