More evidence is piling up on the negative health effects of consuming miraa (khat) even as Kenya fights to maintain a positive image.
A new study, reports 81 percent of adults in Moyale sub-county chew miraa with poor health outcomes including reduced sexual desire.
Called miraa, the shrub khat – Catha edulis – is mainly grown in Meru and Embu regions of Eastern Kenya and consumed by about 20 million people globally.
However, in recent years, it has faced export bans in Europe, UK Canada, and even in Somalia for its drug-like stimulating properties. It has also been linked to poor sleep outcomes on chewers, low sex desire, and poor learning abilities.
Hence Kenya government has been under intense pressure from local miraa farmers and traders to help have the bans lifted on the grounds the herb is safe and even has positive health benefits.
Consequently, in 2017, the Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri) had declared miraa not only safe for consumption but also a tonic for good health, and sexual performance.
However earlier and subsequent studies have largely reported khat chewing as detrimental to human health.
For example, a recent study by Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology reported miraa chewing as highly prevalent but unhealthy in Moyale Sub-county of Marsabit County in Northern Kenya.
The study, in the May 2021 issue of the East African Medical Journal, found 75 percent of adult males and 25 percent of females chew miraa which was associated with poor sleep, decreased energy, and reduced sexual desire.
The study had engaged 422 persons aged 15-50 years in the sub-county of both genders with 81 percent found to chew the herb. Males were found to spend more than five hours a day chewing khat.
The health effects associated with khat chewing were: difficulty in sleeping, 94 percent, decreased energy, 77.5 percent, and reduced sexual desire. “Prolonged use of khat leads to adverse negative effects,” said the study.
But even more devastating and difficult to counter is a new global review of all studies published up to 2020 on the effects of khat chewing on human health.
The study published in June 2021 in the journal Plos One by the University of Surrey, UK, and University of Extremadura, and University of Loyola Andalucıa both of Spain had reviewed 145 papers.
“The findings presented in this review indicate that long-term khat use may be contributing to an impairment of neurobehavioral functions,” concluded the study.
The study presented as the latest review on the impact of khat use on neurobehavioral functions may be difficult to challenge in the near future.
“Khat is associated with deficits in a wide range of cognitive domains, mainly working memory, learning, motor speed and coordination, and response inhibition functions,” says the review.
By Gatonye Gathura