On Sunday 12 March 2017 the SAPS reported arresting two suspects found in possession of 131 bundles of Khat in Market Street, Uitenhage.
One would be hard pressed to recognise the Khat plant as a drug as it looks a lot like an exotic bundle of herbs.
What is khat? Khat is a leafy green plant containing two main stimulant drugs – cathinone and cathine – which speed up your mind and body. Their main effects are similar to, but less powerful than, amphetamine (Speed). In Eastern Africa and the surrounding region, khat use is traditionaly found in Kenya, Yemen, Uganda, Ethiopia and Madagascar. In Yemen, the drug is used by an overwhelming number of the population. Estimates range from 75 to 90% of the men and 10 to 25% of the women using the drug, often throughout the day. Prices in South Africa range from R30 to R80.00 per bundle so it can become an expensive habit that has addictive qualities.
The most common method of taking khat is to ‘ball up’ a small bunch of its leaves which are chewed over a number of hours.
In 1980, the World Health Organization (WHO) classified the plant as a drug of abuse that can produce mild to moderate psychological dependence (less than tobacco or alcohol), although the WHO does not consider khat to be seriously addictive. It is a controlled or illegal substance in some countries, but is legal for sale and production in others.
In South Africa, the plant – Catha Edulis – is also known as Bushmen’s tea. The national tree number of Catha Edulis is 404 and is listed as a protected tree.
In terms of Section 3 of the Drug Act the use of khat is illegal.
The full effects of Khat are only felt when the leaves are fresh – within 48 hours of harvesting, therefore there is a demand to get the plant to the market place as quickly as possible. In Europe planes are used to transport the drug overnight, while in South Africa, road transport is utilized.
In the last few years, transportation methods have improved in the source countries, and shippers package the plant material carefully to keep it moist, reducing some of the loss of potency. It has since become available to more locations and is now better known around the world.
On Tuesday 24 June 2014 khat became a controlled class C drug in the UK. When it became illegal, there were 3,000 tons of the drug passing through the country’s airports each year.
Currently the production, sale, and consumption of khat is legal in:
- Kenya (two of its active components, cathinone and cathine, are classed as Class C substances),
- Uganda (efforts are underway to ban it),
- Thailand and
- Consumption of the plant’s leaves in its natural state is also permitted in Israel.
Khat consumption induces mild euphoria and excitement, similar to that conferred by strong coffee. Individuals become very talkative under the influence of the plant. The effects of oral administration of cathinone occur more rapidly than the effects of amphetamine pills; roughly 15 minutes as compared to 30 minutes in amphetamine. Khat can induce manic behaviours and hyperactivity, similar in effects to those produced by amphetamine.
The use of khat results in constipation. Dilated pupils (mydriasis) are prominent during khat consumption, reflecting the sympathomimetic effects of the drug, which are also reflected in increased heart rate and blood pressure.
Khat is an effective anorectic (causes loss of appetite). Long-term use can precipitate: permanent tooth darkening (of a greenish tinge), susceptibility to ulcers, and diminished sex drive.
It is unclear if the consumption of khat directly affects the mental health of the user or not. Occasionally, a psychotic episode can result, resembling a hypomanic state in presentation.
An estimated 5 to 10 million people globally use khat on a daily basis.
Khat goes by various traditional names, such as kat, qat, qaad, ghat, chat, Abyssinian Tea, Somali Tea, Miraa, Arabian Tea, Mirra, Green grass and Kafta in its endemic regions of the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. In the African Great Lakes region, where Catha edulis is cultivated in some areas, it is known as miraa, muhulo and muirungi. In South Africa, the plant is known as Bushman’s Tea. Other names for khat include Chat Tree and Flower of Paradise.
Use of khat in South Africa has increased with the influx of Somalians and Ethiopians into the country. Jbay News says that Jeffreys Bay has been identified as a key link in the transportation of the illegal drug Khat in South Africa. From the growing fields in the Stutterheim and Bolo area on the eastern seaboard coast of the country to the market place in the Western Cape, the drug is being transported by road past the surfing mecca of Jeffreys Bay.
Khat is a stimulant and chewing it can:
- Make people more alert and talkative
- Produce feelings of elation
- Suppress the appetite
- Produce a feeling of calm if it’s chewed over a few hours, with some describing it as being ‘blissed out’
- Lead to periods of insomnia
The risks of using khat:
- You may develop insomnia and short-lived states of confusion.
- You can get high blood pressure, heart palpitations and heart problems with heavy use.
- As khat can cause periods of increased libido, care may be needed to minimise the risk of unsafe sex and unwanted pregnancies.
- Khat can inflame the mouth and damage the teeth. It can also reduce appetite and cause constipation, and there is concern about a longer-term risk of development of mouth cancers.
- It can give you feelings of anxiety and aggression.
- It can make pre-existing mental health problems worse and can cause paranoid and psychotic reactions (which may be associated with irritability, anxiety and losing touch with reality).
- There is a small risk of significant liver disease, which has the potential to be life threatening.
- Khat can make a user psychologically dependent (with craving and a desire to keep using in spite of potential harm). When some users stop using they can feel lethargic or mildly depressed and may have a withdrawal period with fine tremors and nightmares.
The risk of khat being cut with other more harmful substances is low as khat comes in recognisable leaf form.
— SA Police Service (@SAPoliceService) March 12, 2017
#sapsEC Uitenhage Visible Policing members arrested 2 suspects found in possession of 131 bundles of Khat at Market Street, Uitenhage.
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