Tuesday, November 26, 2013



Dutch and Spanish scientists have warned that long-term use of the drug khat (miraa), obtained from a plant native to East Africa, lowers inhibitions with potentially dangerous results. This comes as The Home Affairs Select Committee of the UK Parliament fears that the new Khat ban (more commonly known as Miraa) could drive distribution into the criminal underworld and into the International Narcotics ring.

The US carried out the Operation Somalia Express (in July 26, 2006) which took an 18-month investigation that included the coordinated takedown of a 44-member international narcotics-trafficking organization responsible for smuggling more than 25 tons of khat - worth more than $10 million - from the Horn of Africa to the United States. It is not "allowed" or illegal in Gulf Countries notably the UAE.

And the sale and consumption of Miraa (khat) in Garissa County, In Northern Kenya, Where it is consumed heavily, will soon become a thing of the past if a Bill seeking to regulate the trade sails through the County Assembly.  Mr Hajir Mohamed Dahiye the county executive member for commerce and co-operatives has prepared a Miraa Bill that is expected to control and restrict selling and consumption of the twig. 

The UK Home Secretary Theresa May banned miraa on July 3 citing through the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs saying there were scientific evidences that showed miraa is bad for you. The Netherlands banned the import of miraa, or khat, in January and the UK was just following suit. Kenya exports about 5 tons to Amsterdam daily, 7 tons to London daily and 20 tons to Somalia daily.  Still over 40 tons of Miraa are consumed locally and within the region. 

The Miraa Bill is at an advanced stage and is expected to be tabled in the County Assembly for debate in two weeks time. According the executive officer, the Bill which proposes harsh penalties for those found contravening the laid down rules has the support of County Assembly members and locals.  Mr Mustafa Khalib, who has been consuming Miraa for the last 15 years and a trader of “Makokha” a type of khat in Bura town says:

“Everyone understands that Miraa is a bad drug. It has made me to drop out of school at a tender age, sent me to jail after stealing, but notwithstanding all that, it places a meal on my table" .....

Addressing a life skills training forum recently for over 40 women Miraa sellers drawn from parts of the county in Garissa town, Dahiye blamed consumption of miraa on breakdown of families and poor performance in schools in North Eastern region. 

“Our schools at the primary and secondary level have made holding the tail at national exams their comfort zone. Our children are extremely bright, but they are missing classes because they are absent from lessons most of the time either chewing Miraa or dozing off nursing previous night’s hangover,” he said. 

He said: “As a leaders of the county government, we have known for a long time the effects of Miraa on our society and we want to address these miraa-related social ills to make sure our county doesn’t lag behind other counties in development.”

The Bill proposes fines of between Sh10,000($150) and Sh50,000($600)  for those found chewing, selling or advertising Miraa. “Those found advertising Miraa in a public place such as hanging the Miraa tree leaves in front of business premises will be fined Sh50,000, while chewing in public places will attract fines between Sh10,000 and Sh20,000 and two months probation as they clean the town,” says Khalib.

According to Wikipedia, Miraa contains the alkaloid called cathinone, an amphetamine-like stimulant which is said to cause excitement, loss of appetite, and euphoria. It states that Miraa is a plant whose fresh leaves and soft twigs are chewed to release a juice containing cathinone and cathine, the active chemicals that alter the mood of the abuser. Consumers also refer to miraa using less familiar names such as Khat, Veve, Muguka, Goks, Gomba, Mbachu, Mairungi, Alele, Giza or Halwa. In 1980, the World Health Organization classified khat as a drug of abuse that can produce mild to moderate psychological dependence, albeit less than tobacco or alcohol.

The Kenya National Authority for the Campaign Against Alcohol and Drug Abuse Act lists the Effects of Khat/Miraa on a long-term use can precipitate the following effects: Negative impact on liver function, permanent tooth darkening (of a greenish tinge), susceptibility to ulcers, and diminished sex drive. Those who abuse the drug generally cannot stay without it for more than 4–5 days, feeling tired and having difficulty concentrating. Occasionally a psychosis can result, resembling a hypomanic state in presentation.

