Medical Problems Associated with QAT [Archives:1998/15/Health]

April 13 1998

By Abdulhakeem Hashem Nasr
Extent of Problem
Qat has become a feature by which outsiders know and identify Yemen. Chewing qat is becoming more of a catastrophe than a just a mere social problem, especially with the economic crisis in the country.
Studies indicate that between 50% and 90% of Yemeni males over 18 years old, and between 30% and 50% of adult women chew qat. Even more serious is the fact that between 15% and 20% of Yemeni children under 12 years old are qat chewers. Official estimates say that qat is planted in 48.7% of Yemen’s agricultural land.
What does Qat Consist of?
Chemical analyses of qat show that it consists of:
A. Alkaline compounds:
1. Cathine (active material in the plant),
2. Cathedine,
3. Cathinine,
4. Ephedrine, and
5. Edioline
B. Amino acids;
C. Choline;
D. Tannin; and
E. Vitamins and Minerals.
Stages of Qat’s Effects:
Qat has some psychological and physiological effects. A qat chewer usually gets affected in several stages:

First Stage:
It is a process of stimulation. During the first two or three hours of the qat chewing process, the qat chewer begins to feel extremely happy and pleasant, the perceptions are heightened. His/Her mind becomes very clear and he/she can put ‘suitable’ solutions to all problems. This can be seen from the rise in blood pressure which speeds blood circulation in the brain.

Second Stage:
Perception and mental powers become numbed or dulled. This stage is known as the “time of quietness” or the “Suleimania Hour” among qat chewers.

Third Stage:
It is when the physical power comes down accompanied by loss of alertness. The qat chewer falls into sort of a depression. This is due to a chemical compound in qat, which reduces the activity of the mono-amino oxide enzyme.

Positive Effects of Qat:
1. It can be used as a costive medicine.
2. Qat causes hypoglycemia. This is because the tannin compound in qat interrupts sugar absorption in the stomach and the intestines.
3. Because it consists of alkaline compounds, qat is used to relieve ulcer pains.
4. Because qat is a way to avoid obesity, it is noticed that qat chewers do not get hypertension that develops as a result of it.
Negative Effects of Qat:
A. Physical effects
1. Qat badly affects blood circulation since it contains ephedrine that causes hypertension, palpitation, and hyperventilation. The cathine compound vivifies and then weakens the heart muscle.
2. Qat also affects the digestive system. It causes inflammation in the interior mucosa of the mouth, pyorrhea, intestinal disorders joined with an indigestion. And because qat remnants ferment in the mouth, it causes dental caries.
3. Qat reduces milk flow in mothers who are breast-feeding their babies.
4. Some qat chewers suffer from an uncontrolled overflow of sperms without being under any sexual stimulation.
5. Qat-chewing sessions are usually held in closed places with stifling atmosphere, which help the spread of infectious diseases.
B. Psychological effects:
Qat has a similar function to that of amphetamines in relieving exhaustion. Moreover, it provides its chewers with good energy and better concentration.
Qat and Addiction:
Getting used to chewing qat is a kind of psychological, not physiological, addiction. With determination and will power, any qat chewer can stop chewing qat for good.
Unlike stronger drugs, qat does not cause any destructive addiction. Therefore, qat chewers who want to stop this habit can achieve that by gradually reducing the hours in which they chew qat, and by consuming less amounts of qat than they are used to. Even though, those who intensively chew qat can get addicted. As an advanced effect, a qat chewer may suffer from fantasy nightmares and a feeling of debilitation which completely disappears during the next few days.