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Friday, 6 July, 2001, 16:44 GMT 17:44 UK
Fears rise over Khat leaf
Khat is widely used in some communities
Community leaders are warning about the effects of a drug which is legally available from greengrocers.

Khat, which is banned in the United States, Canada and some European countries, is a shrub which grows in Africa.

Its leaves are packed with the chemical cathine and have a similar effect to amphetamines when chewed.

The plant is popular within Somali and Yemeni communities in the UK and about a ton of the leaves are shipped into Britain every day.

Muslim women are telling us that khat is having an adverse effect on their family life

Paul Desson, community worker
However concern is now growing that khat abuse can also be linked to serious health problems ranging from depression to mouth cancer.

Some people within Somali and Yemeni communities are calling for the UK to move in line with many other western countries and ban khat.

A petition urging the government to outlaw the plant is circulating in the North-west of England.

It is available at some greengrocers and general stores where it is sold for about 4 a bushel alongside herbs and vegetables.

Health problems

However Paul Desson, chairman of Liverpool Black Drug Workers, said that banning khat may lead to greater problems.

"Khat has been used within Somali and Yemeni communities for around 700 years," he said.

Khat facts
Green-leaved shrub
Leaves remain potent only for a few days after picking
Leaves can be used to make tea or chewable paste
Banned in US, Canada, Norway and Sweden
Side-effects include appetite suppression, insomnia and anxiety
"It was used mostly by people in rural areas where they carried out long hours of work.

"In Britain this has taken on more of a social aspect.

"Muslim women are telling us that khat is having an adverse effect on their family life.

"It can lead to users suffering from mental health problems such as depression and is also being linked to mouth cancer."

But Mr Desson insisted that banning the drug was no the answer.

'Education needed'

He said: "Making khat illegal may only lead to some people turning to other illegal drugs such as speed.

"What is needed is more education about the problems that using khat can cause."

A leading member of the Somali community, who did not want to be named, said: "I don't chew khat myself but if it is used in moderation then it should not harm people's health.

"It is only when used excessively that there may be problems.

"Banning it would not help the situation because people would just bring it in illegally."

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09 Jun 99 | Middle East
Yemen kicks the khat habit
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