The ban on khat, which comes into effect next week, has generated a lot of criticism as well as support in the UK. It is even causing upset abroad with farmers in Kenya threatening violent action against the British government. At the moment, there is about 2,560 tonnes imported into the UK every year, with the government making about £2.5 million in taxes from it; however, within a few days this trade will be illegal.
Khat is a type of leaf that grows in countries in East Africa and Southern Arabia. Many people like to chew these leaves because it gives the perception of feeling more alert and awake. This reason for this is that Khat contains two chemicals, cathinone and cathine, both of which have mind-altering properties. This means that these leaves work in a very similar way to speed (amphetamine) in that they stimulate the central nervous system. The drug also encourages the release of dopamine in the brain, allowing users to enjoy a pleasurable high just like all other substance abusers.
Khat users usually chew these leaves, but it is also possible to consume the drug in a tea. It takes a bit of time for the drug to take effect, but the high lasts for about three hours. When intoxicated due to khat, people tend to feel more sociable and relaxed. The comedown afterwards can be uncomfortable though, leading to a feeling of depression and lethargy.
People in parts of Africa and the Middle East have been consuming khat for centuries. It is particularly popular in countries such as Kenya, Somalia, and Ethiopia. It is used in the UK by communities that have a high immigrant population.
Individuals who come from countries where khat is popular tend to see it as relatively harmless, no worse to what drinking alcohol would be in the west, but there are definite dangers associated with the consumption of the substance. These include:
- regular use can lead to psychological dependence, meaning the person feels unable to cope without it
- there is known to be a link between chewing the substance and high blood pressure; this means it could increase the risk for many diseases, including heart disease
- it is known to trigger mood swings
- some people become aggressive and violent when they are intoxicated due to this substance
- it can increase the likelihood of domestic abuse
- it has been known to trigger psychosis
- individuals intoxicated with khat can behave strangely and unpredictably
- it interferes with the ability to make good decisions
- it may trigger bleeding in the brain
- it can cause migraines
- it causes the heart to beat rapidly
- it can lead to liver damage
- it causes impotence
- it can lead to problems with the lungs.
Khat is a dangerous substance that does deserve to be treated in the same manner as substances like amphetamine. Up until now, many people have looked upon khat as a type of ‘legal speed’, so it makes sense that this should change. This move will cause upset, and it will almost certainly lead to some job losses; however, this might ultimately be a small price to pay if it reduces the use of khat in the UK. Of course, there will almost certainly continue to be an illegal trade, and there will be criminals benefitting from the illegality of the substance.