Posted by: Glow-worm PJ26 JUL 2012
Commonly known as khat, the evergreen shrub Catha edulis is cultivated as a bush or tree in countries around the Red Sea and in the Horn of Africa. For centuries local peoples have chewed khat leaves for their stimulant properties, which create feelings of euphoria.
Most of the effect of chewing khat comes from the phenethylamines cathinone and cathine, which are structurally similar to amphetamine.
Cathinone is up to 10 times more potent than cathine. As the leaves dry out the cathinone content is converted to cathine, which is associated more with systemic side effects. Because of this, users prefer to chew fresh leaves. These are traditionally picked early in the morning and presented for sale as a bunch of leaves and stems wrapped in banana leaves to preserve freshness.
Long-term khat use does not cause physical dependence, but it can result in psychological dependence, psychosis and depression. It can also lead to increased family pressures caused by loss of working hours and diversion of household funds.
Khat is illegal in many parts of Europe and the US. But in the UK, although cathinone and cathine are class C Controlled Drugs, the khat plant itself is not a prohibited substance.
The UK imports 56 tonnes of khat per week, generating £2.9m in duty annually. The biggest users are the Somali community, who chew it in houses-cum-social clubs known as mafrishes.
Efforts to ban khat in the UK on health and social grounds have been galvanised in the past year by reports that the Islamic terror network Al-Shabaab uses mafrishes as recruiting grounds.
The pro-khat lobby strenuously denies this claim, and argues that making khat illegal would criminalise a large section of the Somali community and that the ensuing disenchantment could create a more fertile recruiting ground for the jihadists.