It comes in unassuming green-leafed bundles, and though it resembles herbs found at local markets, five Edmontonians are facing drug-trafficking charges after a massive bust last week.
Acting on a tip leaked to authorities last week, investigations by Canada Border Services Agency and RCMP led to searches of three Edmonton homes on Monday that revealed nearly 37 kilograms of an imported narcotic known as “khat.”
“This is a relatively new phenomenon,” said RCMP Cpl. Wayne Oakes, adding only a handful of similar busts have ever been executed in Edmonton.
The active narcotic in the leaves, cathinone, is classed as an amphetamine, or central-nervous system stimulant. It’s commonly chewed, or added to tea and food, and absorbed into the bloodstream. Effects are similar to that of a euphoric cocaine rush, but subdued.
“Perhaps, because the user doesn’t experience the degree of high like with the harder drugs, they might think it’s a safer drug to be using,” Oakes said.
“They might think that because it’s a plant, how dangerous can it be? I wouldn’t ask anybody to be simply clad in a bathing suit and go running through a field of stinging nettles. It doesn’t take much of a brush with that plant to know it hurts.”
Though the plant drug is legal in its native Somalia and other parts of Africa, it was recently added as a third-level banned narcotic on the controlled substances list in Canada. It does not grow in Canada, and must be imported.
“This is not Somalia,” Oakes said, adding the law enforcement officials have become increasingly aware of the drug in the past few years. In 2008, there were 614 seizures across the province, nearly 10 times the number in 2007.
Though local treatment centres have seen minimal khat use in Edmonton, AADAC spokesman Korey Cherneski said it’s not on its radar.