As I came out of my surgery on Friday (Muller Hall, just off Stapleton Road) I fell into conversation with three young guys, who were packing bundles of khat into a box. I'd never actually seen khat before, and was expecting it to be a bit more twig-like whereas it was actually quite green and fresh. I politely declined their offer to try some. (On a complete tangent, I keep getting into conversations where 'Adeela' is confused with 'a dealer'. So I should be very careful in future if I refer to being offered khat by a dealer, or I will be accused of slandering my Tory opponent).
I know many in the Somali community want khat banned, and the issue may well come to the forefront again with the decision to ban mephedrone and other cathinones.
The main active ingredient in khat is cathinone, but it's obviously not synthetic, so I assume not covered by the proposed ban. The guys I was talking insisted that it was fine in moderation, and that problems only arose when people abused khat, e.g. taking it every night instead of as an occasional 'treat'. But I've heard tales of family life being wrecked by it, with men staying out all night, sleeping all day and refusing to work, and it sometimes leading to domestic violence. (It's not exclusively a male phenomenon, some women do chew khat too, though not to anywhere near the same extent). At the risk of being seen to sit on the fence, I think we certainly need more research into the long-term health effects of khat use, and the social impact too, and I'm inclined to think we should be taking steps to limit its use. But I could be persuaded otherwise. As some Somalis would say to me, look at alcohol. And they'd be right.