Pubdate: Fri, 22 Feb 2008
Source: Cape Argus (South Africa)
Copyright: 2008 Cape Argus.
Author: Di Caelers


Teenage users more prone to mental illness and lower IQs study finds
22 February 2008

Thousands of youngsters could end up with shrunken brains, thanks to
sustained tik use and there is scientific evidence to prove it.

Brain images taken from participants in a study at the University of
Stellenbosch's psychiatry department shows that brain shrinkage is a
dangerous consequence of this widely used drug.

And teenagers, whose brains are in an extremely vulnerable
developmental change, are much more likely to end up with chronic
mental illness, says Dr Bonga Chiliza, a specialist psychiatrist in
the department.

Chiliza is studying a group of young tik addicts with schizophrenia,
another possible consequence of tik addiction which often manifests in
people with a family history of mental illness.

A series of brain scans from the US that identifies the area of the
brain affected by schizophrenia shows the severity of the consequences
months after the patient has stopped using tik.

After 14 months of being clean, the brain has still not returned to

Chiliza said the human brain was most vulnerable to the damaging
effects of tik during the teenage growth spurt.

He explained that most tik users were unaware of the serious damage
they are doing to their brains, scotching their chances of ever living
full lives and holding down successful jobs.

And because the epidemic is putting extreme pressure on acute
psychiatric beds, psychiatrists are also losing out on the opportunity
to properly treat tik-induced psychosis as they are forced to
stabilise and then discharge patients as quickly as possible.

In fact, Chiliza said, most youngsters suffering their first
"breakdown of mental illness" are likely to see only the inside of a
regional hospital casualty ward because the psychosis mostly passes
quickly if no more tik is smoked.

They are then discharged before a psychiatric bed opens

"It's a phenomenon we call revolving-door patients because they go
home, smoke tik again and then return with the same problem a few
weeks later," he said.

The tik scourge has also put extreme pressure on the casualty wards at
hospitals like GF Jooste, Paarl Hospital and Karl Bremer, where beds
were filled up with tik addicts waiting to be transferred.

Chiliza said that tik is "a really bad drug that is very toxic to the
brain and unlike any other drug - commonly available in Cape Town".

"In your late teens the brain experiences a growth spurt during which
it realigns itself into the adult brain. If you expose the growing
brain to tik, it messes it up," he said.

Pulling no punches, he said the result would be 22 and 23-year-olds
who were literally "much more stupid than they should be".

They would have problems with clarity of thought, low IQs and poor
memory capacity.

"When you look at the pictures, the brain is literally shrunken,"
Chiliza said.

The loss of brain tissue, which effectively means brain matter is
replaced by fluid as "holes" form, is a further serious concern,
although he said this did not happen to everyone and was not commonly

The aim of Chiliza's study of young tik addicts with schizophrenia is
to establish a special programme to treat this group. He sees about 40
patients every year but his unit accounts for only about one-third of
affected youngsters throughout greater Cape Town.

"It's difficult to tell whether the schizophrenia or the tik abuse
comes first because schizophrenia manifests during teenagehood, and
that's when they also usually start smoking tik," he said.

"The concern is that young people suffering their first breakdown
don't get admitted to hospital or if they do, they are discharged
quickly and go back to smoking tik again, not realising that they are
actually ill.

If there were sufficient available beds, psychiatrists could "do the
kind of therapy they really need, and get them really, really well so
they will stay well outside", Chiliza said.

Instead, they will live lives that reflect their decreased

"A lot of the youngsters we see are bright children who were top of
the class before they started using tik. But now they will never be
able to go to university," Chiliza said.
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