New research shows that cocaine greatly increases the risk of stroke in young adults following 24 hours of use, providing another reason to stay away from the street drug that has been linked to numerous psychological as well as physical side effects.

Dr. Yu-Ching Cheng, a researcher at Baltimore Veterans Affairs Medical center and lead author of the new study, said in a press release that, of the risk factors assessed during the investigation, cocaine use was by far one of the strongest factors of ischemic stroke in young people. "We set out to understand what factors contribute to stroke risk in young adults," she said. "Cocaine use is one of the risk factors we investigated and we were surprised at how strong an association there is between cocaine and stroke risk in young adults. We found the stroke risk associated with acute cocaine use is much higher than some other stroke risk factors, such as diabetes, high blood pressure and smoking."

The study, which was presented at the American Stroke Association’s International Stroke Conference in San Diego, surveyed data from about 1,000 stroke victims aged 15 to 49 in the Baltimore-Washington, D.C. area. This data was then compared to a control sample taken from the general population. Notably, more than one-fourth of both groups said they had done cocaine in the past.

The results were pretty sobering. Cheng and colleagues found that participants were six to seven times more likely to suffer a stroke within 24 hours of cocaine use. Now, this doesn’t mean that a night of cocaine use will make you seven times more likely to suffer a stroke the next day compared to your sober friend (even though that’s what it sounds like). What it means, however, is that there is a statistically salient relationship between coke and a serious disturbance of cerebral blood flow, which in turn provides a robust basis for a new health recommendation.

And that recommendation is: Don’t do coke, because it may give you a stroke.

Why, then, does cocaine boost this risk? We asked Dr. John W. Cole, a researcher at the Maryland Stroke Center and co-author of the study, who made it clear that the drug interferes with pretty much the entire spectrum of cardiovascular health. “Cocaine, through its actions as a central nervous system stimulant, increases stroke risk through a variety of mechanisms that alter normal cardiovascular and cerebrovascular tone and function,” he said, citing something called a sympathomimetic effect that ratchets up blood pressure, heart rate, and other values you really want to keep within certain limits. “In such situations, a clot forms in the heart and then migrates (or embolizes) to the brain resulting in occluded brain blood vessels and cerebral ischemia (ischemic stroke).”

Cheng added that, in light of this discovery, emergency rooms across the nation should start considering the relatively high probability of cocaine use in young ischemic stroke victims. "Cocaine is not only addictive, it can also lead to disability or death from stroke," she said. "With few exceptions, we believe every young stroke patient should be screened for drug abuse at the time of hospital admission.”

Source: Cheng Y, Qadwai SA, Ryan KA, Cole JW, Kittiner SJ. Illicit Cocaine Use and Risk of Ischemic Stroke: The Stroke Prevention in Young Adults Study. Presented at the American Stroke Association. 2014.