Drug Policy Alliance wants to decriminalize khat use

Khat is a plant which originally grows in East Africa and in the Arabian Peninsula. It can grow to a height of 20 metres. It has been used for centuries as a stimulant for its euphoric and exciting effects. Khat contains cathinone, cathine, cathidine, norpseudoephedrine and edulin, which act on the neurotransmitters in the brain and the brain stem in a similar fashion to amphetamine.

Usually khat is used by chewing or it is ‘stored’ in the cheeks and thus orally absorbed into the blood through the vessels in the mouth. Traditionally it has been consumed as a socializing and recreational drug as well as for cultural and medical reasons, for example to contain the effects of a hangover. This range of uses recalls the use of coca plants in South America.

In the UK khat is legal, usually sold in greengrocers or street markets and in areas inhabited by a Somali or Yemeni population. In many other countries, such as in the USA, the sale and use of khat is illegal. However, in the same countries, there would be many valuable reasons to decriminalize khat. This view is supported by Naomi Long of the Drug Policy Alliance who argues that chewing khat is part of the African tradition and culture and that we cannot criminalize a plant that has shown little potential for abuse.