Catha Edulis: Therapeutic use

Last modified: Thursday, 25. December 2008 - 9:38 am

In the United States, khat is not approved for medical use. However, a study in the January 2000 issue of Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology concluded that khat, like amphetamines and ibuprofen, can relieve pain.

Although it is mainly used in social situations throughout Africa and the Middle East, khat is sometimes used by farmers and laborers to alleviate fatigue, by students to improve concentration before exams, and by the elderly to improve cognitive function. In Ethiopia, khat advocates claim that the plant eases symptoms of diabetes, asthma, and intestinal tract disorders. The processed leaves and roots are used to treat influenza, cough, other respiratory ailments, and gonorrhea.

Amphetamines were first marketed in the United States in 1932 as a treatment for asthma, and subsequently were used to treat narcolepsy. Gaining popularity as a defense against battle fatigue in World War II, nearly 200 million amphetamine tablets were issued to American soldiers stationed in Great Britain during the war. By the 1950s, stimulants were used to treat depression. But often amphetamines were used by people who just needed a lift, or who needed to stay alert, such as workers on the night shift, students, and truck drivers. However, by 1970, the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) severely restricted the use of amphetamines, which were classified as Schedule II drugs.

As of 2001, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the use of stimulants for treating attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), narcolepsy, and Parkinson’s disease. These drugs are also used in combination with other medications to manage pain, and to treat depression and other psychiatric disorders.

Because amphetamines are anorectics (appetite suppressants), these drugs were formerly the treatment of choice for obesity. Due to the potential for abuse and for adverse side effects such as increased heart and respiratory rate, and increased blood pressure, these drugs were eventually replaced by safer weight-loss medications. However, khat, an amphetamine-like substance, is used to counter obesity in countries such as Germany.

The amphetamines were replaced by amphetamine analogs — substances somewhat less potent than amphetamines. Fen-Phen, the combination of fenfluramine and phentermine, was a popular appetite suppressant in the 1990s, but was associated with severe health problems such as pulmonary hypertension, heart valve dysfunction, and nerve damage. As a result, both drugs were withdrawn from the market.

Sibutramine (Meridia), a weight-loss drug introduced in 1998, inhibits the reuptake of the brain chemicals norepinephrine, dopamine, and serotonin, but does not promote monoamine release like the amphetamines. Yet the drug has been linked to serious side effects, including rapid heart rate, increased blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, seizure, and mental impairments. In March 2002, Italy’s Health Ministry announced that it was immediately withdrawing all sibutramine products from the market due to health-related problems. Also, Meridia was the subject of a class action lawsuit filed in the United States.

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