Khat shipment for Minneapolis intercepted at O'Hare

Here, chew on this
Here, chew on this

A 37-year-old Maryland man was arrested over the weekend at Chicago's O'Hare Airport after luggage inspectors discovered he was trying to smuggle about 80 pounds of khat that he later told interrogators was destined for the Somali community in Minneapolis.

Authorities estimated the shipment had a street value of about $36,000.

Think of khat as chewing tobacco with bennies: Stuff a handful of khat leaves and twigs into your mouth and chew, and pretty soon you're cruising along in "a state of euphoria and elation as well as feelings of increased alertness and arousal."

We wouldn't know, of course. We're just taking the word of the National Instutute on Drug Abuse.

Folks in the Horn of Africa, including Somalia, and the Arabian Peninsula have been on a khat kick for centuries. The stuff's legal there, as it is in Europe.

According to the Partnership for a Drug Free America, "Compulsive use may result in manic behavior with grandiose delusions or in a paranoid type of illness, sometimes accompanied by hallucinations."

The side effects from chronic abuse sound bad: anorexia, tahycardia, hypertension, insomnia, gastric disorders, physical exhaustion, violence, and suicidal depression.

The fresh leaves contain a controlled substance called cathinone, which the DOJ puts in the same category as heroin and LSD.

Some khat smuggling ring busts have netted much larger shipments and arrests; a 2006 operation shut down a multimillion dollar smuggling ring that included suspects in Minnesota.

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