Quat, Qat, Qaat, Miraa
What is Khat?
Khat is a green-leafed shrub that has been chewed for centuries by people who live in the Horn of Africa and the Arabian peninsula. In more recent years it has turned up in Europe, including the UK, where it is used particularly among emigrants and refugees from countries such as Somalia, Ethiopia and the Yemen.
Khat is imported to London and sold at greengrocers and market stalls in areas such as East London. It sells at about £4 a bunch but only remains potent for a few days after being picked. It is strongest when the fresh leaves are chewed but can also be made into a tea or chewable paste.
A person may chew one to two bunches at a time and the activity is often performed with friends.
Khat is a stimulant drug (containing two cathinone like compounds) and has effects similar to mild amphetamine. Chewing it produces a mild euphoria and makes people feel more alert and talkative. As with amphetamine, khat suppresses the appetite. Users also describe an ensuing calming effect (being blissed out) when the drug is used over a few hours.
Regular use may lead to insomnia, anorexia and anxiety. In some cases it may make people feel more irritable and angry and possibly violent.
Psychological dependence can result from regular use so that users feel depressed and low unless they keep taking it.
There has been concern about the effect of khat on some of its regular users in the Somali community. While khat may be causing some problems for refugees from the war in Somalia its use needs to be viewed alongside the poverty and stigma that may be experienced by many of these people.
Prevalence of Use
According to Home Office CSEW statistics published in 2016, 0.06% of adults aged 16 to 59 had used khat in the last year; this equates to around 20,000 people in England and Wales. This is similar to the 0.05% estimated in 2014/15, but a statistically significant fall compared with 0.2% in the previous two survey years when khat use was legal. It should also be noted that a household survey such as the CSEW may underestimate the use of substances such as khat, the use of which is concentrated in individuals of a specific national origin.
As of June 2014 khat became controlled as a Class C drug under the Misuse of Drugs Act.
Possession incurs a possible sentence of two years imprisonment, a fine or both.
Possession with intent to supply, production and cultivation could each result in a maximum sentence of 14 years imprisonment, a fine or both.
In practice those found in possession of khat for the first time are most likely to receive a warning. Khat warnings could be issued to adults from June 2014. According to the Ministry of Justice 2016 statistics there were 36,300 cannabis and khat warnings issued in the latest year, a decrease of 6,300 (15%) from the previous year.
The Home Office have produced a Khat fact sheet (PDF) for England and Wales in a variety of languages. This gives more information about the decision to ban khat and what it means in practice.
References to khat use can be found in Arab journals from the 13th century. Physicians prescribed khat to treat depression and lack of energy. The stimulant effects also mean it has been commonly used by peasants who work long hours. In some Muslim countries where alcohol is banned, khat is commonly used in social situations, although khat is often condemned on religious and cultural grounds.
Khat fact sheet for England and Wales
Information leaflet about the classification of Khat as a Class C drug from the UK Home Office (May 2014)
Updated December 2016