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Khat's out of the bag in Ottawa April 7, 2005 canoe.ca
It's a plant that grows in the mountains of Kenya, Yemen and Ethiopia, but it's quickly taking root in Ottawa. It's called khat and it can produce an intense euphoric feeling when chewed. It's also illegal in Canada.
In Ottawa, the drug is primarily used by men in the 20,000-strong Somali community who chew the leaf of the plant, in the same way others chew tobacco.
Khat's effects can last up to four hours.
The drug is legal and part of everyday life for many in East Africa.
Not only can it produce feelings of euphoria and liberation, users can also become violent.
That's got Dekha, a counsellor with Ottawa's Catholic Immigration Centre, concerned.
Dekha compared the effects of khat to drugs, "beer and spirits here." Users "can become violent," she said.
SEIZED AT AIRPORTS
She said those addicted to khat can also become aggressive when they don't have access to it.
At major Canadian airports, khat is becoming a familiar drug on the RCMP's list of seizures, along with ecstasy, marijuana, hashish, methamphetamines and steroids.
The RCMP drug-awareness team is stepping up efforts to curb the use of khat in the city's Somali community through education.
RCMP Const. Martin Angeli said khat is becoming a growing problem because as the Somali community grows, so do drug imports.
"In their country it's a habit, but in Canada it's illegal," said Angeli, adding that khat users are typically between 30 and 40 years old.
Khat is also creating a social and economic nightmare within the Somali community.
It's often called the "Thursday drug" because it needs to be consumed 48 hours after it's picked to produce the full effect. It's mainly consumed on weekends but isn't cheap.
A weekend's worth of khat can cost up to $120 in Ottawa, compared to a $5 a day in Somalia. That's a lot of money for recent arrivals in Canada who could be struggling financially.
FAMILIES IN 'CRISIS'
"Just imagine how that would affect the family," said Dekha. "What we see is family in crisis because of that."
Angeli said anyone caught trying to import khat into Canada faces up to three years in jail.