Khat and the law
On 24 June 2014 khat becomes a Class C drug which means it is illegal to have or to supply khat.
It is also be an offense to bring khat into the country, so if you’ve been abroad to a country where khat is legal you cannot bring it back to the UK with you.
Khat fact sheets are available in Amharic, Arabic, English, Somali and Swahili for information on the reasons for the ban, penalties for possession, and where to go for advice and support. They can be used by individuals and local, voluntary or other organizations working in health, prevention, social care and law enforcement.
What if you’re caught?
If the Police catch you with khat, they’ll always take some action. This could include a penalty notice, a formal caution, or arrest and possible conviction.
If you are caught with khat (called possession) you could be arrested and face up to two years in prison and/or get an unlimited fine. If you are caught dealing or supplying (and that could just mean giving some to your mates) you could get up to 14 years in jail and/or get an unlimited fine.
A conviction for a drug-related offense could have a serious impact. It could make it harder, even impossible, to visit certain countries – for example the United States – and limit the types of jobs you can apply for.
Similar Synthetic Drugs
The two intoxicants in the plant are cathinone and cathine. They are similar to but milder than amphetamine. In the last several years, synthetic forms of this drug have become popular and dangerous. Synthetic cathinones are very often the types of drugs found in “bath salts.” They are far stronger in their synthetic forms. Mephedrone, methylone, methcathinone and MDPV (3,4-methylenedioxypyrovalerone) are all illicit synthetic drugs in this class.
Addiction Doesn’t Always Involve an Illegal Drug
There are plenty of people who are addicted to substances that can be purchased legally. Alcohol, for example, is legal for an adult to purchase. A person abusing inhalants can become addicted to common household chemicals. And in other cases, it takes time for a drug to be outlawed in a state or country, once its dangerous properties are recognized. Therefore, khat use
Did you know?
- Like drinking and driving, driving while under the influence of drugs is illegal – with some drugs you can still be unfit to drive the day after using. You can get a heavy fine, be disqualified from driving or even go to prison.
- Allowing other people to supply drugs in your house or any other premises is illegal. If the police catch people supplying illegal drugs in a club they can potentially prosecute the landlord, club owner or any person concerned in the management of the premises.
Our qualitative study identified that khat is commonly used by members of the Australian Somali community, particularly men, and that participants’ views about the links between khat use and personal health varied regarding its benefits and harms. Use is linked to community networks and cultural traditions, and may also be associated with existing high levels of mental health disorders (anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder) among displaced refugee communities.
Large quantities of khat need to be consumed in order to achieve a “high”. The fresh leaves preferred by khat users contain a higher ratio of cathinone to the less psychoactive cathine, and are usually sourced from local trees. Dried khat is usually imported into Australia from Kenya or Ethiopia. The effects that were seen as positive (increased energy, elevated mood, reduced appetite) and the adverse effects (sleep and mood disorders, poor appetite, constipation) commonly reported by participants were consistent with the weak psychostimulant properties of the active components of khat. Some participants also identified a negative impact on psychosocial functioning and relationships, although more severe drug-induced psychosis or violence were reported to be uncommon. Participants suggested that when it occurs it is not a direct effect of the drug; we suggest that such behaviour may be due to the effects (or discontinuation effects) of khat.
The concurrent consumption of large volumes of sugary drinks and sweets to counteract the bitter taste of khat, coupled with reduced appetite and poor nutrition, is likely to contribute to poor oral health.
Overwhelmingly, participants in this study incorrectly believed that khat was harmless or possibly beneficial for a range of medical complaints. There were a number of instances where perceived effects contradicted the evidence — for example, reports that khat was useful in treating diabetes. Such reports may arise from the appetite suppressant effects of khat, yet are in contrast to the limited evidence suggesting that khat may increase blood glucose levels in people with type 2 diabetes. The concurrent consumption of sweet food and drink may also contribute to the development of diabetes. Further, the belief that khat use increases libido and fertility contradicts the limited evidence that long-term use of khat may reduce sperm count, volume and motility.
Difficulties in detecting and responding to health problems associated with khat use may be compounded by poor health literacy and poor utilisation of health services by people who use khat, different cultural understandings of the role of khat as a drug, stigma regarding disclosure of khat use to health care providers, and low awareness among health practitioners of khat use, its effects, and the health issues affecting refugees.
Those experiencing adverse effects are most likely to access general health services complaining of specific symptoms (eg, sleep or mood problems, constipation) and may not report their khat use because of concerns regarding stigma, illegality or genuine belief that khat use is not linked to any health problems. Khat users may also present (or be referred) to drug and alcohol treatment services with dependence issues, although there are no specific services available for khat users in Australia. Multicultural drug and alcohol health services are available in some states and may be able to offer more culturally specific assistance to patients.
Health professionals have a role to play in educating users about potential harms arising from khat use, promoting responsible use of the drug in order to minimise the negative health effects for the individual and for the community, and informing community members who experience problems about the services available to them. Health information resources regarding khat use are available through websites, such as the Australian Drug Foundation’s DrugInfo site (http://www.druginfo.adf.org.au/). Importantly, many users reported not disclosing their khat use to health professionals, and we therefore recommend that health professionals should routinely enquire about khat use and related health problems with patients of Somalian or other East African background, incorporated into enquiries regarding lifestyle factors such as use of tobacco, alcohol and other substances.