Speedball (drug)

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Cocaine powder
Heroin powder

Speedball (or powerball) is a mixture of cocaine (a stimulant) with heroin or morphine (a depressant), taken intravenously or by insufflation.[1] Speedball is a dangerous mixture, often more potent than the sum of the parts due to drug synergy. The original speedball used cocaine hydrochloride mixed with morphine sulfate, as opposed to heroin.[2] Speedball may also use pharmaceutical opioids, benzodiazepines, or barbiturates along with stimulants. However, since opioids and sedative-hypnotics have different objective and subjective effects, stimulant-depressant mixtures are known by the slang term "set up".[3] A cocktail of drugs containing an opioid can cause a strong physical dependence and withdrawal symptoms.

Physiological response[edit]

Cocaine acts as a stimulant, whereas heroin/morphine acts as a depressant. Co-administration is meant to provide an intense rush of euphoria with a high that is supposed to combine the effects of both drugs, while hoping to reduce the negative effects, such as anxiety, hypertension, palpitations and other common side effects of stimulants and sedation/drowsiness from the depressant. While this is somewhat effective, as one drug (the CNS stimulant) triggers the sympathetic nervous system and the other (the CNS depressant) triggers the parasympathetic nervous system, the two systems that regulate the fight-or-flight and rest-and-digest responses, respectively, and simultaneous activity of the two pathways is what normally keeps one's body in natural homeostasis, there is an imperfect overlap in the effects of stimulants and depressants. Additionally, by suppressing the typical negative side-effects of the two drugs, the user may falsely believe they have a higher tolerance, or that they are less intoxicated than they actually are. This can cause users to misjudge the intake of one or both of the drugs, sometimes fatally.

Because the stimulant effects of cocaine wear off far more quickly than the depressant effects of heroin or morphine, fatal respiratory depression often occurs when the full effects of a heroin or morphine overdosage are felt in isolation. Due to the countering effect of the cocaine, a fatally high opioid dose can be unwittingly administered without immediate incapacitation, thus providing a false sense of tolerance until it is too late. This form of delayed opioid overdose is believed to be the most common mechanism of death in speedball overdoses.

Notable deaths attributed to speedball use[edit]

Notable users/survivors[edit]

Circa 1900, Harry Kendall Thaw was an early user of the speedball.[24] In 1996, Dave Gahan suffered a heart attack following a speedball overdose, but survived.[25] Steven Adler had a stroke after taking a speedball, leaving him with a permanent speech impediment.[26]

Among celebrities who admitted using speedballs are Cream bassist Jack Bruce (as stated in an interview with Daily Record in 2009), Nikki Sixx (in The Heroin Diaries: A Year in the Life of a Shattered Rock Star and The Dirt), Anthony Kiedis (in his autobiography Scar Tissue), Kurt Cobain (in his biography Heavier Than Heaven), David Crosby (in his autobiography Long Time Gone), Jerry Garcia (who died of complications of the drug), Miles Davis,[27] Ryan Adams[28] and Slash (in his autobiography Slash). Slash experienced cardiac arrest for 8 minutes, but was revived.[29] In Season 9, episode 207 of The Late Late Show, comedian Craig Ferguson admitted to using speedballs, but refused along with musician/actress Courtney Love (who said she had "done both parts" but "not together") to tell the audience what drugs are in speedballs, for "legal reasons".[30]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Healing Addiction: An Integrated Pharmacopsychosocial Approach to Treatment, Wiley-Interscience, 2007, p. 122
  2. ^ Original Speedball
  3. ^ Spears, Richard The Dictionary of Slang & Euphemism
  4. ^ a b c d "Death by Drugs: Fatal Celebrity Drug and Alcohol Addictions". gatehouseacademy.com. Retrieved 27 March 2010.ht
  5. ^ Encyclopedia of the African diaspora: origins, experiences, and ..., Volume 1. By Carole Boyce Davies. ABC-CLIO. p. 150.
  6. ^ "Caminiti's death ruled accidental drug overdose". The Record – Kitchener, Ont. 2 Nov 2004
  7. ^ "Chris Farley's Death Laid to Drug Overdose". New York Times. 3 January 1998. Retrieved 24 June 2010.
  8. ^ Henke, James (April 26, 1984). "Chrissie Hynde Without Tears". Rolling Stone.
  9. ^ Peacock, Tim (1 October 2002). "OBITUARY: ZAC FOLEY". whisperinandhollerin.com. Retrieved 5 May 2010.
  10. ^ JAG star died from drug overdose, coroner rules Sydney Morning Herald. 6 August 2003.
  11. ^ Associated Press (27 December 2005). "Report: Mitch Hedberg died of drug overdose".
  12. ^ "Philip Seymour Hoffman Killed By Massive OD Heroin, Coke, Rx Meds". TMZ. 28 February 2014.
  13. ^ Coroner: Philip Seymour Hoffman died of acute mixed drug intoxication. CNN.com. Retrieved on 2014-05-12.
  14. ^ "Hoffman Died from Toxic Drug Mixture".
  15. ^ "UK artist Sebastian Horsley dies of overdose". Ninemsn. 18 June 2010. Archived from the original on 14 July 2012. Retrieved 16 June 2010.
  16. ^ "Report: Kris Kross' Chris Kelly Autopsy Complete". MTV. Retrieved 3 March 2013.
  17. ^ Rolling Stone artists biography Search for "The Grateful Dead"
  18. ^ "Death of River Phoenix Is Linked To Use of Cocaine and Morphine". The New York Times. 13 November 1993. Retrieved 19 March 2013.
  19. ^ Gordon, Jeremy (7 August 2014). "DJ Rashad Died of Drug Overdose, Autopsy Confirms". Pitchfork. Retrieved 7 August 2014.
  20. ^ "Rules of abuse". The San Diego Union-Tribune. 24 May 2008. Retrieved 29 April 2010.
  21. ^ The Billboard guide to contemporary Christian music By Barry Alfonso. p. 243
  22. ^ "Report: Staley Died Of Heroin/Cocaine Overdose". Billboard. Retrieved 29 April 2010.
  23. ^ Who's who in contemporary gay and lesbian history: from World War ..., Volume 2 By Robert Aldrich, Garry Wotherspoon. Routledge. p. 387. Based on information from Charles Isherwood's Wonder Bread and Ecstasy
  24. ^ Sarah L. Law (2014). Pittsburgh's Point Breeze. Arcadia Publishing. pp. 18–. ISBN 978-1-4671-2233-7.
  25. ^ Davis, Johnny (2007-10-28). "This much I know: Dave Gahan, singer, 45, London". the Guardian. Retrieved 2016-05-12.
  26. ^ Himmelsbach, Eric (8 July 2004). "Little Drummer Boy Lost". LA CityBeat. Southland Publishing.
  27. ^ Davis, Miles; Troupe, Quicy (1990). Miles: The Autobiography. Simon & Schuster. p. 335. ISBN 978-0-671-72582-2.
  28. ^ Goodman, Lizzy. “The Last Moments Of The Last Great Rock Band“, Vulture’’ Retrieved on 17 May 2017.
  29. ^ Hudson, Saul (2007). Slash. United States: HarperEntertainment. p. 480. ISBN 978-0-06-135142-6.
  30. ^ Video. Youtube.com. Retrieved on 2015-07-28.

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