TUESDAY, Dec. 13 (HealthDay News) -- Chewing the green leaves of the khat plant for its amphetamine-like effect appears to raise the risk for both stroke and death among heart patients, according to a large new study from the Middle East.
The finding, however, could have relevance far beyond that region, as emigration has increasingly brought khat-chewing to the shores of both Europe and North America.
Consumed by an estimated 10 to 20 million people worldwide, for centuries the naturally grown Catha edulis shrub has been widely available (and most popular) across East Africa and the southern Arabian Peninsula, where some people munch on khat in pursuit of a euphoric or aroused state of mind.
"We need to be careful about the risk of using 'herbs' and 'natural substances,' and khat is an example, although it is leaves, which appear 'harmless'," said study co-author Dr. Jassim Al Suwaidi, senior consultant cardiologist at Hamad General Hospital in Doha, Qatar.
"It has chemical constituents that are similar to harmful drugs," Suwaidi noted, "such as cocaine and amphetamine, and may cause heart attack as well as increase the risk of death and stroke from heart attack."
Suwaidi and his colleagues report their findings in the Dec. 12 issue of Circulation.
The principal active ingredients in khat are cathine and cathinone. According to the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), these chemicals are similar in structure to amphetamine and have similar (although weaker) stimulant effects.
The NIDA notes that the euphoria, elation, alertness and arousal from chewing khat typically last anywhere from 1.5 to three hours, but can endure for a full day. Blood pressure and heart rates may rise during that time, followed by the short-term onset of depression, irritability and sleep problems.
Long-term chewing of khat can lead to tooth decay and
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