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Mairungi linked to mental illness

By Vision Reporter

Added 5th March 2006 03:00 AM

One of my patients suffered a stroke and became paralysed for months because he was addicted to mairungi. It took him several months of counselling and psychiatric treatment to recover,” said Natali Ukele, the director of Hope Recovery Centre in Bweyogerere.

One of my patients suffered a stroke and became paralysed for months because he was addicted to mairungi. It took him several months of counselling and psychiatric treatment to recover,” said Natali Ukele, the director of Hope Recovery Centre in Bweyogerere.

By Oscar Bamuhigire
One of my patients suffered a stroke and became paralysed for months because he was addicted to mairungi. It took him several months of counselling and psychiatric treatment to recover,” said Natali Ukele, the director of Hope Recovery Centre in Bweyogerere.
Mairungi or khat has many names like Qat, Tohai, Mirra, etc. In areas like Kisenyi, Kibuli and Katwe slums and Arua Park, idle-looking men eat fresh mairungi freely. They are unaware of its deadly effects.
“Mairungi is not illegal in Uganda and people trade in it freely. The Government will come up with a Bill that will make it illegal,” said Michael Were, the head of the anti-narcotics department, Uganda Police in 2004.
Although khat is not illegal in many countries, its use is frowned upon because of its narcotic effects. “Mairungi has ingredients of a narcotic drug,” said Were. Simon Nantamu, a psychology lecturer at Makerere University, echoed similar warnings. “There is no doubt that mairungi, like any other narcotic, can cause mental illness,” he said.
The United States Drug Enforcement Agency, Wikipedia Encyclopedia and various researchers have proved that the common side effects of consuming khat include anorexia, tahycardia, hypertension, insomnia, gastric disorders, physical exhaustion, violence and suicidal depression.
Khat has been used for centuries in parts of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. It has also been reported in London, Rome, Amsterdam, Canada and the United States. In its fourteenth report in 1965, the World Health Organisation (WHO) committee on dependence-producing drugs noted, “The abuse of khat is a regional problem and should be controlled.”
For that reason, khat was not listed under the single convention on narcotics. In 1980, the WHO classified it as a drug of abuse that can produce mild to moderate psychic dependence and has not been approved for medical use in the US. Scientists have proved that extracts from fresh leaves of khat contain cathinone which breaks down to produce cathine and norephedrine.
Its consumption induces mild euphoria and excitement and may cause constipation, dilated pupils (mydriasis) and hypnogogic hallucinations. Its withdrawal symptoms include lethargy, mild depression, nightmares and slight tremors.
In 1993, the US Drug Enforcement Agency made khat illegal by placing cathinone as a schedule 1 drug.
In the UK, cathine and cathinone are class C drugs. They are therefore, uncontrolled. The same applies to several European countries.
However, recent scientific findings proved that khat could have some powerful medicinal value as revealed by Carolyn Ryan in her article, ‘Khat Boosts Sperm Production’ (BBC, June 28, 2004).
Lab tests by scientists from King’s College London discovered that treated sperms became fertile faster and remained fertile for a much longer period, than untreated ones. The scientists believed the findings could help them get products that would help couples conceive.
Further studies done on rabbits indicated that chewing khat leaves could also increase sperm production. Scientists however, were concerned that long-term use could lead to the damage of sperms.
“It might be relatively easy to develop products,” said Lynn Fraser, Professor of reproductive biology at King’s College London. “Compounds related to the one’s we studied are being used in over-the-counter and prescription medicines for dietary treatments and asthma. And the amount that is required isn’t that high, so it’s not a question of taking very high doses and therefore, becoming over stimulated.”
She said khat-based products could be used to assist couples who are experiencing difficulties in conceiving naturally and in clinics as additives to sperm used in IVF or artificial insemination.
Ends

Mairungi linked to mental illness

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