Khat For Lowers Blood Sugar

Pronunciation: kaht

Chemical Abstracts Service Registry Number: 71031-15-7 (cathinone component); 492-39-7 (cathine component) Formal Names: Catha edulis

Informal Names: Abyssinian Tea, Arabian Tea, Goob, Jaad, Miraa, Qaad, Qat, Shat, Somali Tea

Type: Stimulant (amphetamine class). See page 12

Federal Schedule Listing: Schedule I (cathinone DEA no. 1235); Schedule IV (cathine DEA no. 1230)

USA Availability: Illegal to possess

Pregnancy Category: None

Uses. Although amphetamine is a laboratory creation and not a natural product, the khat plant is likened to a "natural amphetamine" due to the actions of the two scheduled substances found in it, cathinone and cathine. Because one of them is listed in Schedule I the plant is illegal to possess even though all other chemicals in it are legal. Cross-tolerance exists among amphetamine, cathinone, and cathine. One thorough chemical analysis of khat found that the natural product also contains ephedrine.

Khat has the same psychological effects as those associated with amphetamine, both positive and negative. An additional effect can be vivid hallucinations as people hover between wakefulness and sleep. In contrast to job performance benefits observed with true amphetamines, airplane crew members who use khat are found to have poorer visual memory and decision-reaction times when compared with nonusers. The substance is nonetheless used as a stimulant assisting physical labor, much as coca leaves are traditionally used in South America.

The shrub is mainly found in countries along the Red Sea and Indian Ocean region of eastern and northeastern Africa. Leaves are traditionally harvested in the morning and wrapped to slow their drying. Potency declines as they dry out. The main active component cathinone transforms into the less-active component cathine over time, reducing the strength of a particular batch of khat. That factor formerly limited the product's availability, but modern transportation and freezer technology allows khat to be exported around the world. The product has been a major cash crop in Ethiopia. Sometimes khat is used as a tea or in a paste format, but just like coca, users generally chew the leaves while (in the delicate phrase of one scientist) "rejecting the residues." Some people simultaneously drink sweet beverages to mask khat's bitter flavor. The natural product's potency is mild enough that dangerous overdose is unlikely. During the aftermath of the Persian Gulf War in the 1990s, concern was expressed that American military personnel in that region might use khat instead of beverage alcohol.

Although khat has no approved medical use in the United States, elsewhere it is used against depression, stomach problems, headaches, coughs, as a mild stimulant, appetite suppressant, bronchodilator, aphrodisiac, and as a gonorrhea remedy. An antiinflammatory compound has been found in the natural product. Khat raises body temperature, breathing rate, blood pressure, heart action, and muscle tension.

Drawbacks. Khat promotes constipation and may damage kidneys and liver. When fed to rabbits, khat lowers their vitamin C levels. The substance can raise diabetics' blood sugar.

Despite theoretical possibilities for afflictions, investigation of khat use in North Yemen discovered little or no evidence of physical harm. Some researchers find better dental health among persons who regularly chew khat, but other researchers find the opposite (such results suggest that khat may be an "invalid variable" actually having no impact). Investigators in London attributed very few illnesses to khat in a group of 162 users. Tuberculosis may be the main physical peril from khat, not from the substance itself but from disregard of Western hygiene in social use of the drug (spitting around, sharing a water pipe). Khat psychosis is rare, probably because of the natural product's relatively low strength. In two Israeli villages the mental illness rate for users was no worse than for nonusers; the same was found in Liverpool, England.

Abuse factors. Known as the "flower of paradise," khat has wide recreational use in countries of its traditional origin: A survey of over 10,000 Ethiopian villagers found that half were currently using the substance; a survey of Ethiopian high school students found a still higher percentage of users. In cultures where khat usage originated, it is a social drug used to lubricate conversation. Users feel more alert and confident and even a little contentious, making for lively gatherings. Persons who have a troubled relationship with khat are generally persons who disregard social customs about it. For example, users will feel a letdown as the drug wears off. People who use khat in its traditional social context are likely to experience that letdown as simply part of a genial gathering breaking up as members go about their individual business and are unlikely to have interest in taking more khat right then. Someone alone in an apartment who feels let down may see more khat as the answer instead of more friends. Also, using a drug in a social context differing from its traditional one can cause trouble. People who use khat at all-night high-energy rave dance parties are unlikely to experience the same sensations as are found in an intimate circle of mutually trusting acquaintances who interact with each other in daily life.

