What Is Khat And Why Are Countries Banning It?

Khat is a herbal stimulant that has a long tradition of everyday use in many parts of the world.

It is a mild drug in many ways, but more recent studies have begun to highlight more significant potential side effects, especially long term.

Many countries are actually now banning or regulating khat. This is outraged many communities, especially many African and Middle Eastern people, where its use is widely accepted in many areas.

Its use has been widespread for centuries, with references being found to it as early as the 13th century. Undoubtedly it is ingrained within certain cultures.

But what exactly is khat, what are its effects, and is it safe to use?

What Is Khat?

Khat is a flowering shrub. Its native to many parts of East Africa and the Arabian peninsula. Its use has been commonplace for many centuries throughout those parts of the world, especially in Somalia, Yemen and Ethiopia.

Unfortunately, those parts of the world are currently areas of ethnic and religious conflict. Its use in some places is linked to war and terrorism.

It contains two amphetamine alkaloids, bringing effects similar to other amphetamines. Not as intense, but mild euphoria, alertness and a desire to talk are common, alongside visual distortions.

It is consumed by chewing the green leaves and then keeping them partially chewed against the side of the mouth. This is very similar to the chewing of tobacco.

The stimulant effects are then brought on in a subtle and ongoing manner.

Khat can also be consumed dry but is not as potent. Many people drink it socially as a tea, often at social gatherings and even in the morning before work in many parts of the world produces commonplace. This is lead to issues culturally around what is an amphetamine being consumed in daily life.

chewing khat

What Are The Effects Of Khat?

Khat has relatively mild hallucinogenic effects, mixed with euphoria and increased energy levels.

In countries where it is legal and accepted, students actually chew it prior to exams to increase their ability to stay alert. However, the other effects may negate the benefits in reality.

In terms of negative effects, it has been linked to insomnia and anorexia, as it stops the user wanting to sleep and severely suppresses appetite. Obviously if you are chewing it over a few hours, this can make eating impossible to achieve.

Long-term, it has been linked to significant conditions such as depression, liver damage, gastric issues and increased likelihood of heart attack.

An Australian study from 2009 suggested that khat is becoming increasingly linked with “manic and delusional behavior, violence, suicidal depression, hallucinations, paranoia and psychosis.”

So generally, it is a mild stimulant in the short term, but increasingly it’s long term use is being linked with significant mental and physical issues and the general addiction.

khat leafes

Is Khat Dangerous?

Khat is being increasingly linked with serious conditions if used for the long term.

It’s a touchy subject in some countries and communities, because it is so widely accepted and used. It is even used in tea as an everyday social event. Such is the way is ingrained in some African and Middle Eastern culture, that any attempt to cast it in a negative light are seen as a cultural attack.

But there is a far more contentious problem around the use of khat which is becoming increasingly evident.

A significant proportion of the people carrying out bombings and attacks in places such as Africa, Iraq and Afghanistan have been found to have been chewing khat. This is in addition to evidence that other drugs are used as well.

It gives you a sense of invincibility which obviously can help in a gunfight.

Some experts now state that the drug khat is partially responsible for the high level of horrendous violence in Somalia.

The 2007 study the example, found that 36% of those who had been a combatant in Somalia had admitted to chewing khat at the time of combat, or in the week leading up to combat. It was noted in the study that this was probably a conservative figure.

It seems that just as in warfare in other parts of the world where alcohol is legal, and where in the past it has been used to induce men to fight with less regard for themselves, in Africa and the Middle East, khat is the equivalent of alcohol as that perception altering substance.

The Legal Status Of Khat Around The World

The legal status of khat around the world is problematic. Not only has it been linked to use amongst combat troops, especially amongst jihadi organizations, but there is now a concern it is funding terrorism in the same way as the opium trade in Afghanistan.

Specifically in Somalia, intelligence agencies are reporting they are seeing evidence that its cultivation and sale supports the terrorist organization Al-Shabab.

So there are two issues with the legality of khat. Not only is it being targeted as a hallucinogenic substance, but its links to Islamic extremism are also making it a target in many countries.

khat caught at airport

Khat is now actually only legal within the following countries:

Somalia, Yemen, Kenya, Israel, Indonesia, Thailand.

In addition, as of the writing of this article, no South American countries had any laws regulating supply or use of khat.

It is interesting to note that although the drug is increasingly linked to the funding and fighting of various wars, that it is perfectly legal in Israel, a country not aligned with the rest of the region it resides in. However, although the raw leaves are unregulated, it is now illegal to create or drink khat in the form of any beverage.

Generally, even in countries where the drug is outlawed, it seems to be that an individual caught using it will only be subject to a fine, or a suspended or community jails sentence. This is even more likely if that person is a member of a community with a historical and cultural link to its use.

So the conclusion is that khat has an incredibly long cultural history and is widely used across large areas of the world. Although it is a highly regulated substance, it is unlikely to see a personal user imprisoned.

However, increasing awareness around its potential long-term problems, and its potential use to coerce people into taking actions against others they would not perhaps normally take with such conviction, has meant that its use is becoming less culturally accepted.

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