Khat use and monitoring drug use in Europe

The current situation and issues for the future
Paul Griffiths, Dominique Lopez, Roumen Sedefov, Ana Gallegos, Brendan Hughes, André Noor, Luis Royuela
Journal of Ethnopharmacology 132 (2010) 578–583
May 2010

The aim of the study was to review the information available on the use of khat (Catha edulis) in the EU, and to assess the future use of this drug and related substances. Khat use sits awkwardly within the current EU reporting framework, and this hampers the production of a European-level analysis of the use of this drug. Why this is so, and what information is available at the European level, are the topics addressed in this paper. The analysis is extended to consider if the current evidence suggests that this drug, or synthetic variations of the psychoactive compounds it contains, are likely to play a greater role in the European drug scene of the future.

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Material and methods: Khat is not controlled by international law and it has not been systematically included in the list of illicit drugs monitored in the EU. The current principal source of information on khat use in Europe is the early-warning system set up to monitor new and emerging drugs. Further information was obtained from official national reports to the EMCDDA and from the scientific literature.

Results: Across Europe, the use of khat is low. Khat use is limited to countries with immigrant communities from countries where khat use is common (such as Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya). Information on the prevalence of khat use in the general population is scarce. Data on seizures provide an insight on the situation, though these may be difficult to interpret. The most recent estimates suggest that Europe accounts for about 40% of the khat seized worldwide.

Conclusion: The shortage of data on the use and patterns of use of khat in Europe does not allow an evaluation of the needs for health and social interventions in communities in which the drug is used. But seizures of the plant are increasing in the EU, and more synthetic derivatives of the pharmacologically active ingredients of the plant (cathine and cathinone) are appearing on the market. Some of these, like mephedrone, have significant potential for future diffusion, and are likely to play a greater role on the European drug scene of the future.