Author(s): Odenwald M, Neuner F, Schauer M, Elbert T, Catani C,
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Abstract BACKGROUND: Little is known about the prevalence of khat-induced psychotic disorders in East African countries, where the chewing of khat leaves is common. Its main psycho-active component cathinone produces effects similar to those of amphetamine. We aimed to explore the prevalence of psychotic disorders among the general population and the association between khat use and psychotic symptoms. METHODS: In an epidemiological household assessment in the city of Hargeisa, North-West Somalia, trained local interviewers screened 4,854 randomly selected persons from among the general population for disability due to severe mental problems. The identified cases were interviewed based on a structured interview and compared to healthy matched controls. Psychotic symptoms were assessed using the items of the WHO Composite International Diagnostic Interview and quantified with the Positive and Negative Symptoms Scale. Statistical testing included Student's t-test and ANOVA. RESULTS: Local interviewers found that rates of severe disability due to mental disorders were 8.4\% among males (above the age of 12) and differed according to war experiences (no war experience: 3.2\%; civilian war survivors: 8.0\%; ex-combatants: 15.9\%). The clinical interview verified that in 83\% of positive screening cases psychotic symptoms were the most prominent manifestations of psychiatric illness. On average, cases with psychotic symptoms had started to use khat earlier in life than matched controls and had been using khat 8.6 years before positive symptoms emerged. In most cases with psychotic symptoms, a pattern of binge use (> two 'bundles' per day) preceded the onset of psychotic symptoms, in contrast to controls of the same age. We found significant correlations between variables of khat consumption and clinical scales (0.35 to 0.50; p < 0.05), and between the age of onset of khat chewing and symptom onset (0.70; p <0.001). CONCLUSION: Evidence indicates a relationship between the consumption of khat and the onset of psychotic symptoms among the male population, whereby not the khat intake per se but rather early onset and excessive khat chewing seemed to be related to psychotic symptoms. The khat problem must be addressed by means other than prohibition, given the widespread use and its role in Somali culture.
This article was published in BMC Med
and referenced in Family Medicine & Medical Science Research