1. ITV Report

Legal stimulant threatens future of community

Khat is banned in a growing number of countries but not in the UK. Photo: ITV Cymru Wales

To view the full programme:

Khat is a legal stimulant cultivated in Africa, Ethiopia and the Yemen. If you chew it for long enough, it releases a stimulant similar to amphetamine. It is banned in 16 European countries, Australia, New Zealand, USA and Canada but, not in the UK.

The plant has been chewed cuturally for centuries by people living in the Horn of Africa and the Arabian peninsula. But, one community have told ITV Cymru Wales that it's increasing consumption in the UK is threatening its health and long-term stability.

Around 2,600 tonnes of the plant is legally imported from Kenya, Ethiopia and the Yemen into London’s Heathrow Airport every year. From here, it is taken to a warehouse in Southall, in west London, and then distributed to the rest of the UK. The drug has a shelf life of 48hours. So it must be chewed within 48hours of when it is first picked.

The plant contains substances (Cathine and Cathinone) that when isolated in pure form are controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. It’s these substances that cause what is claimed to be a state of euphoria.

Last year the Home Office asked the Advisory Council for the Misuse of Drugs to conduct a review into the societal harms of khat and whether the drug should be banned. In January, this year, the ACMD rejected calls for the drug to be banned and recommended no change to its legal status. For the full ACMD review click here.

The evidence of harms asscociated with the use of khat is insufficient to justify control and it would be inappropriate and disproportionate to classify khat under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971.

– Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs

There are approximately 10,000 Somalis living in Cardiff, Newport and Swansea making them the largest ethnic minority community in Wales. The community is divided in it's views of khat and many are calling for it to be banned in the UK. The community say it has ruined their lives, mentally, physically and financially. It has torn apart many families and now the younger generation are becoming addicted to it.

When you chew you can’t get up because you are not sleeping a lot in the nighttime, so you sleep in the daytime and the wife or your mum or your families they have to struggle all, say if you have got a family your wife has to take the kids to school, bring them from school, cook for them and you are sleeping there. A lot of women have left them, you know kicked their husband out because basically he’s useless.

– Mohammed Ibrahim, Resident of the community

Others feel the drug should stay legal as chewed in the right environment and in the right way it can remain harmless.

If it wasn’t for khat all these kids would be going to town and doing not what is in our culture, you know drinking, it’s not our culture. Alcohol is bad isn’t it, but khat is not. But people think ok it’s an addiction, but it’s not. I used to chew it like 5 times a day. I don’t anymore. I never had a problem giving up.

– Abdi Adan
"I was finding that people that were using khat did appear to have more serve psychotic episodes and being admitted to hospital. " Credit: ITV Cymru Wales

Professor Kamaldeep Bhui gave evidence to the ACMD report on the impact of khat. He says that many clinicians, doctors and healthcare professionals are concerned by the effects of the drug but, a lack of research means there isn't enough evidence. The ACMD report admits in it's report that much more comprehensive research was needed.

People just don’t see it as a priority. I mean we have even put in for research funding and the response was that this isn’t a priority for the NHS or for public health.

– Professor Kamaldeep Bhui, Cultural Psychiatry and Epidemiology, Queen Mary University, London

The Home Office are yet to make a decision on whether the drug should be banned.

The Home Secretary is considering the ACMD's advice and available evidence on khat in full, and will respond in due course.

– Home Office Spokesperson

To catch the full story watch Wales This Week Chewing The Khat at 8pm Tonight.