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Unregulated Khat Trade Fuels Violence in Somalia


February 1993

Like the illicit cocaine trade in the U.S. and elsewhere, the criminal control of the khat trade in Somalia is fueling violence, caused by economic competition and anarchy, not the stimulant effects of the drug, according to a physician who specializes in forensic medicine [Teri Randall, "Khat Abuse Fuels Somali Conflict, Drains Economy," Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), Vol. 269, No. 1, 1/6/93, p. 12).

Steven Karch, M.D., cited in JAMA, refuted recent mass media reports ascribing a causal relationship between the pharmacological properties of khat and violence in Somalia. "There is nothing in the history books, nothing in the past literature, to suggest that khat chewing generates this sort of violent behavior," said Karch. "It is generally very benign."

The distribution of khat by Somali warlords to energize soldiers has much historical precedent, from Arab use of khat for that purpose in the 13th century to the issue of amphetamines to Allied and Japanese troops during World War II, Karch pointed out.