 The Current use of miraa in Kenya is 3.9%; it also varies by region of residence and gender. Like tobacco products, use of miraa is largely a male dominated affair. In North Eastern region, 35.8% of the male respondents reported using miraa. This was closely followed by Coast at 12.8%. Miraa usage is marginal in Nyanza and Western Kenya. In Eastern region where the bulk of the miraa comes from, only 9.4% reported being current users of the drug. It is also interesting to note that North Eastern region (7.6%) has the highest proportion of female users of miraa.

 Though popular in certain areas of the country, Kenya has Somalia to thank for the vast profits being raked in by the multi-million shilling cut-throat trade – the chief export of Meru County. Various medical reports have indicated that chewing Miraa leads to increased energy levels, alertness, confidence and mood elevation. However, prolonged use has several side effects, such as insomnia, a condition that the users sometimes try to overcome with sedatives or alcohol. 

Other effects are thought that many of the Miraa using people experiencing health problems, do so not from Miraa but mainly from the accompaniments that they use while chewing the Miraa.  Tooth decay, mouth ulcers sore throats, stomach upsets and bad chests result from using raw sugar, over sugared tea/coffee, sodas, sweets etc. Other Miraa users today are also drug addicts and must therefore face the consequences of their bad habits.  Problems like appendicitis are caused by chewing Miraa on empty bellies.  Psychosis is a wayward allegation and has never been proven.

Reckless driving and criminal behaviour are some of the possible results of long-term use of khat, research leader Lorenza Colzato, a cognitive psychologist at the Netherlands\’ Leiden University, told AFP of the findings..."It is associated with loss of self-control which may have dangerous consequences." She said noting that this is serious because khat was the drug of choice of millions of people in Africa — about 60 percent of the population of Somalia and 80 percent of Yemeni’s used it regularly.

Another survey conducted by DARS and Synovate in Hargeisa in June found that the youth there are aware of the adverse effects of consuming the drug. 59 percent of those surveyed said chewing miraa leads to family problems while 58 percent felt it hinders personal development. Consumers often divert income to purchase Miraa, neglecting their families in the process.

The withdrawal symptoms include lethargy, mild depression, slight trembling and recurrent bad dreams

The study further says that, continued use may endanger health in that the resulting anorexia leads to malnutrition and increased susceptibility to infectious diseases.

The same story could be said for Kenya, if young people are not made aware of these side effects. The miraa high takes hours to achieve and users stay with the buzz for several hours, making it extremely popular. Parents neglect cautioning their children about it because it seems like a lesser evil than tobacco or alcohol. However, reversing the side effects of the drug are much more taxing.

Other conditions that can be caused by miraa chewing are oral cancer, constipation and impotence.

Effects on your health: Miraa has notable effects on your health key among the-;
  • Miraa has similar but less intense effects than the stimulating effects of cocaine.
  • Upon chewing, you experience an unusual feeling of excitement and alertness. You may talk too much, lose concentration on simple tasks or even forget simple facts.
  • Chewing miraa causes rapid heart rate and increased blood pressure, symptoms that are sometimes confused with increased sexual libido or stamina.
  • When chewed continually, miraa gives you chronic constipation since it causes dehydration.
  • Using miraa to stay awake places you in danger of causing harm through accidents. When your body suddenly goes to sleep due to accumulated sleep deprivation, you can cause road traffic or factory accidents thereby inflicting damage to life and property.

Effects on your reproduction:
  • The claim that chewing miraa increases your sexual libido is a myth. Instead, evidence suggests that miraa inhibits blood flow to the reproductive system.
  • Chewing miraa constricts the vessels supplying blood to the reproductive tract thereby causing inhibited urine flow, and in men, the inability to attain and sustain an erection.
  • The chemicals in miraa make your body to produce excessive amounts of sperm without you being sexually aroused.
  • The sperms ooze out uncontrollably, a condition known as spermatorrhoea. In extreme cases, men are forced to wear nappies or several underpants. In women, the dehydrating effect of miraa dries the lining of the reproductive tract leading to pain during sexual intercourse and blistering.
  • The micro-injuries can cause reproductive tract infections and sexually transmitted diseases.Chewing miraa during pregnancy decreases blood flow to uterus, disrupting flow of nutrients from your bloodstream to the unborn baby.