Hitting the Streets – SA’s Top Drugs

08 May 2016
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In 2015, the World Health Organisation found that an estimated 15% of South Africans suffer from drug abuse. This steadily rising statistic makes South Africa one of the world’s drug-abuse capitals. And while South Africans are using the same kinds of drugs as the rest of the globe, a handful of substances are proving more popular.


1529489544 34 marijuana wiki
Marijuana is by far the most used drug on South African streets, amounting to just over 60% of all substance abuse treatment cases. It’s currently still deemed illegal in South Africa, but in recent years some health experts have tried to legalise marijuana for medicinal use.

  • Common street names: Dagga, Zol, Skyf, Joint, Weed, Grass, Pot, Boom, Ganja, Hash, Dope.

  • Appearance: The dried marijuana leaves are sold in bags ranging in size. Some dealers also sell “ready-made” marijuana which is already rolled for smoking.

  • Common effects: Effects vary from person to person, but in most cases it relaxes the user and leads to light-headedness. Depending on the strength, some users also experience mild hallucinations.

  • Long-term results: Weakened immune system, an increase in abnormally structured cells in the body, personality and mood changes, difficulty to concentrate and possible lesions to the brain and lungs.


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South Africa is listed as the largest abuser of Mandrax (globally known as Quaalude) in the world. According to studies by the Medical Research Council, a mixture of Mandrax and marijuana is still the drug of choice in South Africa.

  • Common street names: White Pipe, Buttons, MX, Gholfsticks, Doodies, Lizards, Press Outs, Flowers.

  • Appearance: It is sold in pill form and often has a unique emblem. It also varies in colour.

  • Common effects: It’s most commonly mixed with other marijuana to amplify the effects of smoking marijuana.

  • Long-term results: Anaemia, poor liver function, chronic headaches, poor vision, depression and insomnia.


This drug has been making its way through local streets since 2000. While it has been reported that the drug contains anti retroviral drugs, both the South African Police and analysts have denied any traces of the drugs. It’s unknown what exactly Nyaope contains, but the most common substances include heroin, cannabis and meth. There have also been cases of the drug containing rat poison, milk powder, bicarbonate of soda and even pool cleaner.

  • Common street names: Whoonga, Wunga

  • Appearance: Nyaope is bought in powder form and is then mixed with marijuana and smoked.

  • Common effects: The effects don’t last long, with users reporting a sense of euphoria and complete relaxation.

  • Long-term results: Insomnia, scarred or collapsed veins, liver and kidney disease, lung complications and mental and psychotic breaks.


1529489642 34 codeine wiki
Regarded as the most used drug in the world, codeine can be found in most cough mixtures, sinus medication and painkillers. South Africa is one of very few countries still selling codeine-based products over the counter without a prescription.

  • Common street names: Syrup, Purple Drank, Cody.

  • Appearance: Cough syrup, anti-allergy, sinus tablets and certain painkillers all contain codeine.

  • Common effects: Since codeine blocks the brain’s pain receptors, the user experiences euphoria.

  • Long-term results: Long-term use can result in blurry vision, nausea, insomnia, plus muscle and joint pain.


1529489697 34 cocaine
A highly addictive substance, cocaine was originally developed as a painkiller. However, it soon became a popular recreational drug.

  • Common street names: Rocks, Klippe, Crack, Coke, Charlie, C, Snow, Blow, Line, Bump, Yayo, Llelo.

  • Appearance: Cocaine can be found in two forms – a powder usually mixed with benzodiazepine or corn starch, and crystal, which is also known as “crack cocaine”. The powder can be snorted or rubbed onto the gums, while the crystal form can be smoked.

  • Common effects: Users feel the effects almost instantly, ranging from euphoria, high energy levels, mental alertness and sensitivity to light, touch and sound. The effects usually last only a few minutes.

  • Long-term results: Loss of sense of smell, constant nosebleeds, difficulty swallowing, dramatic weight loss and loss of appetite.


In the medical world, benzodiazepine is usually prescribed to patients suffering from stress and anxiety disorders. However, the tranquilizers have also become a huge problem within the recreational drug use scene. Benzodiazepine is mostly used to relax or to counter the negative effects of other drugs such as ecstasy and heroin.

The popular date-rape drug Rohypnol (also known as Rosshies) also falls under this category.

  • Common street names: Benzos, Temazies, Jellies, Moggies, Eggs, Vallies, Norries, Green Eggs, Rugby Balls.

  • Appearance: Sold in pill form. It’s sometimes crushed and snorted or dissolved and injected.

  • Common effects: The effects are similar to that of alcohol. Users feel less anxious, their inhibitions are limited and they become talkative and overly-excited.

  • Long-term results: Memory loss, depression and sexual dysfunction.


