Khat is an East African shrub (Catha Edulis) that can grow to a height of 20 metres and is often grown alongside coffee in the highlands of Kenya, Ethiopia and Yemen.

The soft stems, bark and leaves (various shades of red, purple and green) of the plant contain the active ingredients, cathinone, cathine, cathidine, norpseudoephedrine and edulin. The cathinone bio-degrades easily rendering it practically useless a couple of days after harvest. Because of this, khat is flown into the UK at least five days a week. According to a 2005 report by the Home Office, some 5-7 tons a day comes into the UK, but much of it is then sent on to the US.

Khat is a stimulant, which acts on neurotransmitters in the brain and brain stem in a similar fashion to amphetamine. The drug is used by chewing or ‘stored’ in the cheeks and orally absorbed into the blood thru the vessels in the mouth. This provides a stimulant effect with a euphoric high accompanied by a sensation down the spine and through the body. It is perhaps for this reason that khat is wrongly termed a narcotic, which it is not (narcos is Greek for sleep.).

In the UK, khat is usually sold in greengrocers or market stalls, Halal butchers, cheap shop fronts or domestic dwellings set up for this purpose. The latter is the case in areas where there is a significant Somali or Yemeni population (London, Sheffield, Cardiff, Birmingham, etc.). It is sold in bundles coasting from £3 to £5. An ‘average’ user may chew one or two bundles per session. Khat use is a heavily social activity, with teas and resting cushions and disposal bowls typically provided.