Pubdate: Fri, 09 May 2003
Source: Addis Tribune (Ethiopia)
Copyright: 2003 Tambek International
Author: Worku A. Woldemichael


Khat (Catha edulis Forsk), or chat in Amharic, has been cultivated and used 
for centuries by the indigenous people in Ethiopia and the surrounding 
countries, including Somalia, Eritrea, Kenya and Yemen. Fresh leaves of 
khat are chewed primarily to attain a state of stimulation and euphoria. 
For the majority of these people, the use of khat is an established 
cultural tradition for a variety of social situations. In these countries, 
the consumption and trading of khat are legal in most cases.

Due to adverse political, social and economic factors, the cultivation and 
use of khat in Ethiopia have increased significantly in recent years.

Ethiopia being a major khat-producing country, it is believed that this has 
contributed to the recently observed greater use of the shrub worldwide. 
With the influx of immigrants from the East African and Arabian Peninsula 
countries and increased production of khat by Ethiopian farmers, the 
prevalence of utilization of khat in the US has increased in the past 
several years.

However, the shrub has been seen in cities like Detroit, Dallas, New York, 
Boston, Minneapolis and Portland since the 1980s. It is smuggled from the 
places of its natural habitat to be used by individuals of East African and 
Arabian descent.

Khat is illegal in the US, and this has been so since 1993. This implies 
that anybody possessing khat more than the permitted limit will be 
considered breaking the law that bans possession of cathinone, the key 
ingredient in fresh khat leaves.

It, however, appears that most users of khat in this country are unaware of 
this law or are not serious about it.

This is indicated by the fact that in some US cities the herb is known to 
be openly advertised in grocery stores and restaurants. Many users also 
openly admit to the police their use of khat and unawareness of the law 
prohibiting it. Whatever the case may be, reports repeatedly show that 
those who violated the "khat law" have not been excused from being 
prosecuted. For instance, khat-related charges were filed against 10-20 
Somali immigrants in 1991 in Minneapolis area. A khat-smuggler was also 
sentenced in January 2001 to an eight-month prison term after US Custom 
officials caught him at Dallas airport with two suitcases stuffed with 
khat. While US customs inspectors seized more than 17,000 pounds of khat 
leaves in 1991 at Newark airport, this has doubled over thre past thee 
years. It has been learnt that, currently, many khat smuggling 
investigations are going on. There are also a number of pending court cases 
related to khat.

At this juncture, it is appropriate to point out how khat and related 
substances are regulated in the US. Khat is one of the five pharmacological 
classes of drugs regulated by the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). These 
classes are narcotics, depressants, stimulants, hallucinogens, and anabolic 
steroids. Each class has distinguishing properties, and drugs within each 
class often produce similar effects.

Khat belongs to the "stimulants class", which also includes the 
amphetamines, cocaine, nicotine and caffeine. However, all controlled 
substances, regardless of class, share a number of common features, which 
find useful application for control of use or abuse.

Based upon their potential for abuse, the above classes of drugs are 
grouped into five schedules by the CSA. Schedule I drugs are those with 
high potential for abuse and do not have currently accepted medical use. 
There is a lack of accepted safety for use of these drugs under medical 
supervision. The CSA has grouped cathinone (that is, the main active 
ingredient in fresh khat leaves) as a Schedule I drug. Other Schedule I 
substances include heroin, LSD, marijuana, and methaquualone. Schedule II 
drugs are also those with high potential for abuse but have currently 
accepted medical use. They include morphine, PCP, cocaine, methadone, and 

The drugs in Schedule III have also the potential for abuse but less than 
the drugs in Schedules I and II. These substances have currently accepted 
medical use. Examples are anabolic steroids, codeine hydrocodone and some 
barbiturates. Schedule IV drugs have low potential for abuse and have 
currently accepted medical use. Abuse of these drugs may lead to limited 
physical dependence or psychological dependence. Cathine 
(norpseudoephedrine), the other component of khat leaves, belongs to this 
group. Other Schedule IV drugs include Darvon, Talwin, Equanil, Valium, and 
Xanax. The drugs in Schedule V have lower potential for abuse relative to 
all others.

They also have currently accepted medical use. Over-the-counter cough 
medicines with codeine are classified in Schedule V. Therefore, cathinone, 
being a Schedule I substance, is prohibited from being used in the US by 
the CSA in any kind of form including in the form of khat leaves. Doing 
otherwise would be considered violation of the law which may result in 
prosecution. Khat consumers, smugglers and distributors are expected to be 
aware of this law and be responsible for their action.

On the other hand, cathine, a Schedule IV substance, is not prohibited from 
being used. However, compared to cathinone, it is much less effective as a 
stimulant but more stable chemically. As khat leaves mature or dry, 
cathinone is converted to cathine, making the khat leaves less potent.
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MAP posted-by: Larry Stevens