People have consumed the plant Catha edulis, known more commonly as 'khat', for centuries for its stimulatory effects.
Khat is cultivated as a shrub or tree and is large, slow growing and evergreen. It usually reaches a height of between one and six metres, but in some regions closer to the equator it may reach 18 metres. The khat plant is hardy and can be grown in arid conditions as well as at high altitudes. The time between planting a cutting and producing a viable plant that can be harvested is about two years. Several viable khat trees are growing in the suburbs of Perth in Western Australia, as well as some specimens in the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney, New South Wales. Several plant nurseries around Australia offer khat plants for sale—clearly the plant is able to grow in Australia. Although a great deal of the khat consumed in Australia is imported, in some states khat is being grown for personal use or for sale in other states and territories.
Khat use is understood to have originated in Ethiopia, but it is now also widely chewed in other areas predominantly around the Red Sea, especially Somalia, Djibouti and Yemen. The legality of khat, even in countries where it has been chewed for generations, varies widely and is often the subject of fierce political debate. As people from countries where khat is commonly used have migrated throughout the world, the diaspora has brought with it the practice of chewing khat. This migration has required many countries outside the Red Sea area to address the question of whether khat should be regulated, and if so, how. In Australia, particularly as the East African community continues to grow, khat is becoming more commonly used.
Some have argued that the use of khat is an emerging concern because of its effects on health and wellbeing, and that the drug should be monitored. The law currently varies markedly among Australian states and territories.
This study drew upon interviews with police officers and focus group discussions with communities known to use khat, principally the Somali communiies in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and Western Australia.
Image: A. Davey / flickr