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J Ethnopharmacol. 2010 Dec 1;132(3):607-14. doi: 10.1016/j.jep.2010.01.063. Epub 2010 Mar 19.

Khat in the Horn of Africa: historical perspectives and current trends.

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Kettering University, Liberal Studies, 1700 University Ave, Flint, MI 48504, USA.



This article looks at the history of the expansion of khat consumption from the traditional chew regions to Western countries and assesses the implication of possible international control for its use and trade in the Horn of Africa.


Ten months of initial field work in Ethiopia, three follow up field work, archival work in Ethiopia and Europe, as well as study of available relevant literature.


The debut of khat in the West in the 1980s was initially greeted with disdain and indifference. Authorities dismissed it on grounds that the mode of consumption, chewing the leaves for an extended period of time to extract a miniscule amount of the active ingredient, would not be appealing to Western users. Following the Mogadishu debacle of 1993, as depicted in the movie Black Hawk Down, authorities in the West began to express concern that khat was a new drug of abuse. Its trade was increasingly linked with terrorism because of its association with immigrants from the traditional khat use countries in the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. Amid hysteria and moral panic, many Western countries classified khat as a highly potent controlled substance, rendering its possession, cultivation, and trade illegal.


This article argues that more and more Western governments, out of panic rather than definitive evidence of harm, will be instituting national laws banning the leaves, but khat will not be placed under international control because the scientific evidence of harm is unlikely to rise to a critical mass that would justify its illegalization. States in the source countries would continue to tolerate khat because banning it would be disastrous from an economic and social welfare standpoint. Because of its ambiguous legal position and the unstable nature of its active ingredient, cathinone, khat would not be successfully commoditized as a global commodity or transformed into a highly concentrated illicit drug. In this situation, khat would continue to be chewed in the traditional-use areas of the Red Sea littoral marketed by local syndicates who work with a large network of petty commodity traders.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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