Legal plant is drug of choice for Somalis in UK, but use is spreading
The Government is to review the evidence around khat, a legal plant whose leaves are chewed as a stimulant. The Advisory Council for the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) may suggest an outright ban on the leaves.
Khat is a plant that grows naturally in Yemen, Ethiopia, Somalia and elsewhere in north Africa. Its leaves have a natural amphetamine effect and it is especially common for members of the Somali community in the UK to chew them.
Users believe it helps them to stay alert – but it can also induce paranoia and sleeplessness. While it is perfectly legal to import, sell, buy and chew khat in Great Britain, it is a controlled substance elsewhere in Europe and in the US.
Its use is rife among Somalis, Yemenis and Ethiopians, but it does not enjoy the approval of entire communities. While Muslim Somalis generally consider khat to be 'halal' – unlike alcohol – many believe it encourages dependency and makes users unproductive.
The Home Office said yesterday that it believes there is "widespread support for some level of Government intervention" even though there are "very few reports of associations between khat and crime or anti-social behaviour".
In March last year, the BBC reported that the drug was spreading to young people outside the communities traditionally associated with its use. It quoted a philosophy student, 'Steve', who said he was attracted to the leaves because they appeared "natural".
Describing the effect of chewing the leaves, he said: "You're really alert but at the same time you have a bit of the feeling you have on cannabis... not hallucinations but going that sort of way." The leaves are cheap to buy – typically £3 for a bunch.
Now the ACMD will launch a "comprehensive study" to review the plant's status. It could end in regulation governing its importation and sale – or even a complete ban.
By David Cairns
OCTOBER 12, 2010
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