A new study conducted by Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) researchers shows that a majority of medical students in Yemen believe that chewing the plant khat is harmful to one's health but they would not advise their patients to quit.
The study, which is published online in the journal Substance Abuse, was done by BUSM class of 2013 students Paul Yi, John Kim and Khalil Hussein. Richard Saitz, MD, MPH, professor of medicine and epidemiology at BUSM and a physician specializing in addiction medicine at Boston Medical Center (BMC), is the paper's senior author.
Khat use is prevalent in Yemen as well as in parts of Africa and the Middle East. According to a 2008 study published in the Bulletin of the World Health Organization, approximately 90 percent of men and 73 percent of women in Yemen chew khat daily. The plant's active ingredient is cathinone, an amphetamine-like alkaloid with addictive properties that produces a pleasurable stimulant effect. Research has shown that khat usage plays a role in the development of cardiovascular, oral, hepatic, neurobehavioral and psychiatric illness.
To investigate the knowledge and attitudes about khat among medical students in Yemen, the researchers traveled to Yemen and conducted a survey of 62 students. A sub-group of those students then participated in a discussion-based seminar and a follow-up survey. While they demonstrated knowledge about the health effects of chewing khat and believed that it was unacceptable for health professionals to chew it, they did not believe that it is the health providers' role to ask about khat chewing habits, nor advise patients to stop chewing it.