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The Looming Danger: Unmasking the Risk of Khat Consumption
By Dr. Ali Said Faqi
Saturday November 18, 2023 

Khat scientifically known as Katha Edulis is a plant native to the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. Its leaves and shoots are commonly chewed for their stimulant effects.

Khat consumption has a long history and is believed to have originated from Ethiopia. It has been used for thousands of years in East Africa and Arabian Peninsula.

Khat consumption is a prevalent practice in Somalia. An estimated of over 50% of males and around 20% of females consume it regularly. It is a verifiable fact that also some security personnel including police and military forces have a habit of consuming khat on a frequent basis.   Khat consumption can lead to decreased productivity, decreased alertness, and impaired judgment, which can be particularly problematic for those in high-stress and high-risk jobs such as the military and security forces. We must also remind ourselves that some people who chew Khat also use other illicit drugs. Drug abuse is also a growing concern in Somalia, and it is far-reaching and detrimental to both individuals and the broader society.

According to a report published by United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in 2014, Somalia ranked among the top countries in the world in terms of khat consumption. The report estimated that the total volume of khat imported to Somalia at that time was around 400 metric tons per week, with an estimated value of up to $15 million USD per month. Taking into consideration the surge in both price and quantity of khat imported to Somalia between 2014-2023, it can be estimated that Somalia spends a minimum of $ 25 million per month equating to roughly 300 million annually. However, alternative estimations project these figures staggering amount in the billions.

Chemistry

Khat contains several active compounds, including cathinone, cathine, and norephedrine, which stimulate the central nervous system and produce effects similar to amphetamines.  Chemically Cathinone is structurally similar to amphetamines and acts as a central nervous system stimulant. It increases the release and inhibits the reuptake of certain neurotransmitters, such as dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. This mechanism of action contributes to the stimulating effects, including euphoria, heightened, and sociability.  Khat is classified as a Schedule I control substance in many countries due to its potential for abuse and addiction. It is also illegal in several countries, including the United States, Canada, and much of Europe. Long-term use of khat can lead to physical and psychological dependence.  

Risks Associated with Khat Consumption

Khat consumption in Somalia has become a looming threat that is gripping the nation's social, economic, and health fabric. One of the major issues associated with khat consumption is its devastating impact on the country's economy. Somalia, already plagued by years of political instability and economic struggles, cannot afford the drain on productivity caused by widespread khat use. Many individuals, particularly men, spend hours chewing the leaves, resulting in tardiness or even absence from work, diminished work performance, and an overall decline in productivity. Consuming khat can also have negative impacts on the finances of individuals who use it regularly. Government employees, alongside other users, are known to spend their income  on khat, a habit that compels them to constantly seek Shaxaad from fellow individuals on a daily basis.

Moreover, the social consequences of khat consumption are equally alarming. The chewing of khat leaves often takes place in social gatherings, where individuals spend hours engrossed in the habit. This has resulted in a neglect of family responsibilities, strained relationships, and an overall breakdown of social cohesion. Additionally, the excessive use of khat has been linked to increased aggression and violence, exacerbating the already fragile security situation in the country. Research has shown that male consumers of khat tend to have less quality time with their families than those who do not consume it. Some studies conducted in Yemen and Ethiopia suggest that khat chewing may be associated with marital conflict and divorce or is a significant predictor of divorce.  This is due to a number of factors related to the effects of khat on individuals and their relationships: 1) khat consumption can lead to financial strain on families, as users may spend a significant portion of their income on the drug. This leads to arguments and conflicts over money, which can contribute to marital discord and ultimately leading to divorce.

2) khat users prioritize spending time with other users over their families. This creates feelings of neglect and abandonment of the wife and the children which then results in resentment and ultimately contributes to the breakdown of the marriage. 3) khat users have increased aggression and irritability, which can create tension and conflict within the family. This also contributes to a breakdown in communication and ultimately to a divorce.

On the other hand, the health implications of khat consumption cannot be ignored. The stimulant properties of khat can lead to a range of physical and mental health problems. Prolonged use can cause insomnia, loss of appetite, and weight loss. Moreover, individuals often experience mood swings, irritability, and paranoia, which can have severe implications for their mental well-being.

