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A brief introduction to the
Notes about Khat from "Plant Intoxicants"
by Baron Ernst von Bibra, Martin Haseneier, editor
1885, 1995
Considerable phytochemical work has been conducted in the 20th century on Catha edulis (Vahl) Forskal. Cathine (also spelled katine) or norpseudoephedrine, first isolated from khat in 1930 (Wolfes 1930), was long thought to be the active principle (Getahun and Krikorian 1973; Krikorian and Getahun 1973). The stimulant is widely used today as an over-the-counter anorexic, in the form of the hydrochloride salt of the synthetic racemic produce (a mixture of two optical, or stereo-isomers, of which cathine is the "+", or d- or "R,R" isomer), which is known as phenylpropanolamine and by various trade names such as Mydriatine and Obestat (Budavari et al 1989). Typical khat samples contain about 0.1 percent cathine (Alles et al 1961). More recently, however it was shown that the unstable (0)-alpha-amino-propiophenone or cathinone is the principal active stimulant of khat (Peterson et al 1980), the chemistry and pharmacology of which was recently summarized (Nordal 1980; Szendrei 1980).

Although this compound had been synthesized some ninety years before (Gabriel 1908; Schmidt 1889), this was the first isolation from a natural source, and average cathinone content of twenty-two diverse samples was estimated as 0.036 percent, compared to 0.12 percent cathine and 0.008 percent norephedrine (36, 120, and 8 mg per 100g fresh leaves and buds) (Kalix 1991). In animal experiments with synthetic racemic cathinone, doses above 1.87 mg/kg produced amphetamine-like stimulation, whereas cathine was about tenfold less active (Zegler et al 1980). Amphetamine-psychosis has been reported as a consequence of overindulgence in khat (Giannini and Castellani 1982), and is probably a result of cathinone, which has been found to represent up to 70 percent of the khatamine content of Kenyan material (with 5 percent total khatamines, as opposed to 1 percent in Madagascar material); the price of this was a function of cathinone content (Schorno et al 1982). The instability of cathinone and past analyses of dried material may have obscured the importance of this khatamine. Improved syntheses of cathinone have been published recently (Al-Meshal et al. 1987; Berrang et al. 1982), and the pharmacology of this interesting compound has been reviewed (Kalix 1984, 1991).

Cathinone was recently added to the schedules of illicit drugs, and Catha edulis itself has appeared in the black market of the U.S. selling for 25 to 30 dollars a handful (Labrousse 1993), a pharmacognostical consequence of U.S. military involvement in Somalia, where the drug is widely used (Elmi 1983). Before the proscription of its active agent, Catha edulis was rather openly sold in the U.S. as an ornamental shrub, along with a booklet describing its cultivation (Dremann 1986). A recent multidisciplinary book highlited the importance of this African stimulant (Kennedy 1987). Methyl-cathinone (or methcathinone) has appeard as a black-market drug in the U.S. and is not to be confused with so called "brominated cathines" (sic), also known as Nexus (a distributor has packaged the drug in matchbook-like printed wrappers). The latter is a ruse, however, and Nexus, or "brominated cathinine", is a newly-proscribed synthetic 2C-B or 4-bromo-2,5-dimethoxyphenethylamine in about 10 mg doses (Rogers and Katel 1993; Shulgin 1993; Shulgin and Shulgin 1991).