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Family: Celastraceae Genus: Catha Species: edulis Common Names: Khat, Ghat, Gat, Qat, Qaat, Jaad, Jimma Description Khat is a slow growing shrub or small tree that grows to between 2 m and 5 m tall, depending on region, rainfall and genetic strain. The evergreen leaves are serrated and 5 to 10 cm long and 1 to 4 cm broad, with the new tip growth frequently showing distinctive caramel colour. The flowers are produced on short axillary cymes 4 to 8 cm long. Each flower is small, with five white petals. The fruit is an oblong three-valved capsule containing 1 to 3 winged seeds. Flowering branches have opposite leaves, non-flowering branches are alternate. Cultivation Propagation is from cuttings, which are relatively straightforward but are better taken from the alternate branches, which are the main growth stems (opposite branches being the flowering stems which may root but are not ideal for cutting growth). In some areas, cuttings should be taken over Autumn (Fall) and re-potted in Spring when the new growth starts. Standard rooting hormone (preferably as a gel) can be used, and the cuttings placed in a humid environment. Division of plants can also be undertaken, when a plant is cut back frequently to create bushy growth many new shoots can develop, usually at the base of the plant. These can be carefully dug up and replanted. Khat can produce seeds very prolifically when allowed to develop (too much harvesting or cutting back will strongly inhibit flower production) and should be harvested as soon as they are ripe (the pod begins to split). As the ripening occurs at different speeds across the entire plant, many harvests should be undertaken over the ripening period. Seed is best sown quickly, but may store for up to 2 years in good conditions. Seed sowing into moist but well-drained soil, preferably in a humid environment but under cover to prevent too much water saturation of the soil (especially in wetter areas). Shade is recommended for young plants, gradually hardening off to full sun as they reach the end of the first seasons growth. Planting out should not be undertaken until the plant has another season growth, when it will be large enough to establish itself quickly in the ground. Other than access to sun and water, Khat requires little maintenance, but irrigation in dry periods is recommended for good growth. It takes seven to eight years for the Khat plant to reach its full height, but harvesting can happen after 5 years. Plants are watered heavily starting around a month before they are harvested to make the leaves and stems soft and moist. A good Khat plant can be harvested four times a year, providing a year long source of income for the farmer (where legal). Plants are best trimmed back to create a hedge or small shrub for easy harvesting, and fed heavily in spring to help new growth. Sugar-cane mulch will help moisture retention in dry soils, and help improve poor soils over time. Harvesters in traditional areas transport Khat by packaging the leaves and stems in plastic bags or wrapping them in banana leaves to preserve their moisture and keep the cathinone potent. It is also common for them to sprinkle the plant with water frequently or use refrigeration during transportation. History Khat's exact place of origin is uncertain. It may have first been grown in Ethiopia, explorer Sir Richard Burton suggested that the plant was later introduced to Yemen from Ethiopia sometime in the 15th century, and states that the eastern city of Harar is suggested is the birthplace of the plant. However, Khat chewing has a long history amongst communities in the Horn of Africa (Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia) and the Arabian Peninsula, dating back probably many thousands of years. The Ancient Egyptians considered the Khat plant a divine food, which was capable of releasing humanity's divinity. The Egyptians used the plant for more than its stimulating effects; they used it for transcending into "apotheosis", with the intent of making the user god-like. The earliest known documented description of khat is found in the Kitab al-Saidala fi al-Tibb كتاب الصيدلة في الطب, an 11th century work on pharmacy and materia medica written by Abū Rayhān al-Bīrūnī, a Persian scientist and biologist who wrote "Khat is a commodity from Turkestan. It is sour to taste and slenderly made in the manner of batan-alu. But khat is reddish with a slight blackish tinge. It is believed that batan-alu is red, coolant, relieves biliousness, and is a refrigerant for the stomach and the liver." Preparations and Use Khat use in the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula predates the use of coffee and is used in a similar social context. The fresh leaves and tops are chewed or, less frequently, dried and consumed as tea, in order to achieve a state of euphoria and stimulation; it also has anorectic side-effects. The leaves or the soft part of the stem can be chewed with either chewing gum or fried peanuts to make it easier to chew. Frequently Khat is bundled in to a quid of 30 to 40 fresh leaf bunches. In other countries, Khat is sometimes chewed at parties or social functions. It may also be used by farmers and laborers for reducing physical fatigue or hunger, and by drivers and students for improving attention. Within the counter-culture segments of the elite population in Kenya, khat (referred to locally as Veve or Miraa) is used to counter the effects of a hangover or binge drinking, similar to the use of the Coca leaf in South America. In more recent times, preservation in alcohol has been experimented with, fresh leaves being packed in to alcohol which is subsequently filtered and served as an alcoholic beverage. Effects 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 behaviors and hyperactivity similar in effects to those produced by amphetamine. 