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Khat

Khat also known as kat, qat, qaat, quat, gat, jaad, chat, chad, chaad and miraa, is a flowering plant native to tropical East Africa and the Arabian Peninsula.  Khat contains the alkaloid called cathinone, an amphetamine-like stimulant which is said to cause excitement, loss of appetite and euphoria.

Khat is a slow-growing shrub or tree that grows to between 1.5 metres and 20 metres tall, depending on region and rainfall, with evergreen leaves 5–10 cm long and 1–4 cm broad. The flowers are produced on short auxiliary cymes 4–8 cm long, each flower small, with five white petals. The fruit is an oblong three-valved capsule containing 1–3 seeds.

It's believed that Khat is Ethiopian in origin.  In East Africa the chewing of khat predates the use of coffee and is used in a similar social context. Its fresh leaves and tops are chewed or, less frequently, dried and consumed as tea, in order to achieve a state of euphoria and stimulation.

Khat use has traditionally been confined to the regions where khat is grown, because only the fresh leaves have the desired stimulating effects. In recent years improved roads, off-road motor vehicles and air transport have increased the global distribution of this perishable commodity.

Khat is mainly a recreational drug in the countries which grow khat, though it may also be used by farmers and labourers for reducing physical fatigue or hunger and by drivers and students for improving attention.

Both of khat's major active ingredients—cathine and cathinone—are in the same class of chemicals as amphetamines.  When khat leaves dry, the more potent chemical, cathinone, decomposes within 48 hours leaving behind the milder chemical, cathine. Thus, harvesters transport khat by packaging the leaves and stems in plastic bags

When the khat leaves are chewed, cathine and cathinone are released and absorbed through the mucous membranes of the mouth and the lining of the stomach. The effects of cathinone peak after 15 to 30 minutes. Cathine is somewhat less understood. It has a half-life of about 3 hours in humans.

Khat consumption induces mild euphoria and excitement. Khat creates a pleasuring effect to the same degree as ecstasy. Individuals become very talkative under the influence of the drug and may appear to be unrealistic and emotionally unstable. Khat can induce manic behaviours and hyperactivity. Khat is an effective anorectic and its use also results in constipation. Dilated pupils, increased heart rate and blood pressure also are common.

Withdrawal symptoms that may follow occasional use include mild depression and irritability. Withdrawal symptoms that may follow prolonged khat use include lethargy, mild depression, nightmares, and slight tremor. Long-term use can precipitate the following effects: negative impact on liver function, permanent tooth darkening (of a greenish tinge), susceptibility to ulcers, and diminished sex drive.

It is estimated that several million people are frequent users of khat. Many of the users originate from countries between Sudan and Madagascar and in the south western part of the Arabian Peninsula, especially Yemen. In Yemen, 80% of the males and 45% of the females were found to be khat users who had chewed daily for long periods of their life.

The traditional form of khat chewing in Yemen involves only male users; khat chewing by females is less formal and less frequent. In Saudi Arabia, the cultivation and consumption of khat are forbidden, and the ban is strictly enforced. The ban on khat is further supported by the clergy on the grounds that the Qur'an forbids anything that is harmful to the body. In Somalia, 61% of the population reported that they do use khat, 18% report habitual use, and 21% are occasional users.

Researchers estimate that about 70-80% of Yemenis between 16 and 50 years old chew khat, at least on occasion, and it has been estimated that Yemenis spend about 14.6 million person-hours per day chewing khat. It is estimated that the amount of money spent on khat has increased from 14.6 billion rials in 1990 to 41.2 billion rials in 1995.

Khat is not a controlled substance in the United Kingdom, and recent attempts to reclassify it were rejected. Because of this, and because of khat's short shelf life, the UK serves as a main gateway for khat being sent by air to North America. Khat is used by members of the Somali and Yemeni community (mainly men). It is currently legal, although there are calls from some sections of the Somali community for it to be banned. In the UK, cathine and cathinone are Class C drugs. The plant Catha edulis is uncontrolled.


 
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