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Speed-balling & pseudoephedrine: Youth using drugs for study

As the pressure for students to perform increases, they're turning illegal drugs for a boost.

A student snorts Methcathinone or Cat of a dinner plate. Picture: Thomas Holder/EWN

"As the drug leaves me, I just feel hollow, like nothing will be fine again … It really can be soul-destroying because [the drug] is so nice." - Anonymous user.

First manufactured in the United States in 1928, the drug Methcathinone was used in the Soviet Union as an anti-depressant in the 1930s and '40s. Otherwise known as Cat or Jeff, the effects are similar to Methamphetamine (Meth) but it is made by oxidizing the pseudoephedrine, rather than reducing it.

Snorted, smoked, or injected, the user feels a sudden euphoria and an increase in alertness as their hearts race and they begin to "rush". At a university in Johannesburg, some students have been experimenting with this scheduled drug for a variety of reasons.

To get a little more information on the drug, Eyewitness News interviewed Quintin van Kerken, the CEO of Anti-Drug Alliance. He's a former Cat user himself.

1. What makes Cat an appealing drug to use recreationally and, in some cases, for research? Cat is a methamphetamine. It raises the metabolism, and allows people to stay awake for prolonged periods. The problem is that it causes people to hyper focus, which is bad. Instead of taking the info in, they will, for example, count how many commas there are on the page, and lose track of the actual goal. Things can also be complicated with something called "state dependent learning", which means that someone who is using while studying will have to use to write the exam, otherwise they may not be able to recall the information.

2. What is the nature of demand and supply of cat in South Africa and in particular Jo'burg? Cat's popularity has exploded in the last 2-3 years, nearly doubling every year. It is available anywhere, at any time. We have yet to find a part of Jo'burg where it is not available. Pricing varies slightly, anywhere from R100 to R200 per gram. The cheaper it is, the further from the source (manufacturer) it is. If you are buying your gram for R200, the dealer is very far down the ladder.

3. What effects do the drug have on the user? Short-term, it is a euphoric, energetic rush. As tolerance builds, more is needed to maintain that rush. It stimulates the libido, people are chatty, and side effects include sweating, dilated pupils and jaw clenching. Long-term users report broken teeth from grinding their jaws too much, extreme weight loss, complete loss of libido (impotency), sores on the skin, and loss of bone density and muscle strength. Long-term users will also often snap tendons or tear muscles doing normal things. I ruptured my Achilles tendon completely walking down stairs 5 years after stopping. The doctors at that stage attributed it directly to my methamphetamine abuse.

4. What are some of the most interesting case studies you have seen? There are literally hundreds that spring to mind. One may be the school teacher who was using upwards of 10 grams a day before stopping. What we do find is that the habit becomes very expensive very quickly, and most Cat addicts end up in serious debt, or lose everything in a very short period. We have noted (anecdotally, with more research needed) that there is a correlation between porn addiction and Cat use.

5. What is the primary demographic using the drug currently and historically? It used to be the middle to upper class white people in the 18 - 35 age group. This is no longer the case. The black community has been smashed by Cat, the coloured and Indian communities as well. Right now, in our program, throughout the country, we have literally every demographic represented.

6. Is the drug manufactured locally and is it imported or exported? I would say that 99 percent of Cat is made locally. It is relatively easy to make, and quick as well. With the right ingredients and equipment, one could "cook" a batch in a few hours. To give you an idea, it is very possible for people to buy Cat at 4pm that was manufactured that morning. I don't think there is a massive export market for it, as the domestic market is very hungry and supply often cannot meet demand. The precursor to the production of Cat - ephedrine - is imported. Whilst it is a schedule 7 drug in SA, it is readily available on the black market, and very often the suppliers are Chinese, as the bulk of the world's ephedrine is manufactured there. Other manufacturers will use pseudo- or nor pseudo-ephedrine in the manufacture of the product. Pseudo and nor pseudo are found in many OTC products such as flu medication, and a few extra steps are generally required to draw the precursor out of the medication prior to Cat production.

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