1529489748 34 crystal meth
Known as “uppers” amphetamines speed up the messages travelling between the brain and the body. The more potent, dangerous and addictive form of amphetamines is crystal methamphetamine (better known as Crystal Meth). Interestingly, South Africans prefer Crystal Meth while the rest of Africa opts for prescription amphetamines such as ADHD medication.

  • Common street names: Ice (Crystal Meth), Tik, Speed, Fast, Up, Whiz, Crystal.

  • Appearance: The appearance varies depending on the quality. The more milky or yellow the crystal or powder is, the lower its quality. Amphetamines are also sometimes sold in tablet or capsule form.

  • Common effects: A sense of total happiness and confidence, talking non-stop and an increased heart rate.

  • Long-term results: Psychosis including paranoia, hallucinations and tics, memory loss, mood disorders, increased aggression and violent behaviour and impaired motor skills.


Popularly known as Cat, methcathinone has been on South African streets since 2001. It’s cheap but extremely dangerous due to the ingredients used to produce it. The drug can contain anything from ephedrine (found in asthma medication), paint solvent, battery acid, lye (strong chemical in soaps), paint thinners and countless other toxic chemicals.

  • Common street names: Cat, Ephedrone, Jeff, Mulka, Poor Man’s Coke.

  • Appearance: Usually sold as a white powder which can then be snorted or taken in liquid form by drinking or injecting it.

  • Common effects: Users develop a sense of euphoria, increased alertness, followed by anxiety, hallucinations, delusions and severe paranoia.

  • Long-term results: Paranoia, hallucinations, anxiety and depression, tremors and convulsions, and eating disorders.


1529489799 34 ecstasy wiki
For years, ecstasy has been synonymous with the rave scene. Although overdose cases on the pure form of ecstasy (known as MDMA) are rare, there has been a growing number of contaminated pills making its way onto South African streets. These tablets can contain anything from rat poison to cyanide.

  • Common street names: Molly (slang for MDMA), STP, Love Drug, Mellow, XTC, Adam and Eve, Superman, Domes.

  • Appearance: Sold in tablet form and usually has a unique design engraved on each tablet. They also come in various colours.

  • Common effects: Increased heart rate, jaw clenching, dry mouth, loss of appetite, high energy levels and increased sensory perception. Due to the increased energy levels, users often suffer from overheating, exhaustion and nausea.

  • Long-term results: Long-lasting brain damage, especially to the areas regulating sleep, learning and emotion, depression and anxiety, kidney failure, psychosis, cardiovascular problems and convulsions.


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In the 1980s, heroin was a fairly unknown drug on South African streets. However, it quickly gained a stronghold and has infiltrated schools at a rapid rate.

  • Common street names: H, Smack, Horse, Junk, Hairy, Harry, Thai White.

  • Appearance: It can be bought in powder form or as a liquid.

  • Common effects: The effects of the drug are very unpredictable, leading to regular overdoses. The user feels an immense sense of relaxation and experiences a trance or coma-like state.

  • Long-term results: Since the drug relaxes the muscles, in many cases it leads to the user’s heart valves also relaxing, essentially stopping the heart.


1529489900 34 lsd wiki
Lysergic Acid Diethylamide (LSD), commonly known as Acid, is a colourless, odourless and tasteless hallucinogenic. It’s popular among recreational users due to the “trippy” effects of the drug including bright colours and a sense of leaving your own body.

  • Common street names: A, Acid, Microdots, Candy, Trips.

  • Appearance: The synthetic drug is sold in the form of blotting papers of around 1cm x 1cm. You can also get a gelatine and tablet form of the drug. The blotting papers also have various colourful designs on them to make them more appealing to buyers.

  • Common effects: Users experience a sense of flying and see bright colours and shapes. However, a “bad trip” can lead to horrifying images and the feeling of insects crawling over you.

  • Long-term results: Visual hallucinations, panic attacks, flashbacks or a recurrence of the LSD trip long after actually taking the drug, severe depression and psychosis.


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By inhaling the fumes of strong, toxic chemicals, solvent abuse is considered the most affordable and easily accessible substance. While glue sniffing is the most common form, there are a number of other substances being used.

  • Common street names: Vapors, Spray, Glue, Sniffers.

  • Appearance: The inhalants can range from regular household products such as cooking spray, to glue, petrol, spray paint and shoe polish.

  • Common effects: A strong sense of intoxication hits the user almost immediately. Some users also report hallucinations. The effects don’t last long, leading users to repeatedly inhale.

  • Long-term results: A permanent rash around the mouth and nose, muscle weakness, lack of coordination, depression and irritability, serious damage to the heart, liver, kidneys, lungs and brain, hearing loss and bone marrow damage.

If you or someone you know needs help in fighting drug abuse, there are a number of organisations ready to assist.

Sources: World Health Organisation, United Nations, Medical Research Council of SA, South African Police Service

Photos: Wikimedia Commons