Chewing releases chemicals similar to amphetamines, giving the chewer a mild high somewhere between a shot of espresso and a snort of cocaine.
To many Somalis, gathering with friends for a relaxing evening of tea, conversation, and khat
is never time wasted (see what I did there?). But– as with so many fun things in life– there’s always a buzzkill lurking nearby. A confluence of medical, cultural, and economic factors have led to khat
being banned in countries across the world.
And conflicting reports have left many dazed and confused.
Medically, the World Health Organization
(WHO) listed khat
as a “drug of abuse” in 1980. According to WebMD, side effects range from alertness and excessive chattiness to loss of energy and concentration, rapid heart rate, increased blood pressure, insomnia, and the munchies. While scientific research isn’t cut and dry, khat
is not considered to be seriously addictive. Rather, it produces a mild to moderate “psychological dependence” (reportedly less than tobacco, alcohol, or social media) that can lead to unproductivity.
Researchers still weed through the data.
Culturally, many Muslim communities debate whether khat
(permissible and lawful) or haram
(prohibited by Islamic law). High Times Magazine, the go-to guru for cannabis connoisseurs, noticed an interesting irony between Somalia’s and Somaliland’s views on khat. More culturally conservative Somalia (which is still influenced by Al Shabaab Islamists) castigates khat
, while secular and more modern Somaliland is quite tolerant of it.
Economically, where khat
production, transportation, processing, and sales are major sources of employment, farmers have more secure livelihoods. (Unlike coffee, cotton and cocoa, khat
prices have shown only modest fluctuations.) Large khat
farming communities in Kenya and Ethiopia rely on exports, so farmers take a hit wherever bans take effect. In 2016, when the Somali government imposed a ban on khat
imports, a sharp outcry of protest from angry cultivators in neighboring Kenya pushed them to quickly lift the ban and turn over a new leaf as trading partners.
Ironically, in the US, the topic of legalizing marijuana has all the states buzzing. While the federal government still officially classifies marijuana as a Schedule I drug– extremely addictive and possessing no medical uses– thirty-three states have already legalized pot for medical purposes, including ten for recreational use as well.
Access is at an all-time high.
But as researchers continue to hash out the data, some worry that pot proponents are just blowing smoke. Many medical doctors maintain that the harmful physical effects of weed are far worse than a White Castle hangover after a late-night munchie binge.
Culturally speaking, liberal states like California and Colorado were the first of ten to declare it was high time to legalize recreational marijuana, while conservative states like Idaho and Nebraska still have no legislation in the works.
Financially speaking, there’s no question weed sales have lit up state economies
like few other industries before it. In 2018, California alone raked in over $2.75 billion. (Yep, that’s BILLION.)
As more and more state governments discover marijuana as a massive new source of revenue, will theories about its evils eventually go up in smoke?
Will the rest of America decide the grass is greener where the economy is better?
Could cannabis capitalism throw American moral culture out of joint?
Are these all merely loaded questions, or just ideas to chew on?