By Gatonye Gathura
The latest review of miraa (khat) studies has lumped the plant alongside the notorious coca and ephedra plants.
Coco produces cocaine while ephedra is a source of illegal herbal ecstasy. The review by Prof Nilesh B. Patel of the University of Nairobi concludes miraa has serious negative effects on human health.
Titled, ‘Khat – And now there are three,’ Prof Patel put miraa alongside coca, and ephedra the latter plant used to produce illegal herbal ecstasy.
“Ephedra and coca provided chemicals that became popular psychostimulants after their discovery in the late 19th century. Now with khat, a third plant joins this league as a source of natural psychostimulants,” wrote Prof Patel in the Brain Research Bulletin of July 27th 2018.
Psychostimulants, or uppers on the street, are drugs which increase activity of the central nervous system.
Prof Patel cast his net wide including in animal and human studies which show fresh khat leaves to have mood enhancing properties.
“In the user, consumption of fresh khat produces feelings of euphoria, alertness, energy, and confidence,” says Prof Patel.
Miraa, the study says also is seen to increase talkativeness in chewers while suppressing appetite and sleep.
Khat can also have negative effects on the nervous system leading to depression, and nightmares. The study also says miraa users are likely to have poor memories and low learning ability.
A study carried out last year by the Hawasa University in Ethiopia concluded that chewing of miraa results in poor academic performance.
“The likelihood of performing poorly or failing in academics is two times higher for those students who were using khat than those who were not chewing khat,” concluded the study.
“So far different instruments do show khat use can lead to dependence, and its use may not be as innocuous as thought or debated,” says Prof Patel.
Buoyed by last year’s positive findings by government scientist in Kenya, the then Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Willy Bett told miraa farmers the Government had petitioned the United Nations over the European ban of miraa.
Kenya, he said, had sought an interpretation of a convention on drug trade that European nations had used to ban the exports.
“If the interpretation favours Kenya that miraa is not a psychotic drug, then the Government will ask these countries to remove the restrictions,” Mr Bett told miraa farmers in Nyambene at the height of 2017 electioneering period.
If such a petition is ever lodged and the UN takes it up it may establish a technical panel to study available scientific data and make a decision in favour or against miraa.
However piling up evidence, indicting the leaves and the fact that the Kemri study is lacking in peer reviewed journals may not help to prop up a Kenya case.
Use of Miraa Source: NACADA 2013
North Eastern 28%
Lowest use recorded in Western.
Rare in Central but use picking up