Have you ever heard of this dangerous side-effect of tik use?

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The use of tik may increase the risk of stroke in young people.
The use of tik may increase the risk of stroke in young people.

Methamphetamine (known as "tik" in South Africa) is notorious for its harmful side effects. Tik is highly addictive and affects the central nervous system and heart.

And not only are the physical effects severe, but methamphetamine use tends to be associated with aggression/violence, high-risk sexual risk behaviour which can cause HIV/Aids, and sexually transmitted diseases and crime. 

Now a new study suggested that there are even more negative effects. Younger adults who use methamphetamine may be at greater risk for stroke.

This is particularly relevant in South Africa, where more than a quarter of tik patients in the Western Cape are younger than 20.

More meth-related diseases

With use of this stimulant increasing, particularly in more potent forms, doctors in many countries are seeing more meth-related disease and harms, the Australian study authors said. This is especially true for younger people, who are the major users of the drug.

Statistics compiled by the Medical Research Council (MRC) have found that the number of people seeking help at Cape Town rehabilitation centres has increased drastically, with 37% of those cases being tik-related.

"It is likely that methamphetamine abuse is making a disproportionate contribution to the increased incidence of stroke among young people observed over recent years," said researchers led by Julia Lappin. She's with the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre at the University of New South Wales in Sydney.

These strokes can lead to disabilities or death, she and her colleagues pointed out.

Bleeding strokes

For the review, Lappin's team analysed 77 studies that investigated the link between methamphetamine use and stroke risk in adults younger than 45. They identified reports of 98 strokes – 81 caused by bleeding into the brain (haemorrhagic) and 17 caused by a blood clot (ischaemic). Men were twice as likely as women to suffer one of these strokes.

The study was published online in the Journal of Neurology Neurosurgery & Psychiatry.

Ischaemic strokes are more common in the general population.

But eight out of 10 of the strokes associated with methamphetamine abuse were bleeding strokes, the researchers said. This is a dramatically higher rate than typically reported among people in this age group and older adults.

The brain bleeds also increased the risk of death among younger methamphetamine users: One-third of them died, the study found.

Bleeding strokes were associated with the drug regardless of whether it was swallowed or injected. In about one-third of all cases, the strokes were linked to inflamed blood vessels and high blood pressure, the researchers said.

They added that methamphetamine abuse could cause high blood pressure in otherwise healthy people.

Image credit: iStock

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