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Letters to Editor Highlight Cultural Bias in Drug Reporting


January 1993

Several letters to the editor of the Washington Post point out the cultural bias inherent in negative reports on the pharmacology and use of the plant stimulant khat in Somalia (Letters To The Editor, "Stimulants Across Cultures," Washington Post, 12/21/92, A20).

Michael Gurwitz writes regarding accounts of U.S. Marines confiscating khat as an illicit substance: "I wonder, did the people who devised this arrogant policy think it up over a few cups of coffee in the morning, or during a cigarette break after lunch, or perhaps over a few beers at the Officers' Club before turning in for the night?"

Brian Stacey of Hedgesville, West Virginia, wrote that a recent negative article in the Post contrasted sharply with a report aired on National Public Radio (NPR):

"The [NPR] commentator, an American [Andrew Weil M.D.], was both a botanist and a practicing physician who had spent some time living in Somalia and had indeed even chewed khat while he was there -- seemingly bona fide qualifications for assessing khat. His description of its use and effects seemed to be one that would parallel the social use of coffee in this country, with the stimulating effects of about the same level and similar side effects and accompanying addiction.

"If this is true, is it not distorting to refer to khat as a 'favored drug,' or to Dr. Ali, who was quoted in the story, as 'an admitted user' or to describe its use as 'drug habits?' By this contrast your article struck me as xenophobic. But I have written these comments after my morning 'use' of 'America's drug of choice' -- and my second cup to boot, so you should probably teat these comments with the utmost caution."