Khat among the pigeons

All in the Mind kicks off a new three-part series on ‘Cultural Chemistry’ with a programme about the effects and politics of the stimulant khat which has an important place in several East African cultures.

The plant is used widely in Somalia, Ethiopia and Yemen and when chewed it causes a mild buzz owing to low levels of a naturally occurring amphetamine-like compound called cathinone.

Although originally rooted in Africa, the plant is available across the world although its legal status varies – from banned in the USA to completely legal in Britain.

It is used traditionally like coffee to perk people up and make them more chatty although it is often the subject of controversy because it has been linked with triggering psychosis and aggression in some people – although the scientific evidence is far from clear.

I managed to try khat once after I discovered it on sale at a grocery in Leicester. Although it did cause a slight buzz I was most struck by the taste as it is incredibly tannin-like, making the experience a little like chewing on a tea bag.

But as All in the Mind notes, as the plant is strongly linked to specific social settings, it’s difficult to understand its effects without considering the environment in which it’s taken and the programme does a fantastic job of exploring the complex mix.

Coffee is next up in the ‘Cultural Chemistry’ series which should be worth keeping an eye on as there might be something a little special later on. Also, there’s more on the All in the Mind blog and a call for you to contribute your own recordings.

Link to All in the Mind Cultural Chemistry series on khat.
Link to more details and additional audio on the AITM blog.

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