"Tik": Crystal meth in Cape Town

13 June 2008 - In Cape Town, South Africa, crystal methamphetamine use has exploded very quickly. Known locally as "tik," the drug was virtually unknown as late as 2003. Now, it is the city's main drug of abuse, even when alcohol is included. Tik is usually smoked, using a straw in a light bulb. Grant Jardine, Director of the Cape Town Drug Counselling Centre, explains the increase in tik use and what impact this drug has on users.

By how much has tik use increased?

There is absolutely no doubt that the increase in the use of tik has been an epidemic. Four years ago, less than one per cent of our clients used tik. Currently, more than half of our clients have tik as their primary drug of abuse. It's been an incredibly rapid increase over a very short space of time.

Why are so many people taking tik?

There are a number of reasons. Some of it is generational in that every generation has new music, dress sense and so on, and they also like new drugs. It used to be mandrax (methaqualone), and tik is used in a similar way. Tik is cheap, widely available, easy to make, the precursors are also available, the recipe is on the Internet, so there are lots of small operations making tik.

What impact does tik have on users?

The impact of the drug depends on its interaction with the person using it. You generally see adolescents using tik, and adolescence is a time of great change, insecurity and lack of confidence. That's exactly what this drug compensates for - it gives users a sense of confidence and euphoria.

How addictive is tik?

We rate it very highly addictive, higher than alcohol, dagga (cannabis), mandrax et cetera. But in terms of treatment, we have quite a good success rate compared to heroin, for example. This is largely due to two reasons. With tik, the time period from onset of use to seeking treatment is generally shorter than for other drugs. Second, there is a high incidence of psychotic episodes among tik users, which motivates them to seek treatment early because that scares them.

What about the physical effects of tik?

If you tell an adolescent that if you smoke, you might die of cancer in 20 years, it's basically meaningless. Speaking of short-term effects is more persuasive. The greatest tragedy of all drugs, but particularly tik, is not the physical effect, because normally the body recovers readily and easily as people are resilient at that age. For me, the greatest tragedy is the effect on psychological and emotional development. Drug use sets people back for rest of their lives, takes away potential they can never get back. It's a most insidious thing, a most subtle thing, because it's not obvious. You can't take a photograph of it or put it on the front page of a newspaper. This affects far more tik (and drug) users than the physical effects.