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Researchers call for investigation into links between khat use and psychiatric disorders

Researchers investigating the evidence for a potential causal link between khat use and mental illness - in the first ever systematic review of the topic - have called for improved research on the stimulant plant, and its possible association with psychiatric disorders.

In light of ongoing international concern about a contributory association between use of khat and ill mental health, Dr Nasir Warfa - lecturer in Transcultural Psychiatry at Queen Mary, University of London - has reviewed clinical case reports, alongside qualitative and quantitative articles on khat use and mental illness, dating back over 50 years. The work was undertaken in partnership with colleagues at the Institute of Psychiatry, University College London, and the University of Kent.

The findings, which appear online in the social science journal, Social Science and Medicine, show that whilst khat use appears to exacerbate existing psychological problems, there is not currently, any clear evidence which indicates that khat use is a catalyst for the development of mental illness.

Commonly used by around 10 million people in east Africa and countries in the Arabian peninsula, chewing khat for its stimulant properties has also become popular in the UK among immigrants of the Somali, Yemeni and Ethiopian communities. Whilst it is reported to have cultural functions, it is also increasingly reported to be associated with social and medical problems including anti-social behaviour, unemployment, psychoses, depression, and self-neglect.

Crucially, there is also a link between poverty and widespread misuse of khat. In east Africa, 60 per cent of the population live below the poverty line, yet sizeable numbers of khat users borrow money to obtain the drug, exacerbating poverty levels and eroding the quality of life of khat users and their communities. It is in this context, that researchers are planning to undertake a new study to examine khat as a caus
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Contact: Alex Fernandes
a.fernandes@qmul.ac.uk
020-788-27910
Queen Mary, University of London
4-Jun-2007


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