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The Speedball: How Mixing Heroin and Cocaine Damages the Brain

2 years ago

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Posted on May 13, 2022, 5 p.m.

Uppers and downers are broad terms used to describe different kinds of drugs. Uppers are stimulant drugs, including cocaine and other substances that “stimulate” the body. In contrast, downers have a slow and lowering effect on the body. Many people commonly identify downers, such as benzos and sedatives, as depressant drugs. But downers can also include opioids like heroin. 

Heroin and cocaine have both been major players in drug abuse and addiction worldwide. And while stimulants like methamphetamines or opioids like fentanyl have stolen much of the attention from these drugs in recent years, heroin and cocaine are still major threats to bodily health, especially the brain. Here’s how mixing heroin and cocaine damages the brain.

The Speedball

When heroin is mixed with cocaine, the drug cocktail is called a speedball. At first, the speedball was a mix of cocaine and morphine, but the common one-two punch today is heroin and cocaine. With heroin estimated to be around 25 times more potent than morphine, this means the speedball has become a much stronger combination through the years. It doesn’t take much convincing to accept that heroin and cocaine are dangerous drugs that can negatively impact one’s health. So why do people mix these drugs? The general idea behind mixing these uppers and downers is to experience the best of both drugs and hopefully undo each drug’s negative side effects, too. 

For example, while the target market of cocaine is people looking for a rush of energy, people do not like the anxiety and insomnia that come with it. Heroin appeals to those looking for relaxation and euphoria, but it comes at a price of sleepiness and brain fog. On paper, it looks like combining these drugs can give you the best of both worlds, which is what makes speedballing a popular option. But is this actually what happens when users combine these drugs? 

The answer is it depends on the person and the amount of each drug a person takes. While it is possible to take heroin and cocaine together to achieve the euphoric effects of both, it is also possible for users to experience the negative effects of both. Adding to this risk, stimulants like cocaine can mask depressants like heroin. This means a heroin high is numbed until the cocaine high wears off. Additionally, this means a heroin overdose cannot be felt until long after the drug has been in the user’s system, which makes it especially dangerous.

The Brain on Drugs

In addition to the danger of overdose and even death, what are the dangers of users who beat the odds and enjoy speedballing? The first thing is the strong likelihood that users who speedball regularly are addicted to heroin and cocaine. These drugs are very addictive on their own, but mixing them regularly virtually guarantees that addiction will form. It’s less likely that you wonder whether the brain is damaged by ongoing heroin and cocaine use and more likely that you wonder how the brain is damaged. 

Cocaine overrides the brain’s dopamine circuits with feelings of happiness, which means individuals can become emotionally unstable unless they feed their cocaine addiction. Heroin binds the brain’s opioid receptors, including the body’s response to pain, pleasure, and even breathing. Additionally, heroin affects the limbic system, the part of the brain responsible for reward and motivation. 

Just think of how basic these brain functions are for our everyday experience. As long as these drugs are part of an ongoing addiction, the brain can’t interpret these things on its own because the drugs send it mixed signals. Meanwhile, when individuals experience a withdrawal, the brain undergoes intense reactions because it has been suppressed and manipulated for so long. 

Users can take heroin and cocaine in various ways, but it should be noted that smoking cocaine has an even more negative impact on the brain because the drug reaches the brain much faster when smoked. Changes in the brain can include glutamate neurotransmission, which affects learning and memory, and the orbitofrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for decision making. 

Besides the risk of overdose and death when mixing these drugs, it is important to educate one another about how the ongoing use of heroin and cocaine affects the brain. In some cases, coming off these drugs soon enough can give the body time to repair and recalibrate once the drugs are out of the body and the body has been rehabilitated from addiction. However, the ongoing use of these drugs could mean that the effects on the brain are permanent. This is why it is so important to seek professional help now. It’s too risky to wait. 

This article was written for WHN by Kevin Morris from the Delphi Behavioral Health Group, a dedicated family of facilities committed to offering individualized treatment for all levels of addiction working to treat it at its core to provide those suffering with the tools to start a journey of long-lasting recovery.

As with anything you read on the internet, this article should not be construed as medical advice; please talk to your doctor or primary care provider before changing your wellness routine.

Content may be edited for style and length.

Materials provided by:

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