Despite khat's well-documented stimulant properties, the substance is considered a threat to economic productivity in countries where it has long tra dition of use. The "threat" probably has less to do with chemistry and more to do with khat's traditional societal roleā€”helping people pass time genially while they sit around and visit.

Around a century ago famed novelist Theodore Dreiser wrote a short story "Khat" about using the substance. The story is an atmospheric portrayal of the drug's cultural context, how khat aided the functioning of a society that had become archaic by the year 2000. The story is told from the perspective of a beggar, and ironically, the society that despised the beggar is now itself despised by Western modernists who condemn khat. A drug viewed as benevolent by a disappearing world is viewed as a threat in a new world possessing different values. Yet nothing about khat's chemistry has changed.

Tolerance appears to develop to some khat effects, such as elevations in pulse rate, blood pressure, body temperature, and respiration rate.

Drug interactions. The substance can interfere with amoxycillin and ampi-cillin antibiotics.

Cancer. A study searching for a link between khat chewing and precancer-ous conditions in the mouth found none, but some researchers feel the habit promotes oral cancer, and others suspect that khat causes cancer of the esophagus and stomach.

Pregnancy. Researchers have concluded that khat harms human sperm. Experiments on mice indicate that khat lowers male fertility and promotes fetal death from matings by those males. Rat experiments on females demonstrate that khat can cause fetal death and birth defects. Women who chew khat leaves tend to deliver lower-weight babies, but no birth defects were observed in infants from a sample of over 500 pregnant khat users. Nursing mothers can pass a psychoactive khat chemical into their milk, and the chemical can be measured in an infant's urine.

Additional information. Khat's main effects are attributed to the presence of the illegal drug cathinone (also called norephedrone), which is similar to dextroamphetamine and can be manufactured in a laboratory. Volunteers taking cathinone show higher blood pressure and pulse rate, feel pepped up, and have a brightened mood. Scientists believe the substance has pain-relieving properties when given to rats. Animal experiments indicate the drug has 50% or more of amphetamine's strength and that caffeine has a multiplier effect, boosting the impact of a cathinone dose. Animal experiments find no aphrodisiac qualities in cathinone but do find that it lowers testosterone levels and harms sperm and testes. Compared to the natural product khat, the pure laboratory drug has much more potential for harm. People can chew wads of khat for hours and get no more than mild effects, but a person using the pharmaceutical product can experience a much more powerful dose in an instant.

Khat also contains cathine. Cathine's effects are similar to cathinone but so much weaker that khat users disdain old leaves that have lost cathinone but still retain cathine. Laboratories can make cathine. The compound has been known to produce cranial tics (uncontrollable jerking of the head) among persons using it for weight loss. The drug has been found in ma huang food supplements. A professional athlete was disqualified from competition after consuming such a supplement without knowing it was cathine laced.

"Khat" is a nickname for MDMA, but they are not the same substance.

Additional scientific information may be found in:

Brenneisen, R., et al. "Amphetamine-Like Effects in Humans of the Khat Alkaloid Ca-thinone." British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology 30 (1990): 825-28.

Kalix, P. "Cathinone, a Natural Amphetamine." Pharmacology and Toxicology 70 (1992): 77-86.

Kalix, P. "Khat, an Amphetamine-Like Stimulant." Journal of Psychoactive Drugs 26 (1994): 69-74.

Khattab, N.Y., and G. Amer. "Undetected Neuropsychophysiological Sequelae of Khat Chewing in Standard Aviation Medical Examination." Aviation, Space, and Environmental Medicine 66 (1995): 739-44.

Krikorian, A.D. "Kat and Its Use: An Historical Perspective." Journal of Ethnopharma-cology 12 (November 1984): 115-78.

Nencini, P., and A.M. Ahmed. "Khat Consumption: A Pharmacological Review." Drug and Alcohol Dependence 23 (1989): 19-29.

Nencini, P., A.M. Ahmed, and A.S. Elmi. "Subjective Effects of Khat Chewing in Humans." Drug and Alcohol Dependence 18 (1986): 97-105.

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