Khat (Quat, qat, qaadka, chat, Catha edulis)

Khat is a green-leafed ‘stimulant’ shrub that has been chewed like tobacco for centuries by people who live in the Horn of Africa and Arabian peninsula. The fresh leaves, with red twigs, and shoots of the khat shrub are chewed, and then retained in the cheek and chewed intermittently to release the active drug. Once chewed, it produces an effect similar to (but usually less intense than) that of methamphetamine or cocaine. Dried plant material can be made into tea or a chewable paste, but dried khat is not as potent as the fresh plant product. It can also be smoked and even sprinkled on food.

Khat has recently turned up in Europe, including the UK, particularly among emigrants and refugees from countries such as an Somalia, Ethiopia and the Yemen. It contains a number of chemicals among which are two controlled substances, cathinone and cathine. As the leaves mature or dry, cathinone is converted to cathine, which significantly reduces its stimulatory properties.

Negative effects

There are a number of negative physical effects that have been associated with heavy or long-term use of khat, including tooth decay and periodontal disease; gastrointestinal disorders such as constipation, ulcers, inflammation of the stomach, and increased risk of upper gastrointestinal tumors; and cardiovascular disorders such as irregular heartbeat, decreased blood flow, and myocardial infarction. Some of these effects in part may be linked to the chemical fertilizers used by the farmers and producers of Khat. There is also evidence between chronic khat use and mental disorders. Although there is no evidence that khat use causes mental illness, but rather exacerbates underlying psychiatric problems.