(Medeshi)- Following is the summary of a presentation that I made on July 22nd for members of the public at a hall in Kingston upon Thames. The event was sponsored and supported by the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames under the theme of community health sessions.
The aims of the session were:
To raise awareness about the effects of Khat consumption on the health of the public ; The effects it has on dental, mental, sexual and physical health of the consumer
To discourage people from Khat consumption and to inform the public about the criminal side of Khat consumption as it is banned in the UK
And so the presentation begins here :
What is Khat?
Khat is a plant grown in the Horn of Africa and Yemen. It is the fresh young leaves of the Catha edullis shrub. It is mainly grown in Kenya, Ethiopia and Yemen.
Khat chewing has a history among these communities as a social custom dating back thousands of years.
Khat contains substances that cause excitement, loss of appetite and euphoria.
What are its effects?
It is a stimulant drug with effects similar to amphetamine
Chewing it makes people feel more alert , talkative and suppresses appetite.
Users describe an ensuing calming effect when used over a few hours.
Regular use may lead to insomnia, anorexia and anxiety , irritability , anger and possible violence . Users feel depressed and low unless they keep taking it.
Why is it popular?
It is liked by some because it keeps a person awake for long times.
Those who drive heavy trucks and make long journeys use Khat as an entertainment and also to keep them awake. Public Bus drivers in London also enjoyed chewing Khat during shifts including night duty before the ban came into effect.
In Somalia and Yemen, Khat is a past time drug . It brings people together at Mafreshes or Khat session places. Most people chew Khat for an average of 6 hours a day but there are others that sit for Khat chewing for more than 12 hours.
Who uses Khat in the UK even after the ban?
Immigrants from Somalia, Ethiopia , Yemen , Djibouti , Somaliland and Kenya are the main users of Khat in the United Kingdom.
There is a growing number of white British users among the younger and middle aged generation that have recently started using Khat. Although Khat is banned in UK , it is still available in the form of dried leaves in the black market.
Social effects of Khat
This drug may cause mental health problems, sleeplessness and suppresses sexual desire
In the UK, some men who use Khat choose to chew it all night and sleep all day
This may leave the partners to do all the activities for the family including taking and bringing the children to school, shopping for the family, cooking and cleaning
Khat is also expensive and in some cases has caused family breakdowns amongst users due to conflict mainly caused by husbands who choose to use the family’s income for their Khat consumption
There are many single mothers/fathers among the Somali community in the United Kingdom due to Khat consumption.
Health effects of Khat
Increased heart rate
Increased blood pressure
Loss of appetite
Diminishing sex drive
Some more Health effects
Tooth darkening (Tooth plague)
Oral /mouth cancer
Euphoria (excitement )
Mental health issues
Abdominal/ intestine obstruction and appendicitis
Combined substance use
Users tend to increase their cigarette consumption to enhance Khat stimulation.
Some users use alcohol to reduce the effects of Khat in order to be able to sleep.
Incidents of sudden death at the Khat Mafresshes have been reported in the last few years in the UK.
This is due to people chewing Khat for longer periods, not sleeping and smoking excessively therefore causing fatigue and heart failure
Khat and TB
Khat is also a major contributor to TB because:
It reduces the appetite therefore leading to malnutrition
Khat users chew the leaves in closed rooms with little ventilation over long periods of time, therefore increasing the risk of catching TB
Khat and dental hygiene
Khat chewing degrades the strength of healthy teeth.
Consecutive chewing and failure to brush off the teeth after chewing sessions stains the teeth , creates cavities and gradually causes the teeth to decay and fall
Prolonged khat chewing also causes mouth cancer affecting the gums and the tongue.
Legal side of Khat
Khat was banned in UK on June 24 , 2014 . Before that it was a legal drug in the country. It is also banned in the US, Canada and Europe.
Anyone caught using Khat for personal use and for the first time will be given a caution by the police as per the new rules. If that person is caught again, he/she will be fined £60 . The third time will lead to a criminal conviction.
As a Class C drug it is illegal to supply, possess with intent to supply and import Khat
Sanctions for these offences for Class C drugs are up to 14 years imprisonment, an unlimited fine or both
Supplying Khat to your friends, even if you give it away, is also considered ‘supplying’ under the law.
Khat ban enforcement since June 2014
According to the Met Police ; one-year since khat was class C controlled drug the Metropolitan Police has issued a total of 110 Khat Warnings and 16 Penalty Notice for Disorder (PNDs). 55 people have been arrested. 4 people Cautioned, 6 people Charged and appeared at court or wanted/missing.
Khat enforcement: During the period 24/12/2014 to 23/06/2015 10 khat search warrants were executed across London
Domestic Abuse: For a period one year prior to classification to one year after classification the number of ‘Accused’ on Domestic Abuse crime reports who’s nationality was Somali, Eritrean or Kenyan has reduced 23% from 210 to 141
NB : All photos are from Google. References were made on khat studies that had been carried out in the UK.