Athletes use it to run faster, and kids use it to study harder. We live in a world where performance-enhancing drugs are available at every corner. So you’d think we have something to help with stroke too, right? That’s because rehab after a stroke is no joke. Sure, it might not look like hard work to an average person, but anyone who has suffered a stroke knows that the recovery process is comparable to serious athletic training. To tell you the truth, it’s downright exhausting. And when your recovery depends on how much you progress, the pressure is on.
Performance-enhancement can help stroke too
Performance-enhancement isn’t new to the rehab world. You may have even heard about amphetamines already. Rumor has it that amphetamines, like Ritalin or Adderall used for ADHD, may help stroke patients with rehab performance. But before we jump to giving everyone a seriously controlled substance, we need to take a step back and make sure that it works.
It’s about balance
As with any drug, we need to consider the risks versus benefits. Using amphetamines for stroke is no different. So far, scientists have injected dextroamphetamine into laboratory animals to study its effects in recovery after a stroke. This drug is a class of stimulant similar to Adderall for ADHD. In the initial animal studies, researchers found inconsistent results, but some of these studies showed benefit. Because it was safe and might help patients, it was time to take the next step. To see how it worked in humans, researchers conducted an exploratory study called the Amphetamine-Enhanced Stroke Recovery trial. In this trial, they studied the effects of dextroamphetamine tablets compared to placebo pills in 64 patients undergoing stroke rehab.
It was a well-designed, double-blinded, randomized controlled trial. The participants took their tablets, not knowing if it was the stimulant or placebo, about 1 hour before physical therapy. Patients then went to a physical therapy session for an hour. They did this routine every 4 days for a total of 6 sessions during the study. After 3 months, participants were evaluated for improvement in motor function. Researchers wanted to know if using dextroamphetamine with training could enhance patient recovery.
In the end, they found no difference. It turns out that taking the pills didn’t necessarily mean that you would do better after rehab. This was true even for people identified to benefit most from taking amphetamines.
Is this the end of using stimulants for stroke? Not by a long shot.
Though there wasn’t a benefit seen in this study, there’s still a chance that performance-enhancing drugs may help patients. We simply don’t know how best to use them. Perhaps a different drug, more severely affected patients, or a simple tweak in dosage could make a difference. The authors note that the treatment was very safe, so it’s not time to give up just yet! More studies are needed to see whether performance-enhancement can be a solution to help people recover after a stroke.
The lead author of this study was Dr. Larry B. Goldstein, from the Department of Neurology at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, Kentucky.