Calcium antagonist drugs were proposed for use in patients with recent aneurysmal subarachnoid hemorrhage (SAH) because of their ability to block the effects of a wide variety of vasoconstrictor substances on cerebral arteries in vitro. It was suggested that these agents might, therefore, be useful in ameliorating cerebral vasospasm and its ischemic consequences which frequently complicate SAH. This hypothesis was tested in an arm of a randomized double-blind placebo-controlled trial of high-dose intravenous nicardipine in patients with recently ruptured aneurysms. Participating investigators were required to send selected copies of all admission and follow-up angiograms obtained between Days 7 and 11 following hemorrhage (the peak period of risk for vasospasm) to the Central Registry of the Cooperative Aneurysm Study for blinded interpretation and review for the presence and severity of angiographic vasospasm. In centers with transcranial Doppler ultrasound (TCD) capabilities, middle cerebral artery (MCA) mean flow velocities were measured and recorded. Angiograms obtained between Days 7 and 11 were available for 103 (23%) of 449 patients receiving nicardipine and 121 (26%) of 457 receiving placebo. There was a balance of prognostic factors for vasospasm between the groups. Fifty-one percent of placebo-treated patients had moderate or severe vasospasm on "Day 7-11 angiograms" compared to 33% of nicardipine-treated patients. This difference is statistically significant (p < 0.01). Sixty-seven (49%) of 137 placebo-treated patients examined with TCD between Days 7 and 11 had mean MCA flow velocities exceeding 120 cm/sec compared to 26 (23%) of 112 nicardipine-treated patients (significant difference, p < 0.001). These data suggest that high-dose intravenous nicardipine reduces the incidence and severity of delayed cerebral arterial narrowing in patients following aneurysmal SAH.