Drug abuse robs individuals of their jobs, their families, and their free will as they succumb to addiction; but may cost even more: a life of disability or even life lost due to stroke. Many illicit drugs have been linked to major cardiovascular events and other comorbidities, including cocaine, amphetamines, ecstasy, heroin, phencyclidine, lysergic acid diethylamide, and marijuana. This review focuses on available epidemiological data, mechanisms of action, particularly those leading to cerebrovascular events, and it is based on papers published in English in PubMed during 1950 through February 2011. Each drug's unique interactions with the brain and vasculature predispose even young, healthy people to ischemic or hemorrhagic stroke. Cocaine and amphetamines have the strongest association with stroke. However, the level of evidence firmly linking other drugs to stroke pathogenesis is weak. Large epidemiological studies and systematic evaluation of each drug's action on the brain and cardiovascular system are needed to reveal the full impact of drug use on the population.
Keywords: Acute ischemic stroke, illicit drugs, intracerebral hemorrhage, subarachnoid hemorrhage, substance abuse