Likewise, dental problems are a common concern associated with khat consumption. When chewing khat leaves, users often keep them in their mouths for extended periods, sometimes several hours at a time. This prolonged exposure to the cathinone and other compounds in the leaves can have detrimental effects on oral health. Tooth decay, gum disease, teeth staining, and temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders are prevalent issues that can affect the oral health of individuals who regularly chew khat.

 Khat is also unhygienic due to its harvesting and handling practices. Khat leaves are typically harvested by hand and transported in bundles, which can lead to contamination with dirt, dust, and other debris. In the khat market, it is common practice to see consumers touching bundles and single leaves with their dirty hands when buying, thus increasing the risk of spreading germs and contamination.

There have been reports of khat being contaminated with harmful bacteria such as E. coli and Salmonella, which cause food poisoning and other illnesses. In some cases, khat has also been found to contain pesticides or other chemicals that can be harmful to human health as khat is often grown using intensive farming methods, which can involve the use of pesticides. Harmful levels of pesticides (depending on the type of pesticide) could potentially impact male fertility.

Research findings indicate that there is a correlation between the consumption of khat and a heightened likelihood of engaging in promiscuous sexual behavior as well as an increased prevalence of self-reported sexually transmitted infections.

Impact of Khat on Sexual Performance

The topic on the impact of khat on sexual performance has generated significant attention and debate. Proponents of khat’s positive effect on sexual performance often highlight its stimulating properties, claiming that it increases libido and enhances stamina. Claims that have no scientific proof include that the plant's active ingredients, cathinone, and cathine, act as mild aphrodisiacs, leading to heightened sexual desire and improved performance. Some khat users also claim that khat can delay ejaculation, prolonging sexual encounters. But most of these individuals when interviewed admit that they must chew khat to be sexually active.

On the other hand, critics argue that the use of khat can have detrimental consequences on sexual performance. The main reason is that the plant acts as a vasoconstrictor, which can restrict blood flow to certain areas, including the genital region. This potentially leads to difficulties in achieving and maintaining erections, negatively impacting overall sexual satisfaction. Khat also disrupts sleep patterns, potentially causing fatigue and decreased sexual drive. It is important to note that the impact of khat on sexual performance may vary from person to person, depending on factors such as amount chewed, frequency of use, and individual physiology.  More research is needed to fully understand the physiological and psychological implications of Khat use on sexual function.

Is chewing Khat Haram in Islam?

In Islam, the question of whether Khat is considered Haram (forbidden) or not has been and still is a topic of debate among scholars. Many scholars argue that khat should be considered Haram due to its intoxicating effect and the associated negative consequences. They believe that anything that alters one's state of mind or impairs judgment is prohibited in Islam. They highlight the potential for addiction, health risks, and the potential of neglecting or delaying salat prayers, a religious obligation as reasons for its prohibition.

Some other scholars, on the other hand argue that Khat is not clearly mentioned in the Quran or Hadith and thus it cannot be definitively labeled as Haram. These scholars believe that it falls under the category of "Mubah" or "permissible" unless it can be proven to cause harm or negatively impact one's religious obligations. However, it is important to point out that even the scholars who consider khat as permissible, often emphasize moderation and warn against excessive use.

Addressing the risk of Khat

The threat of khat consumption in Somalia cannot be underestimated. It requires a collective effort from the central government, FMS, civil society including media organizations to address the economic, social, and health consequences that this addictive substance brings. Only through concerted action can Somalia hope to overcome this pressing challenge and pave the way for a healthier society.  To address this growing threat, a comprehensive approach is required. It is important for the Somali government to prioritize public health and launch targeted awareness campaigns to educate the population about the dangers of khat consumption.

Moreover, by highlighting the potential spiritual and moral implications of khat use, religious preachers can effectively discourage their followers from engaging in this harmful habit. In order to minimize the potential health consequences, it is of utmost important to conduct microbiological examinations and thoroughly analyze the existence of pesticides and heavy metals in khat on arrival in major Somali airports before it is released to the market. In addition, government regulations and oversight should play a key role in enforcing consumer measures for khat.

In conclusion, while Somalia may not be ready to abolish khat entirely, there are steps that can be taken to mitigate its risks to our society. Through education, stricter regulations, alternative livelihood options, and addressing socioeconomic factors, we can potentially reduce the harmful impact of khat on individuals and the broader community. It is important to approach this issue with a comprehensive and holistic strategy that involves all stakeholders, including government, and society at large to effectively tackle this problem.

Dr. Ali Said Faqi
Email: [email protected]



 





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