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Herbal Stimulant Use Increases in the U.K.

Qat leaves

May 7, 2001: Qat (Catha edulis) is a perennial shrub traditionally cultivated in Ethiopia, The Yemen and Kenya, where it is an important cash crop.

The fresh leaves, when chewed, release a complex of alkaloids, which are known as pseudoephedrines because they have effects resembling those of the stimulant ephedrine (adrenalin). Two main constituents have been isolated, canthin and canthinone, both of which have a molecular structure similar to that of amphetamine.

Ethiopians and Somalis living in the UK can buy qat leaves in various parts of London and Manchester for about 4 (US$6) per bunch. Use of qat is often a social affair, traditionally restricted to single sex groups. It is now common for mixed groups to partake, although this is frowned on by elders in the Somali community who believe that it may lead to lewd behavior.

Is it legal to buy, sell and own qat?
The UK Government issued a report in 1998 examining the use of qat by members of Britain's immigrant Somali and Ethiopian communities (Griffiths, 1998). Use of qat in Britain was not banned following this report, although it is banned in the US, Canada, Norway and Sweden, where it is sold illicitly.

It is said that over 7 tons of qat pass through Heathrow airport each week, mainly from Kenya, and is on sale in London within 24 hours of harvesting.

Cathin and cathinone are controlled drugs and covered by the UK Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. So in the UK the use of qat is an anomaly. Participants do not think it should be illegal and research suggests that chewing leaves for about 3 hours has about half the effect of medically administered amphetamines.

History
Recorded since the 13th Century in Arabian writings, it has been used in the way that coca leaves have been used by working people in Latin America to aid them in manual work. It is especially popular in Muslim nations where alcohol is forbidden.

Risks
About 6% of the UK's Ethiopian and Somali immigrant community members use qat daily and have a dependent habit. Griffiths (1998) found that 85% of 207 respondents reported tiredness, depression and difficulty sleeping after using qat. A study by Krikorian (1983) found qat use associated with dental and oral problems, gastro-intestinal disturbances, increased risk of liver disease, cardiovascular effects and complications in pregnancy and childbirth. Anecdotal evidence suggests that qat causes consitipation. Thus, it is said that when qat-use in Aden was banned by British military authorities during the 1950's there was a huge reduction in over the counter sales of laxatives.

Edward Teague

edward@softwaresystemseurope.com


References
(1) Paul Griffiths. 1998. Qat use in London: a study of qat use among a sample of Somalis living in London. Drugs Prevention Initiative Paper No. 26. Home Office, Central Drugs Prevention Unit. London, 101 p.

(2) Krikrian, A.D. 1983. Khat and it's use: An historical perspective. In The Health and Socio-economic Aspects of Khat Use. Eds. Shahandeh, B., R. Gaeda and A. Tongue. Conference proceedings, Madagascar. Lausanne: ICAA

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