Khat, also known as Miraa in Kenya is a common abused recreational stimulant. Walking around the streets of Mombasa, especially on a Saturday evening, you will see groups of men abusing the drug. Saturday is termed here as ‘Saga day’ meaning chewing Day for most people in Mombasa County.
Khat abuse is often seen as principally a Muslim habit, taking the place of Forbidden alcohol as a social stimulant. This is because most of its consumers in Kenya are Muslims and the business is booming in areas where Muslims are the majority, especially the Coast and North-eastern parts of Kenya.
In Kenya, khat is grown and breeded in the Meru County. It is found growing wild in the Middle East down to the eastern Cape. Besides Kenya, the drug is cultivated intensively in Ethiopia, Uganda and Yemen. Khat has been legalised in countries such as Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia, Djibouti and Yemen whereas it is a controlled substance in United Kingdom, USA, Canada, Germany. It is illegal in our neighbour country Tanzania.
Khat contains Cathinone and cathine, an amphetamine like stimulant, which normally causes excitement and the feeling of intense happiness (euphoria). WHO classifies it as a drug of abuse that can produce psychological dependence.
For many years Khat has been used as a social drug due to its effects of euphoria, making the consumers very talkative under it’s influence. It is also common among long distance drivers as it helps them stay awake for a longer period. It is also common among students due to its effects of increased alertness and concentration.
Immediate effects of this drug include: alertness, concentration, increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, insomnia and supressed appetite thus often used for weight loss.
Long-term effects of Khat abuse include: depression, infrequent hallucinations, impaired inhibition similar to alcohol usage, permanent discoloration of teeth, constipation, increased risk of heart attack, Psychosis, Gum diseases and Oral cancer.
There are no detailed studies on the association of Khat to reproductive health, however, the limited data available reveals that the drug has a negative effect on the Human reproductive health. It also has teratogenic effects on the foetus, when consumed regularly by pregnant women, hence strongly advised that they should not use the drug. Khat consumption affects the potency of male sexuality by affecting spermatogenesis and plasma testosterone concentration. However, the precise mechanisms by which khat may affect the male reproductive physiology have not been elucidated.
A survey conducted by DARS and Synovate in Hargesia found that 59% of those surveyed stated that khat abuse leads to family problems while 58% felt it hinders personal development. This is mainly because consumers often divert income to purchase Miraa, neglecting their families in the process.
Miraa is very expensive here in Kenya. It saddens me that due to this addiction, someone could spends more than 3000ksh for the drug while neglecting their family needs, especially during the weekend. This leads to breakdown of marriages.
For those who are already into the practice and those thinking of starting to abuse this drug, please consider the above facts so you make an informed decision!
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