Abdul Halim M. Mussa (The Somali Land Times – The Problems of Qat for Society and Health)
Qat is prevalent in Kenya, Ethiopia, Yemen, Djibouti, Somalia, and Somaliland. It is a fresh leaf and flower buds that are chewed, to keep its use in fresh; it is localized to the immediate areas of production although in recent years Qat trade has also spread to Europe and America. Qat is chewed at social gatherings; at homes, business and political discussions, usually after mid afternoon lunch. But some people also eat in the morning time (Jabbane) and late in the night. (Biyo-raacis).The flower buds of the tree contain a substance which is mildly stimulating, anorexigenic and if used excessively affects the judgment and self control, suppresses eating and sexual desire. It is responsible for loss of desire to work and unproductive behavior. The stimulant also affects wear off by bedtime. It is an intoxicant that clouds, obscures or veils consciousness. Qat is the most important cause of broken bones and broken homes. In Qat munching memory deteriorates, personality degenerates and character disintegrates. Qat like other intoxicants offers an escape from problems and worries to begin with, but ends up by multiplying them and crushes rather than relieves the sufferer. The Qat eater seeks to drown in his sorrows in the hope of enjoying an imaginary paradise where his burdens will roll away in the brief span of mirqan time (stupor). Qat is a well know thief. It takes away cash from families, childhood happiness from abused children, chastity from young women, reasoning from the educated, productivity from the working class. Qat is the gateway drug to alcohol, wine and all other evil habits.
Qat soon overcomes the strongest man and turns him into a raging beast that threatens those around him and insults imaginary enemies. In the Mental hospital one of two patients occupies a bed because of Qat related problems, while in the street, one out of every five persons has problems because either he eats Qat or because one of his children or one of his relatives eats it.
Qat causes 3 out of 4 cases of robbery with violence and one in 2 cases of family quarrels and brawls. It is also the cause of many cases of child abuse, divorce head injuries etc.
Short note as to where and how Qat chewing may begin and continue throughout life
The mother who eats Qat. It begins in the womb for no fault of the fetus and the poor unborn child in the womb gets the first taste of it. The baby may born with congenital abnormalities. Soon after birth, although Qat gets into milk in small quantities, it has been shown that even these small amount affect the milk’s odor in such a way that babies don’t like, they suck more frequently but consume substantially less milk when it contains Qat substance. The child grows up with the first attack of fever or influenza, the parent gives the child a shot of [the] drug.
When the child comes back from school, on the street,
He sees Qat leaves outnumbering food and vegetables and selling everywhere.He sees young characters eager to start eating Qat.
He sees older people resembling his parents, teachers and elders who grab bunches of Qat before going to lunch.
At home when parents, uncles with their friends/ guests eating Qat, the children once again are exposed to this influence and grow up with double standards.
He goes to a wedding reception; imagine the Sheikh comes and performs the marriage ceremony according to strict, very strict Islamic rites. As soon as the Sheikh is hustled out of the function, the parents and the guests start eating Qat, and take the pride in eating more and more Qat.
The company of friends who eats Qat is also a strong influential factor in causing one to become the same as his friends. The daily worker squanders his wages at the nearest majlis on his way home after the day’s work where the day’s pay may be frittered away with Qat in the same day.
Finally a time comes that such a person takes Qat as a mere time passing, or as an escape from some little anxiety and frustration, but at last it leads him to lose his house, his properties, his job and he may take to the streets as one of the homeless alcoholics.
The effects of Qat on the body
Qat is primarily a depressant for the central nervous system and hence should be classified as a mind-altering drug. One may argue that Qat is a stimulant and not a depressant because a person starts to move and walk faster immediately when he eats Qat. I say this is because of its depressing effect and not because of its stimulating effect. Qat depresses the inhibitory centers in the brain.
Our finer qualities are judgments, social limitations and shyness, talking only when necessary, self control. These are the qualities that distinguish a human being from lower animals, and these qualities are first to be depressed, and hence the person who eats Qat reverts to more primitive behavior, becomes garrulous and talkative, judgment is impaired, thereby causing easy to lose temper, car and other accidents, unjustifiable behavior and wrong decisions.
Qat first depresses the higher brain centers called the neo-cortex (new-brain) found in human beings, which control judgment and their learned inhibitions; hence the person may become garrulous and anti-social. The association cortex that associates sensory information and relays it to the motor areas is very large in human beings and this association cortex clearly sets humans apart from all [animals].
As Qat chewing continues, the deeper and more primitive areas of the brain are depressed, leading to loss of motor co-ordination of the muscle-skeletal system of speech and vision. When more Qat is eaten the respiratory and cardiac centers in the medulla are depressed and the person becomes comatose.
