A Minnesota man was detained at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport for allegedly smuggling 85 pounds of Khat purchased in the United Kingdom in two suitcases. According to the Sun Times Media Wire, when questioned by authorities, 20-year-old Dominic K. Running claimed he didn’t know the drug was illegal. He had been chewing the plant with friends at a foreign wedding earlier in the year and decided it would be a good idea to bring some back to the U.S. His motives, however, may be challenged, as that quantity would have netted around $12,000 on the streets. Since the drug is quite perishable, it is doubtful that he was planning on using it for personal consumption.Khat, sometimes called the “flower of paradise,” has been illegal under federal law since 1993. It’s active ingredient, Cathinone, decomposes within 48 hours if not handled properly, leaving it’s less active component, cathine. The plant is native to the horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, where it’s use was somewhat confined due to it’s perishable nature. Improved roads, off-road vehicles and air transportation have spread the plant’s use and other countries have also banned the active ingredient, cathinone. In countries like Yemen, the drug is as popular and accepted as is coffee in our culture – making it the number one cash crop in that country. And khat is Ethiopia’s second largest export, behind coffee. The World Health Organization (WHO) doesn’t consider khat to be seriously addictive, although they do classify it as a drug of abuse.When chewed, the green, leafy plant produces a stimulating effect that some compare to strong coffee. Other’s dispute that comparison, as the substance produces feelings of euphoria and alertness that can verge on mania and hyperactivity. One of the ways it works is by affecting the reuptake of epinephrine and nor epinephrine, as demonstrated in studies of lab animals. The chemical structure is similar to that of amphetamine, but is only half as potent. And it is believed to produce mild withdrawal symptoms for chronic users. According to an article in the Los Angeles Times, khat is not so benign.“It is not coffee. It is definitely not like coffee,” said Garrison Courtney, a spokesman for the Drug Enforcement Agency, in that article. “It is the same drug used by young kids who go out and shoot people in Africa, Iraq and Afghanistan. It is something that gives you a heightened sense of invincibility, and when you look at those effects, you could take out the word ‘khat’ and put in ‘heroin’ or ‘cocaine.”In 2008, San Diego Assemblyman Joel Anderson wrote a bill that was passed just last Thursday adding cathinone and cathine to the list of California’s schedule II drugs along with raw opium, morphine and coca leaves. Possession is now a misdemeanor, punishable with up to a year in in jail and a $1,000 fine. Intent to sell is a felony that may land one up to three years in state prison. New York busted khat sellers in 2006, seizing 25 tons of the stuff, worth an estimated $10 million. Those perps were sent to jail for up to 10 years. Running, the Minnesota man caught in Chicago, is being held on a $20,000 I-bond and was ordered to be electronically monitored until trial.Many may be tempted to try anything they think will find them the next high, not knowing what they may be getting or how much they can tolerate. For this reason, trying any new drug carries risks that may even include death. Parents should have candid talks with their children about drug use ands it’s dangers. If you know or suspect someone you care about is on drugs, find help with trained professionals who can answer your questions and help you find the right solution.
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