'Party Drugs' May Blow Your Mind -- or at Least Your Brain

From the WebMD Archives

May 12, 2000 -- The good times may roll right into the emergency room for users of cocaine, speed, or ecstasy. Specialists think that these "party drugs" can trigger strokes, and that the risk may be especially high for those with unsuspected defects in the blood vessels that supply their brains. Up to 8% of the population may have such abnormalities, Andrew W. McEvoy, MD, tells WebMD.

McEvoy reports in the May 13 issue of the British Medical Journal that he found such blood vessel defects in 10 of 13 young adult patients he treated who had strokes after using these drugs. Most of these patients survived, but cocaine may contribute to more than half of the deaths from certain types of strokes, he says. McEvoy is a research fellow at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery in London.

McEvoy tells WebMD that he became interested in the drugs-stroke connection when he noticed that his hospital was treating more young adults who had strokes after taking one of the popular "party drugs." He tested blood vessels in the brains of 13 of these patients and found that only one had completely normal vessels.

McEvoy thinks that people who have some defect in these blood vessels are at increased risk of stroke if they take cocaine, speed, or ecstasy, because these drugs cause increase pressure in the blood vessels. Like a bad tire, the vessel is likely to have a blowout at the weak point.

"The stimulant effect of all these compounds results from the sudden increase in blood pressure which they [cause]," McEvoy says. Anyone with an underlying problem in the brain's blood vessels would be at higher risk of bleeding in the brain after taking these drugs, he adds.

McEvoy says that stroke should be suspected in any young adult who develops a severe headache, nausea, vomiting, or changes in consciousness after using any of these drugs.

Kurt Nolte, MD, has studied autopsies of people who died of stroke. He found that nearly 60% of younger patients whose strokes were not caused by brain injuries had cocaine in their blood. He is a forensic pathologist in the office of the medical investigator at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine in Albuquerque. "Each time an individual uses a stimulant, such as cocaine or [speed], he or she takes a risk," Nolte says.


Vital Information:

  • People who take cocaine, speed, or ecstasy can suffer from a stroke if they have an underlying abnormality in the blood vessels of the brain.
  • These "party drugs" induce a sudden increase in the blood pressure, which can cause a weakened blood vessel to burst and bleed, resulting in a stroke.
  • In a study of 13 young adult patients who suffered a stroke, 10 of these resulted from drug use.
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