A reader writes:
I realize this article is mostly tongue-in-cheek, but as a fellow advocate for sensible drug policies, I feel obligated to respond to the attack on qat/khat. Qat, like marijuana, is a totally natural drug.
The plant is cut in the mornings and rushed into town in order to be sold after lunch. You simply chew the leaves. I spent a summer in Yemen several years ago, a place where more than 75% of the adult male population chews qat daily. I spent 5-8 hours daily chewing qat, every day of the week, for about 10 weeks. I did not suffer any negative withdrawal symptoms. I also did not get "stoned." The effect of qat is much closer to an intense consumption of caffeine than anything else, with a little bit of narcotic to take off the edge. It really is a wonderful drug, and ranks slightly above marijuana for me, with the added bonus that qat actually enhances my ability to perform certain tasks (like learning and speaking Arabic).
American journalism on qat is a sad joke to anyone who has actually spent time in Yemen. NYT travel writers can't help opining about a nation of stoned terrorists getting "high" on qat. On the other hand, I can't really take issue with the article's advice to keep a safe distance from qat deprived pirates. I don't doubt that habitual users suffer serious withdrawal effects (probably much closer to caffeine withdrawal than nicotine withdrawal). Yemenis are notoriously grouchy in the mornings, but could not be more gregarious and friendly once the chewing starts after lunch.
(Photo: A Yemeni boy takes a whiff of his father's newly-purchased qat, a popular narcotic drug, at a market in Sanaa 20 September 1999. More than 80 percent of Yemenis spend some 30 percent of their salaries on qat. By Rabih Moghrabi/AFP/Getty Images)