In Summary
  • People who chew herb, also known as khat, are less likely to be obese because their appetite is suppressed.
  • The report is aimed at discrediting the grounds on which Britain, the US, France, Switzerland, and Sweden banned use of the stimulant in their territories on grounds that it has adverse health effects.

Miraa, the addictive herb chewed for its stimulative effect, has no negative health impact, Kenyan scientists have said in a shocking study released Thursday.

People who chew herb, also known as khat, are less likely to be obese because their appetite is suppressed, or develop heart complications in the future.

And, better yet, their reproductive health is in tip-top shape.

The findings were released by the Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri) at the seventh annual scientific and health conference in Nairobi.

The two-year study, funded by the government to a tune of Sh38 million, was conducted in Meru and Embu counties, and also disqualifies perceptions that people who chew miraa are more susceptible to mental disorders or sexual dysfunction.

“Although it was noted that different types of khat have different effects in regards to sex, from the qualitative arm, it was commonly said it enhances sexual stimulation with no seen negative effects on fertility,” reads the abstract report.

Further, the study says that people who chew miraa or muguka — the leaves of a variant of the plant banned in several European and African countries — have better oral health and have “significantly lower proportions of bacterial disease of the teeth (enamel caries) compared to those who do not chew”.

Although the prevalence of mental disorders among those who chew miraa stood at 12.4 per cent compared to 7.8 per cent among those who do not use the stimulant, the lead researcher, Prof Charles Mbakaya, said the increased instances of mental disorder among those who use the stimulant cannot be attributed exclusively to it.

“We observed that there was significant use of other things like tobacco, alcohol, cocaine, and bhang that predisposed the chewers to mental disorders,” explained Prof Mbakaya.

“In fact, we subjected the data through finer levels of analysis which showed that miraa did not cause these psychotic disorders.”

HEALTHY HERB
These findings contradict those from a similar study carried out two years ago — on how consumption of miraa affects the reproductive health of men — by lecturers from Moi University, who found that chewing miraa affects the sexuality of men.

But the Kemri scientists say “there were no statistically significant differences in semen parameters between khat chewers and non-chewers, although semen concentration was marginally low in khat chewers”.

In the study carried out by Moi University in 2015, researchers found that long-term use of miraa, which contains an amphetamine-like stimulant that causes excitement, loss of appetite and euphoria, is strongly linked to some mental disorders like mood swings and depression.

But the latest report titled Assessing Health Factors and Experiences Associated with Khat Handling and Chewing in Selected Areas of Kenya, states that the use of miraa does not compromise the health status or immunity of people who chew miraa in any way.

In fact, it boosts it! For instance, the study states that “teeth-related problems like discolouration, loss of teeth and tooth destruction are not an effect of chewing the stimulant alone, but of other factors like hygiene and chewing khat with other substances”.

The report is aimed at discrediting the grounds on which Britain, the US, France, Switzerland, and Sweden banned use of the stimulant in their territories on grounds that it has adverse health effects.