Ignoring Drug Advisors, Britain Bans Khat

In a written ministerial statement to Parliament last week. British Home Secretary Theresa May announced that her government was banning khat, a mild stimulant plant from the Horn of Africa widely used by inhabitants of the region, some of whom have emigrated to United Kingdom and other Western countries and brought their habit with them. In doing so, May went directly against the advice of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), the public body charged with making recommendations on the control of drugs.

It's not the first time, either. The Home Office has rejected the science- and evidence-based recommendations of the ACMD on at least two other occasions in recent years, on the scheduling of marijuana and ecstasy. Instead, it has taken a more politically popular "tough on drugs" line, ignoring its own experts.

In its report on the potential harms of khat in January, responding to a Home Office request for a review, the ACMD concluded that "khat should not be controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971" because "the ACMD considers that the evidence of harms associated with the use of khat is insufficient to justify control and it would be inappropriate and disproportionate to classify khat under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971." The harm from khat "does not reach the level required for classification," the experts determined.

The ACMD found that "the evidence shows that khat has no direct causal links to adverse medical effects" other than a small number of reports about an association between its use and liver toxicity. While there were some "adverse outcomes" associated with khat use, those outcomes are the result of  "a complex interaction of khat with other factors… but not directly caused by khat use."

But, while noting the AMCD's considered recommendation, May decided to ignore it.

"The AMCD report gives considerable insight into the complexity of this matter and, based on the available evidence, it came to a reasonable conclusion in its recommendations to the government," she wrote. "There are broader factors for the government to consider in making its decision. The decision to bring khat under control is finely balanced and takes into account the expert scientific advice and these broader concerns."

Those broader concerns included pressure from other northern European countries with large East African emigrant populations that have already banned khat, pressure from community health workers who say that khat use contributes to social problems such as family breakdown and unemployment, and pressure from emigrant women, who say their husbands spend too much time and money chewing the stimulant plant.

May's reasons weren't good enough for Professor David Nutt, the former head of the ACMD, who was forced out after repeated clashes with ministers over their refusing to heed the body's recommendations. Nutt is now the chair of the Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs, which issued its own report on khat.

"Banning khat shows contempt for reason and evidence, disregard for the sincere efforts of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs," Nutt said. He urged the government "to abandon plans to ban khat and to accept in full the ACMD's evidence-led recommendations of how the relatively low harms associated with this drug could be minimized."

But no. The ban on khat in Britain will go into effect within a few weeks, May said.

– Article originally from Stop the Drug War, used with permission.



  1. Leaves on

    The Government is wasting their time, the testing used to prove a certain chem is carcinogenic etc are invalid ie safrole (from sassafras/nutmeg/camphor laurel etc) is about as toxic as apples but the testing method used just pumped rats IV with safrole until tumors or toxicity occurs. Yes Camphor laurel (the one that smells anise like when crushed) is full of safrole (MDMA predecessor) and councils all over the world plant it everywhere.
    Sida cordifolia/rhombifolia contain ephedrine (controlled now in many countries) and are noxious weeds in many countries, many plants are showing up that contain cannabinoids (Zornia latifolia, Canavalia Maritima, Canavalia rosea to name a few) that are either prolific weeds or native and common. The more we learn about the plants around us the more hopeless the war on drugs will become.
    What about Theobroma cacao (chocolate) with its psychoactive chemicals? Good quality chocolate gives a stronger stimulation than Khat, infact I would say Khat to roughly equivalent to a nice cup of coffee but with less nervousness present.
    Many cacti species contain phenylethylamines and other related stimulants.
    The government will have their hands full trying to control half to worlds plants and fungi :)

  2. dev ethiopian on

    It is a good news to hear the news on banning of khat.the reason may be social than clinical .khat is the source of many social ills in eastern africa and yemen.see somalia ,djibouti, yemen and you can see how khat has corrupts the social fabric and creat an addicted society.the very social ills of this country is clearly associated with this.while ethiopia and kenya are earning a huge dollars from the export to a widely somali dominated countries of djibouti and somalia ,the population and the social values are deperciated due too the addiction of this drug.addicts spend a huge portion of their income on khat leaving their families starved.most chewers spend most of their working days and time on chewing khat idly.
    It is also a source for corruption as i learned in my experience.so it is a good move to decmeranalize this drug.

  3. Mr Somali on

    GOD bless Theresa May , Somali community will vote for conservative now, Khat is evil drug wich has been killing, destroying, breaking down family’s, for a very long time.

    ACMD recommendation was more political move rather then evidence based and we Somali community , and well done Theresa May for standing up for most vulnerable community’s ,,

    Khat ban part in the park after Ramadan, were large Somali community will celebrate and welcome the khat ban.

  4. Anonymous UK on

    I live in the UK and have followed this madness for over 20 years. The article is correct about the Misuse of drugs act and the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) but what it fails to mention is the Misuse of drugs act actually compels the Home Office (responsible for drug laws) to accept the ‘advice’ of the ACMD. It also requires the laws to be proportionate to the harm caused by substances and specifically says that there cannot be exceptions made based on historical factors, popularity of a substance or political preference. So considering the continuing categorisation of cannabis as class B (the second highest category for harm) all drugs considered more harmful than cannabis (according to ACMD reports) must be class B or higher. The classification of cannabis, the ACMD reports and the act require that Alcohol should be class A as must tobacco and something like Khat would be class C maybe.
    Government after government have made an exception for alcohol and tobacco since all the reports from the ACMD for decades maintain that cannabis is less harmful than these substances but the government has kept it in class B. This illegal classification system needs challenging in the courts but no one will do it since it involves the popular (to epidemic proportions) substance alcohol as well as cannabis.

  5. Paul Pot on

    Khat can be drunk as a tea.
    Put some fresh leaves in a pot.
    Pour in hot water.
    Leave a few minutes and drink.
    Just like tea.
    You feel nothing but you start to talk your head off.
    Really good for socializing. Great for shy people and for starting a party. Good for political discussion. In fact that is what it’s used for in Yemen. Everyone gathers around and chews Khat and talks. It is central to political life, so laws aimed at Khat are very much aimed at political life in some Islamic countries. This is a really racist law.

  6. Paul Pot on

    This is a criminal, racist act. The Home secretary is aware that the the main users of Khat are Africans while westerners are so far generally unaware of the very beneficial uses and safety of Khat.
    What is not said here is that most users of Khat are Muslim. This law is obviously designed to target the Muslim and or black community. It will give police even more discretion to hammer down the doors of anyone black or Muslim as if they didn’t have enough power to do so under current terrorism and drug laws.
    Drug laws have always been about racism and suppressing minority groups.
    And not only does it discriminate against minority groups, it denies us of a fine herb that works well as a stimulant and medicine with few side effects.
    In every way, this is an indication of the criminality and corruption of the current British government.

  7. Dave on

    These bully politicians need prohibitions to create illegal markets so they can fund their dirty covert wars. These bullies have digital money; wars require cash… lots of it and illegal markets have all the cash. As a global community why don’t we just ban war, like the song says, “suppose they had a war and nobody came”. If nobody came then we would have no need for prohibitions.