LAUREL, MS (WDAM) - A foreign plant with stimulant-like drug effects has made its way to Mississippi, specifically in the Pine Belt.
Khat, a shrub native to East Africa and Arabia, is a plant that acts similarly to cocaine and methamphetamine, and its leaves are typically chewed like tobacco, according to the DEA. Dried leaves can also be made into tea or a chewable paste.
Khat's two active ingredients, cathine and cathinone, are both listed as controlled substances in the U.S., but the DEA said "use of it is an established cultural tradition for many social situations" in countries like Somalia, Ethiopia and Yemen.
According to an August 2013 DEA report, "abuse of khat is highest in cities with a substantial population of these immigrants," including Boston, Columbus, Ohio, Dallas, Kansas City, Missouri, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Nashville, Tennessee and Washington D.C.
However, Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood said in a news release on Sept. 29 that a Washington County store owner Mohamed Anagi Mohamed was arrested for sale of a controlled substance after "agents seized about ten pounds " of the drug.
Hood said in the news release, "…we have intel that money made from the sale of Khat and other similar recreational drugs often sold in convenience stores, is moving back to Europe and the Middle East to fund mechanisms of terrorism."
Thursday's Laurel drug raid included search warrants for three convenience stores, and three people arrested for possession of cathinone.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse lists several health concerns associated with the drug.
Short term effects include:
- increased alertness and arousal
- increased blood pressure and heart rate
- inability to concentrate
- loss of appetite and insomnia
Long term effects include:
- tooth decay and gum disease
- gastrointestinal disorders
- cardiovascular disorders
The institute also lists psychotic reactions such as fear, anxiety, grandiose delusions, hallucinations and paranoia as rare effects associated with heavy use. It says withdrawal symptoms include depression, nightmares, trembling and a lack of energy.
According to the DEA, "khat has been widely available in the United States since 1995." The department's 2010 report says the drug was mostly transported from "Somali into the United States and distributed in the Midwest, West and Southeast regions of the United States," and "according to recent Federal-wide Drug Seizure System (FDSS) data, law enforcement seized 89,669 kilograms of khat in 2010."