Crystal Meth ‘Tik’ Addiction

Crystal meth has become a well known drug due to the explosion of this narcotic on the South African drug scene. Known locally as ‘tik’, crystal meth use has spread throughout South Africa and is growing as the drug of choice among teenagers. Crystal meth belongs to a category of drugs known as methamphetamines and is more addictive than other popular drugs like cocaine.

What is methamphetamine?

Methamphetamines have been used as scheduled drugs in the treatment of behavioural disorders like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and sleep disorders like narcolepsy. However the narcotic methamphetamines (meth) are made in makeshift, illegal meth labs and are very toxic. They are at times mixed with other cheap drugs and poisons to increase the effect and bulk up the product.

How does crystal meth work?

Methamphetamines work by triggering the release of a brain hormone called dopamine. Dopamine is one of the ‘pleasure’ hormones and is secreted in large quantities from certain nerve cells under specific conditions. In terms of the action of crystal meth, dopamine is released in massive amounts from an area of the brain called the nucleus accumbens. This is known as the motivation and reward centre and dopamine release here  is usually associated with pleasurable activities like sex and eating. With crystal meth, up to 6 times the normal dopamine release is trigger,ed creating a sense of euphoria or a ‘high’.

Use of Crystal Meth

Crystal meth can be smoked, sniffed (snorted), eaten or injected although smoking it is more popular in South Africa. The images of young teens in the townships of Cape Town, inhaling the the noxious fumes through straw and pipes have been splashed across our TV screens in numerous documentaries. But the use of the drug is not isolated to any specific region in South Africa and is available in every city and town in South Africa. Tik is one of the most versatile drugs and is peddled in a number of forms – including a powder, crystal-like granules and small yellow chunks known as rocks.

Crystal Meth Rocks

Crystal Meth Granules (Ice)

Effects of Crystal Meth

Crystal meth induces a euphoria that is known to be highly pleasurable and invigorating. The tik high gives the user a burst of energy, confidence and excitement that is in stark contrast to the depressed and gloomy state as the drug wears off. Addicts may become more talkative, jovial, or even aggressive and there have been numerous cases of violent and criminal incidents related to crystal meth addiction. The drug increases the heart rate, blood pressure and blood sugar levels and the user may sweat profusely and suffer with severe tremors. Rationality and cognitive abilities are severely impaired and in high doses, the tik user may also hallucinate. Some of the negative experiences reported by tik users is diarrhoea, with nausea and vomiting, blackouts and scary hallucinations, which make for a bad ‘trip’.

Signs and Symptoms of Crystal Meth Addiction

It is difficult to conclusively identify a tik user from drug addicts using other narcotics like mandrax or heroin. A tik user typically starts off the same – changes in moods, lack of appetite, difficulty sleeping and anti-social and violent behaviour. Eroding teeth and blue-black lips with a sagging pale face and dark droopy eyes is usually only seen in the late stages of addiction. However family and friends may be able to identify uncharacteristic behaviour in the early stages that should warn them of a possible drug addiction. Disinterest in daily activities – work, study or even personal hygiene, violent behaviour, a constant need for cash and new friends who are usually users as well may be the first signs of a drug addiction.

Crystal Meth Addiction and Abuse

The effects of crystal meth makes it highly addictive. Addicts experience a severe ‘downer’ within a few hours to a day after a crytal meth hit. Apart from the depression, fatigue and mood changes, some crystal meth users describe the downer as excruciating where they experience actual pain. This compels them to find another hit and with time, larger doses of tik will be necessary to allay these after-effects. Coupled with a group of friends and peddler pushing the drug on the user, a cycle of abuse and addiction is quickly established.

Crystal meth users may abuse alcohol or other drugs as well and at times, this can create deadly concoctions. Rehabilitation of tik users is difficult but not impossible and requires the assistance of professionals and others who are familiar with addiction. Family members should be cautious about confronting an addict or forcing them to give up the drug as they can become aggressive and even violent.

While this scourge continues to wreak havoc on South African youth, another up and coming drug is now making it rounds among teen. Known as ‘sugars‘ and popular in the southern coastal areas of Durban, ‘sugars’ is a mix of cocaine and heroin, often ‘cut’ (bulked up) with rat poison and other harmful chemicals. Used together, ‘tik’ and ‘sugars’ can be one of the mot dangerous drug combinations, leading to a coma and even death.