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'No evidence' to support outlawing herbal high khat
SOMALIS in Hayes calling for herbal stimulant khat to be made illegal have suffered a setback.
The Advisory Council for the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), which advises the government on drug policy, said there was 'no robust evidence' that supported 'anecdotal' claims that recreational use of khat caused social isolation and family breakdown or long-term health problems.
It also dismissed the perception that khat is becoming more popular with women and young people.
Khat is popular amongst Somali and Yemeni communities in the UK.
The review, published last week, recommends that khat not be made a controlled drug under the Misuse of Drugs Act, and instead suggests that health bodies in the affected communities develop educational khat abuse initiatives and tailored treatment programmes, to iron out wider ill-effects of its use.
Rashid Jama, manager of the Horn of Africa Youth Association (HAYA), based in East Avenue, Hayes, expressed his disappointment.
"I have seen personally that it can damage lives, and it leads on to other drugs, and alcohol.
"Everywhere else khat is banned. Why is it only allowed in the UK?
"The large majority of Somalis want to see it banned because it creates a lot of issues in our community.
"I have visited young people with mental health problems at Ealing Hospital who said they were there because of khat.
"I also see mums who have started using khat, who have their kids taken off them from social services."
Users chew the leaves and shoots of the plant to release cathinone, a light stimulant.
More than 2,500 tonnes of khat is imported each year from Kenya, Yemen and Ethiopia, most of it coming through Heathrow Airport.
It is illegal in America and many European countries, but the ACMD suggests that these bans are not backed by cast-iron research.
Although there is some evidence linking excessive khat use with liver toxicity, the report finds that it is impossible to attribute certain symptoms of ill physical and mental health to khat alone, and other lifestyle choices and the wider context of immigrant communities should be given weight.
The ACMD, who first reviewed khat in 2005 with a similar outcome, also says that there are no links between the sale and distribution of khat, and organised crime.
Mohammed Ali, of the British Somali Association, gave evidence to the ACMD during their review, and he said that the findings were 'saddening'.
"Khat is not such a problem with Yemeni and Kenyan people, but it has had a big impact on Somali community. We know it affects the elders as well as younger generations.
"We have to keep fighting, and be realistic at the same time. I want to get the Somali groups together to create a forum to see what we can do about it."
Hillingdon Council compiled its own report on khat in May 2011, advocating that the plant be classified in a similar way to tobacco so distribution can be regulated.
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