Khat, Catha edulis
Also known as
qat, abyssinian tea, african salad, african tea, arabian tea, bushman's tea, cat, catha, chafta, chat, ciat, crafta, djimma, ikwa, ischott, iubulu, kaad, kafta, kat, khat, la salade, liss, liruti, mairongi, mandoma, maonj, marongi, mbugula mabwe, mdimamadzi, meongi, mfeike, mhulu, mira, miraa, mirungi, miungi, mlonge, m'mke, msabukinga, masbukinja, msuruti, msuvuti, msekera, muholo, muhulu, muirungi, mulungi, muraa, musitate, mutsawari, mutsawhari, mutsawhri, mwandama, mzengo, nangungwe, ol meraa, ol nerra, qat, quat, salahin, seri, somali tea, tohai, tohat, tsad, tschad, tschat, tshut, tumayot, waifo, warfi, warfo.
What does it do?
It contains cathinone and cathin, psychoactive alkaloids with effects similar to amphetamine. It is a stimulant; the effects are said by some to include euphoria, increased alertness and excitement, ability to concentrate, confidence, friendliness, contentment and flow of ideas. Some people say that its effects are very dependant on the social environment in which it is used.
Charles Moser, a former American consul in Aden, wrote an article for the National Geographic Magazine in 1917. In it he describes the pervasiveness of khat in what is now Yemen and his own experience of trying it. In spite of chewing ‘a huge supply of leaves’ for two hours he felt no effects. That night, however, he found he could not sleep. Others have said they experienced its stimulant effects after chewing just a small quantity of leaves in the context of a 'khating' party.
Is it Addictive?
Probably not, though there is no definitive evidence either way. On the one hand, many users restrict their use to the afternoon get togethers which are a major part of life in places like Yemen, Somalia and Ethiopia and don't manifest the need to increase their consumption over time. They also seem to be able to do without if conditions make khat too expensive for them or if they are living overseas in a community where khat chewing is illegal or unacceptable. On the other hand, khat users have, at times, described themselves as addicted. In 'Eating the Flowers of Paradise', Kevin Rushby describes himself as a khat addict and says that, for the regular khat user, much of the morning is spent anticipating the pleasures of the afternoon chewing session.
Is it Harmful?
The June, 2006 issue of the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine contains a paper entitled ‘Severe Ischaemic Cardiomyopathy Associated with Khat Chewing’. The paper, which examines in detail one patient, says long term chewing can lead to heart attacks, liver damage, tooth loss and throat cancer. Khat seems to affect blood clotting and cause spasms in the arteries supplying blood to the heart. It refers to a study in the Yemen which concluded that regular Khat chewing could produce a 39 fold increase in myocardial infarction.
The tender top of Catha edulis
Other than this there is little evidence of any harm. On 2nd March, 2006, it was announced in the House of Lords that the UK government would accept the recommendation of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs not to make khat itself a controlled substance since it is used by only one or two ethnic groups, mainly the Somali immigrant community and it is not believed to be inherently harmful.
That said, the development of khat consumption may be a cause for concern. In the last thirty or so years, khat chewing has become much more widespread in parts of East Africa such as Uganda, Kenya and, more recently, Tanzania where it is illegal.
In some places there is justifiable concern over the amount of money being spent on khat which could have a detrimental effect on the wellbeing of the family and some older users are becoming concerned at the way that some young people have taken to using alcohol or cannabis after khat chewing to avert the period of slight depression which is often reported to follow the end of a session.
Mephedrone is the common name given to 4-Methylmethcathinone, a chemical related to cathinone. It is, however, manufactured and not obtained from Catha edulis directly.
Mephedrone is sold as plant fertilizer in order to circumvent regulations on the sale of substances for human consumption though it has no known benefits for plant growth. Until April 2010, mephedrone was not a controlled substance under the Misuse of Drugs Act and, therefore, its sale in this way was perfectly legal.
The effects of mephedrone are said to be similar to MDMA, ecstasy, and its use on the club scene, where it is generally known as 'meph' or 'drone' (the name 'miaow miaow' seems to have been the result of the media finding one reference to this name online and latching on to it), is thought to be becoming rapidly more widespread. Those who are in a position to know, report that its effects are better than ecstasy but last a shorter time and that there is much less of a hangover the next day. The shorter duration of the effect is thought to encourage redosing.
Many users report that ecstasy isn't as good as it used to be so it seems possible that the addition of adulterants to ecstasy is driving the increased use of mephedrone.
Health experts say that very little is known about the effects of mephedrone and it is impossible to say what, if any, harm both short and long-term may result.
The UK government's Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs was investigating the situation with all forms of cathinone, including Catha edulis itself, and was due to make evidence based recommendations in due course.
During February and March 2010, however, in the UK, there were a number of reports of deaths of young people after using mephedrone. In all cases, mephedrone was not found to be the cause of death. In two incidents, at least, the deceased are reported to have used alcohol and methadone (the heroin substitute) at the same time.
These deaths produced calls, mainly from the media, for the immediate banning of mephedrone and the UK government proceeded with a ban shortly before the general election in May 2010. That the ban was announced 'based on the ACMD's recommendation' while the ACMD was convening to discuss the subject indicates that the government was responding to media misreporting rather than evidence.
In 2005, the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) completed a review of the status of khat in the UK and recommended to the government that there was no need to add it to the substances proscribed by the Misuse of Drugs Act. Early in 2006, the government announced that it would follow the ACMD's advice.
Part of the fallout of the sacking of Prof. Nutt from the chairmanship of the ACMD has been that the committee, under its new chairman, Prof Les Iversen, decided to look again at khat and, although nothing has changed since 2006, it is widely expected that the committee will recommended prohibition.
In February 2011, the Home Secretary, Theresa May, wrote to Prof Iversen saying she wanted its work on khat to be its second priority after the work it is doing on cocaine. It will be remarkable if the ACMD does not kowtow to the clear direction Ms May has indicated it should follow.
New Survey on Mephedrone
In February 2011, the Independent Scientific Committee of Drugs (ISCD), the body Prof Nutt set up after being forced out of the ACMD, announced plans to publish a survey showing that the classification of mephedrone under the Misuse Of Drugs Act had, probably, had a detrimental effect. Early indications are that whilst around half of the respondents to the survey said they were less likely to use mephedrone since the ban, a similar proportion said they were more likely to use cocaine or ecstasy.
Overall, the survey suggests that mephedrone has not become harder to obtain but that the price has increased significantly.