A comparative study of the cerebrovascular complications of cocaine: Alkaloidal versus hydrochloride—a review

S. R. Levine, J. C.M. Brust, N. Futrell, L. M. Brass, D. Blake, P. Fayad, L. R. Schultz, C. H. Millikan, K. L. Ho, K. M.A. Welch

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

149 Scopus citations


Cocaine, especially in its alkaloidal or “crack” form, has been increasingly associated with cerebrovascular disease. Before the crack epidemic, cocaine hydrochloride (HCl) was also implicated as a cause of stroke. However, less is known about the differences in stroke subtypes, age at stroke onset, or presence of underlying structural cerebrovascular disease with different forms of cocaine use. We compared 26 patients (previously reported) from our four institutions plus 16 cases reported in the literature of stroke associated with alkaloidal cocaine to 63 (57 reported in the literature and six not previously reported from our four institutions) cases of stroke associated with cocaine HCl. Ischemic and hemorrhagic strokes are equally likely after alkaloidal cocaine use, whereas cocaine HCl is more likely (approximately 80‥ of the time) to cause hemorrhagic stroke, with approximately half the intracranial hemorrhages occurring from ruptured cerebral saccular aneurysms or vascular malformations. The presence of an underlying cerebral aneurysm was more common among patients with cocaine HCl-associated strokes than alkaloidal cocaine-associated strokes. Cerebral infarction was significantly more common among the alkaloidal cocaine users than in all the cocaine HCl users, and this was also true when alkaloidal cocaine users were compared with parenteral cocaine HCl (intravenous and intramuscular) users. Only hemorrhagic stroke has been reported with intravenous cocaine HCl use. We conclude that the pathogenesis of cocaine-related stroke is heterogeneous, and depends, in part, on the form of cocaine used.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1173-1177
Number of pages5
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 1991
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology


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