Sunday, July 22, 2012

Fun with Gat

Catha edulis (gat)
Catha edulis, better known as gat or khat, is native to Yemen and the Horn of Africa.  Locals chew on the leaves, which releases small concentrations of a neuroactive alkaloid called cathinone.  This stimulates the cental nervous system, and according to gat chewers, increase endurance, gives a feeling of strength and health, suppresses hunger (which is an advantage in areas known for chronic famine) and tiredness (which is an adavantage during hard labor and long walks). Because the leaves contain so little cathinone, large qauntitites of leaves have to be cchewed to get any effect. Consequently, gat-chewing is a social experience with groups of men or women sitting around and chewing and conversing together. In Yemen gat is so popular that 40% of the county's water supply is dedicated to gat agriculture!

Hagigat in Tel Aviv
Of course western culture doesn't have time for hours of leaf chewing (or the stomachs to see people spitting out the leaves and juice, though this to me seems no different than chewing tobacco). An Israeli biochemistry student working for some shady characters isolated cathinone from gat, who then marketed it in a concentrated pill called hagigat, which loosely translates to "party gat". While initially legal, hagigat soon became abused in the local party scene, was connected to several hospitalizations due to damage to the cardiac and central nervous systems, and was added to the list of illegal drugs. 

Gat itself though is still legal in Israel and many other countries. Apparently, its difficult to abuse something that you have to chew for hours. 

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