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Herbal Amphetamines and Heart Disease

December 15, 2011

(Ivanhoe Newswire) — Khat, a natural stimulant that is chewed, can increase the risk of death and stroke in patients with heart disease, according to this study.

Since ancient times, people in the Arabian Peninsula and East Africa have chewed the fresh leaves of the Catha edulis plant which has effects similar to amphetamines and cocaine. It causes euphoria, hyperactivity, restlessness, loss of appetite and weight loss.

In Yemen, some people have khat picnics, chewing the leaves for as much as three hours, like tobacco chewing. Its use has spread globally throughout Western Europe and into the United States. Seven metric tons of khat travel through Heathrow Airport in England each week, and fresh and dried khat has been seized and confiscated in the United States where it is illegal.

In the 2nd Gulf Registry of Acute Coronary Events (Gulf RACE-2) Study, researchers – comparing 1,408 khat chewers to 5,991 people who didn’t use khat – found that in the hospital, khat users had a 7.5 percent death rate from heart disease compared to 3.8 percent in those who were not khat users. At one month, the death rate was 15.5 percent among khat users and 6.4 percent for non-khat users. At one year, the death rate was 18.8 percent among khat users compared to 10.8 percent among non-users.

For the study, researchers enrolled men and women from 65 hospitals in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Yemen, Qatar, United Arab Emirates and Oman.

About 96 percent of the khat users were from Yemen, where khat is legal and socially acceptable, unlike the other countries in the study.

“Global awareness of the negative impact of khat chewing on health and social life is warranted before it becomes endemic,” Jassim Al Suwaidi, M.B., Ch.B., study co-author and Consultant Cardiologist and Director of Cardiovascular Research in the Department of Cardiology and Cardiovascular Surgery at Hamad General Hospital in Doha, Qatar. Was quoted as saying. “This report underscores the importance of improving education about the cardiovascular risks of khat chewing as well as the need for further studies in the field.”

SOURCE: Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association