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  • Updated 04.06.2020
  • Released 10.08.2008
  • Expires For CME 04.06.2023

Illicit drug use: neurologic complications


This article includes discussion of illicit drug use: neurologic complications, trauma, infection, seizures, stroke, and cognitive dysfunction. The foregoing terms may include synonyms, similar disorders, variations in usage, and abbreviations


The author describes the clinical features of intoxication and withdrawal of the major illicit drugs, as well as the neurologic complications often encountered in users, including seizures, stroke, and cognitive dysfunction. During 2019, the United States continued to experience an epidemic of opioid abuse as well as recreational use of synthetic cannabinoid agents marketed as “Spice” and “K2.”

Key points

• In addition to overdose, major complications of illicit drug use include trauma, infection, seizures, stroke, persistent cognitive impairment, and teratogenic effects.

• A seizure in an illicit drug user can have an indirect cause, such as cerebral contusion or CNS infection, or can be a manifestation of direct toxicity or withdrawal (eg, barbiturate).

• Evidence has increasingly demonstrated that a number of drugs can cause lasting neuropsychiatric impairment.

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