One or 2 bunches (mijin) affects reasoning, memory and caution, while 3 or 4 bunches affects judgment and self-control. 5 to 6 bunches affects co-ordination, 7 or 8 bunches cause imbalance, and 10 or more bunches affects the vital centers in the medulla causing coma sometimes.Continued use of Qat over a long period of time produces diseases in virtually each and every organ of the body e.g. liver, heart, brain, pancreas, sex glands, immune systems etc. It initially relieves anxiety, thus removing the sense of guilt and justifying personal failures. The user becomes indifferent to the needs of others. His deranged attitudes and beliefs, his confused pattern of thoughts and behavior, his stubborn rejection of advice from the elders, his contempt for traditional and religious values, all leads to the following major categories of problems the Qat eater would face:
Disrupted family life, violence, arguments and fights always arise between him and his family members.
E.g. robbery, assault, rape, homicide and family violence.
Loss of productivity for self and the nation.
Frequent headaches, withdrawal symptoms.
Heart, brain, liver, diabetes, cancer, sex glands illnesses.
Qat supporters always threaten us that if the Qat is banned from the country that will cause high job unemployment due to retrenchment. But the fact remains that employment losses in the Qat industry would result in an increase in employment elsewhere in other sectors of the nation’s economy, because the amount of US dollars in circulation in the country will remain constant, and indeed may increase. Imagine how many millions of dollars we buy with Qat every year from another country. This much money would have been invested in other sectors such as agricultural programs, education, small scale industries and many others which can generate employment and development.
How Islam deals with mind-altering drugs?
Prohibition of intoxicants in Islam did not come down all at once in one single day. It was a gradual process, beginning with preparing the people psychologically for it, not by man-made legislation but through divine revelations and laws. At first, Allah made it clear in simple language that the harm of drinking wine was greater than its benefit.
Q.2; 219 “They ask you concerning wine and gambling. Say, in them is great sin and some profit for them, but the sin is greater than their profit….”
In this verse we can take Qat as a good example comparing its harm to its benefit and we all agree its harm is more greater than any small benefit of it. Allah also reminded Muslims:
Q.2; 195 “And do not be cast into ruin by your own hands”
Again Allah says Q.4; 29 “And do not kill yourselves; indeed, Allah is ever merciful to you.” Prophet Mohammed, pbuh, has said: “That of which a large quantity intoxicated is unlawful in its little quantity.”
“Every intoxicants and stimulants is prohibited”
Hence Qat is intoxicant and stimulates too.
Qat, or khat (Catha edulis, family Celastraceae; pronounced /’k??t/, kaht; Arabic: ??? /qa?t/; Ge’ez ?? c?at; Somali: qaad), is a flowering plant native to tropical East Africa and the Arabian Peninsula.
Qat contains the alkaloid called cathinone, an amphetamine-like stimulant which is said to cause excitement, loss of appetite and euphoria. In 1980 the World Health Organization classified qat as a drug of abuse that can produce mild to moderate psychological dependence. The plant has been targeted by anti-drug organizations like the DEA. It is a controlled or illegal substance in many countries, but is legal for sale and production in many others.
The stimulant effect of the plant was originally attributed to “katin”, cathine, a phenethylamine-type substance isolated from the plant. However, the attribution was disputed by reports showing the plant extracts from fresh leaves contained another substance more behaviorally active than cathine. In 1975, the related alkaloid cathinone was isolated, and its absolute configuration was established in 1978. Cathinone is not very stable and breaks down to produce cathine and norephedrine. These chemicals belong to the PPA (phenylpropanolamine) family, a subset of the phenethylamines related to amphetamines and the catecholamines epinephrine and norepinephrine.
Both of qat’s major active ingredients – cathine and cathinone – are phenylalkylamines, meaning they are in the same class of chemicals as amphetamines. In fact, cathinone and cathine have a very similar molecular structure to amphetamine.
When qat leaves dry, the more potent chemical, cathinone, decomposes within 48 hours leaving behind the milder chemical, cathine. Thus, harvesters transport qat by packaging the leaves and stems in plastic bags or wrapping them in banana leaves to preserve their moisture and keep the cathinone potent. It is also common for them to sprinkle the plant with water frequently or use refrigeration during transportation.
When the qat leaves are chewed, cathine and cathinone are released and absorbed through the mucous membranes of the mouth and the lining of the stomach. The action of cathine and cathinone on the reuptake of epinephrine and norepinephrine has been demonstrated in lab animals, showing that one or both of these chemicals cause the body to recycle these neurotransmitters more slowly, resulting in the wakefulness and insomnia associated with qat use.
Receptors for serotonin show a high affinity for cathinone suggesting that this chemical is responsible for feelings of euphoria associated with chewing qat. In mice, cathinone produces the same types of nervous pacing or repetitive scratching behaviors associated with amphetamines. The effects of cathinone peak after 15 to 30 minutes with nearly 98% of the substance metabolized into norephedrine by the liver.
Cathine is somewhat less understood, being believed to act upon the adrenergic receptors causing the release of epinephrine and norepinephrine. It has a half-life of about 3 hours in humans. Because the receptor effect are similar to those of cocaine medication, treatment of the occasional addiction is similar to that of cocaine. The medication bromocriptine can reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms within 24 hours.