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. Withdrawal symptoms that may follow occasional use include mild depression and irritability. Withdrawal symptoms that may follow prolonged Khat use include lethargy, mild depression, nightmares, and slight tremor. Khat is an effective anorectic (causes loss of appetite). Long-term use can precipitate the following effects: negative impact on liver function, permanent tooth darkening (of a greenish tinge), susceptibility to ulcers, and diminished sex drive. Use of Khat can cause constipation. It is unclear if the consumption of Khat directly affects the mental health of the user or not. Occasionally, a psychosis can result, resembling a hypomanic state in presentation. Chemistry and Pharmacology The stimulant effect of the plant was originally attributed to "katin", cathine, a phenethylamine-type substance isolated from the plant. However, the attribution was disputed by reports showing the plant extracts from fresh leaves contained another substance more behaviorally active than cathine. In 1975, the related alkaloid cathinone was isolated, and its absolute configuration was established in 1978. Cathinone is not very stable and breaks down to produce cathine and norephedrine. These chemicals belong to the PPA (phenylpropanolamine) family, a subset of the phenethylamines related to amphetamines and the catecholamines epinephrine and norepinephrine. In fact, cathinone and cathine have a very similar molecular structure to amphetamine. Khat is sometimes confused with methcathinone (also known as Cat), a Schedule 9 substance that possess a similar chemical structure to the Khat plant's cathinone active component. However, both the side effects and the addictive properties of methcathinone are much stronger than those associated with Khat use. When Khat leaves dry, the more potent chemical, cathinone, decomposes within 48 hours leaving behind the milder chemical, cathine. When the Khat leaves are chewed, cathine and cathinone are released and absorbed through the mucous membranes of the mouth and the lining of the stomach. The action of cathine and cathinone on the reuptake of epinephrine and norepinephrine has been demonstrated in lab animals, showing that one or both of these chemicals cause the body to recycle these neurotransmitters more slowly, resulting in the wakefulness and insomnia associated with Khat use. Receptors for serotonin show a high affinity for cathinone suggesting that this chemical is responsible for feelings of euphoria associated with chewing Khat. In mice, cathinone produces the same types of nervous pacing or repetitive scratching behaviors associated with amphetamines. The effects of cathinone peak after 15 to 30 minutes with nearly 98% of the substance metabolized into norephedrine by the liver. Cathine is somewhat less understood, being believed to act upon the adrenergic receptors causing the release of epinephrine and norepinephrine. It has a half-life of about 3 hours in humans. Because the receptor effect are similar to those of cocaine medication, treatment of the occasional addiction is similar to that of cocaine. The medication bromocriptine can reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms within 24 hours. Health In 1980, the World Health Organisation (WHO) classified it as a drug of abuse that can produce mild to moderate psychological dependence (less than tobacco or alcohol), which means the WHO does not consider Khat to be seriously addictive. Immediate effects: Increased heart rate, blood pressure Euphoria Hyperactivity Decreased appetite Long-term effects: Depression Sometimes hallucinations Delayed response inhibition Increased risk of myocardial infarction Psychosis in extreme cases in the genetically predisposed Oral cancer Indeterminate effects: Death and stroke following acute coronary syndrome (either from impaired insight into symptoms by the Khat chewer, delay to care, or poorly understood pathophysiological mechanisms) ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- More info about Khat and other ethnobotanicals can be found here.
VICE produced a nice video on segment on khat in Kenya in light of the proposed UK ban. It's a nice summary of the system of trade and the economies that depend on the our favorite cathninone containing shrub. Really nice shots of an international culture which I haven't seen detailed anywhere else except the fairly academic book Kenyan Khat. Check it out: