Khat use in Europe

Implications for European policy
Drugs in Focus Nr. 21
Briefing of the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA)
July 2011

Khat leaves are cultivated in the highlands of the Horn of Africa, Southern Arabia and along the East African coast. In many countries, chewing khat is an age-old tradition. More recently, the mass migration of people from the Horn of Africa has been associated with the spread of khat usage to neighbouring countries, Europe and the rest of the world. Exact numbers of regular khat users on a worldwide scale do not exist, however estimates range up to 20 million. This paper presents the challenges associated with the spread of khat consumption.

Download the paper (PDF)

Key issues at a glance

1. Khat contains stimulant substances that have amphetamine-like properties. In their pure forms, they are internationally controlled substances, but the leaves are not. Excessive consumption can lead to dependence. It may also result in somatic and mental health hazards in otherwise healthy individuals. Persons with pre-existing mental disorders are likely to be particularly vulnerable.

2. In Europe, khat is controlled in some, but not all, countries. This has resulted in both legitimate and criminal transportation networks. Although data on international trade, use and seizures are limited, they suggest that the EU khat market is growing.

3. Khat is mainly consumed by first generation immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa, with little evidence of crossover into other communities. Information on prevalence, patterns of consumption and the consequences of use is limited.

4. Khat is a contested topic within migrant groups. Some argue it supports cultural cohesion while others make objections on religious and social grounds. There is currently a lack of research data on the socio-economic consequences of khat use.

5. Over the last three decades, khat has become a major source of employment, income and revenues in producing countries around the Horn of Africa.

Conclusions and policy considerations

1. Its bulkiness, instability of active substances and mode of administration make khat incompatible with the requirements of mainstream drug users in Europe. The potential for crossover to the wider drug market therefore appears limited.

2. European khat markets appear to be growing but data sources are weak, pointing to a need to improve monitoring. Better data would inform the debate on how to address issues such as cross-border trafficking, whilst avoiding criminalising an already vulnerable social group. This would also help improve our understanding of how to respond to drug use in migrant communities.

3. Khat is primarily used by migrant communities in Europe. These communities need to be better informed about its potential health, social and legal consequences.

4. Khat consumption may lead to health and social problems. European health professionals and social workers need to be able to identify khat-related harms and have strategies in place to protect vulnerable user groups.

5. The economic significance of khat in producing countries has increased, in part due to the growing trade to the EU. Development and drug control policies for such countries require coordination and an awareness of the potential impact of European control measures.

6. The number of khat users in Europe appears to be growing, yet the scale and nature of the problem is poorly understood. Research studies are therefore required to better assess the market for the drug, evolving patterns of use, as well as the extent of any socio-economic and health consequences.