Miraa trees and bushes, more commonly known as khat, produce the tender leaves and branches that are widely consumed throughout Somalia, Djibouti, Ethiopia, parts of Kenya and Yemen, where afternoon chewing sessions are ingrained in the culture, as ubiquitous as coffee and as common a social ritual as a beer after work, the seeking of a mild buzz
The Catha edulis plant, contains 40 organic compounds or alkaloids. Cathinone and, to a lesser degree, cathine are what affect the nervous system, increasing blood pressure and heart rate, eliciting feelings of euphoria. Chemically and behaviourally, cathinone is similar to an amphetamine but less powerful. And the moment the plant is picked, cathinone starts to break down. Rapidly.
“It’s very difficult to understand why this stuff’s against the law,” Ontario Court Justice Elliott Allen said in the original ruling. “I read everything I can get my hands on about it and find it difficult to be persuaded of anything other than what I was told by a federal Crown attorney when I had my first case, which was: ‘We think this is almost as dangerous as coffee.’”
Khat is legal in the United Kingdom, where its use has been extensively studied, and it is a thriving business. But that may change as the controversy there grows — a push to ban it is being championed by Conservative MP Mark Lancaster.