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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.
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.
Others feel the drug should stay legal as chewed in the right environment and in the right way it can remain harmless.
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.
The Home Office are yet to make a decision on whether the drug should be banned.
To catch the full story watch Wales This Week Chewing The Khat at 8pm Tonight.