The Khat Controversy: Stimulating the Debate on Drugs

The Khat Controversy: Stimulating the Debate on Drugs

The Khat Controversy: Stimulating the Debate on Drugs

The Khat Controversy: Stimulating the Debate on Drugs

Synopsis

Khat is a natural substance that, in the Middle East, is as ubiquitous as coffee in the West. It is hugely popular in some African and Arab populations. But critics contend that it is a seriously addictive stimulant that damages the cardiovascular system. In a groundbreaking study, the authors go behind the veil of the drug, questioning its availability and its affect on its Red Sea producers. Interwoven with case studies from Djibouti to Rome, The Khat Controversy goes deeper to explore contemporary issues relating to globalization, ethnicity and culture. The first study of this contested drug, Khat provides a concise introduction to the issues surrounding Khat usage and suggests how policymakers should address them.

Excerpt

Khat is the most recent plant-based psychoactive substance to spread across global markets. It has traditionally been consumed in East Africa and the Middle East, where it is also known as the 'flower of paradise', qat (transliterated from Arabic), miraa (its Kenyan name), chat (Ethiopian) and numerous other names which locals use to differentiate various varieties. The actual plant is an evergreen shrub of the Celastraceae, which grows best at an altitude of 5,000–8,000 feet (approx. 1,500– 2,500 metres). Wild khat trees can grow as high as 80 feet in an equatorial climate, but the farmed variety is kept at around 20 feet with constant pruning (Kennedy 1987; Goldsmith 1994; Lemessa 2001).

Wild plants have been found from Afghanistan to South Africa, but the cultivation of khat has for centuries been confined to a narrow geographical belt ranging from Yemen in the Arabian peninsula to the Meru highlands of Kenya. Over the last twenty years khat has become a global commodity, openly on sale in London and Amsterdam, and covertly in Toronto, Chicago and Sydney. Though global availability of this delicate product would be unthinkable without dramatic advances in transport technology, the key behind this commercial development has been the growth of sizeable markets in Djibouti, Somalia and major urban centres in Ethiopia, as well as across Europe and North America. It is safe to say that the unfolding problematic surrounding the use of khat in Western countries has corresponded to the arrival of large numbers of Somali and Ethiopian refugees from the web of conflict that has been haunting the Horn of Africa for the past thirty years.

Host countries in the West have responded in different fashions to this new phenomenon, with tolerance in the UK and the Netherlands but prohibition in Scandinavia and North America. Across these borders a consensus has formed over the likelihood of transmission. Khat, it is generally assumed, will not catch on among mainstream consumers. Not only are these already generously supplied with a range of mind-altering substances, but also Western consumers are unlikely to take to the involved and unfashionable mode of administration – the khat chew. Yet, this European indifference should not lead us to ignore the sharp rise in incidence of khat use in other parts of the world. The data from eastern Africa show how the border of khat use is shifting in all directions. It seems to fit ideally into the consumption trends and patterns of sociability of African towns, and provides a cost-effective . . .

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