Psychology/Psychiatry

A Drug So Powerful It Causes Aggression and Passivity

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Reuters reports that anti-government protests in Yemen have been half-hearted compared to the revolt that brought down Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak, and it suggests an explanation:

By noon the protesters quietly vanish.

Many head straight from the streets to the souk, or market, to buy bags stuffed with qat, the mild stimulant leaf that over half of Yemen's 23 million people chew daily, whiling away their afternoons in bliss, their cheeks bulging with wads of qat….

The Yemen protesters' midday departures cast doubt on whether Yemenis are ready to mount a sustained revolt that would be needed to topple [President Ali Abdullah] Saleh from the leadership of the Arab world's poorest country….

Yemenis are not known for being passive. Nationals disgruntled with their government have kidnapped foreigners and locals, ambushed security forces and occupied state buildings to extract concessions. But for many, qat time is sacrosanct.

"When we have protests, they quiet down quickly because of this Yemeni habit. Qat is a negative influence. Every afternoon people go chew qat and the protests don't last more than a few hours in the morning," journalist Samir Gibran said, as he sat chewing qat with friends….

"Nothing quiets people like qat. Look at what they're doing in Egypt," said aluminum worker Ahmed al-Hazoura, as he carefully selected qat branches from a Sanaa shop. "If it wasn't for qat, everyone here would be in the streets protesting."

The headline: "Qat Addiction May Stem Yemen Protests." This knock against qat might puzzle anyone who remembers the press coverage of Somalia's civil war in the early 1990s, when qat allegedly made young gunmen irritable, aggressive, and trigger-happy. Now Reuters claims the very same plant makes chewers directly across the Gulf of Aden passive, lazy, and listless. To reinforce this new story line, it calls qat (accurately) a "mild" stimulant—which was not the impression left by the stories about Somalia's qat-crazed killers—and even describes the plant (inaccurately) as a "narcotic."

Can the same drug have such diametrically opposite effects? In a sense, yes, because context has a powerful influence on how people behave after consuming a drug (as anyone who has observed alcohol consumption at a frat party and at a formal dinner can attest). If there is truth to the claim that qat breaks are undermining the protests in Yemen, it is not because of the drug's psychoactive effects but because of the social customs surrounding its use. Yemenis could, after all, chew qat in the streets; Somali soldiers managed to do so. But then the ritual would have a different meaning: Chewing qat would be a way to stay active and alert instead of a way to relax and socialize. The variable uses of stimulants are reflected in the old slogan asserting that coffee "picks you up while it calms you down"; tobacco has long served a similar dual function.

To its credit, Reuters includes an alternative narrative in which qat circles, like the English coffeehouses of the 17th and 18th centuries or the taverns of colonial America, promote dissent instead of muffling it:

Some analysts say qat addiction is not a serious barrier to mass protest in Yemen, and young activists say customary qat-chewing gatherings play the same role as social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook elsewhere in the region.

"Sure we use Facebook like kids in other countries, but a lot of the protests that were organized, students planned at qat sessions. Qat has a positive role in political mobilization," Fakhr al-Azb, a 23-year old university student, said.

Whichever account is closer to the truth, we should be wary of a pharmacological essentialism that depicts the social effects of drug use as a straightforward chemical reaction. To a larger extent than is commonly recognized, people choose how they respond to drugs.

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  1. Qat. The anti-Twitter.

  2. To a larger extent than is commonly recognized, people choose how they respond to drugs anything.

  3. The takeaway for President Obama: If you want to prevent anti-government protests, legalize marijuana.

      1. Pot doesn’t kill people; police officers with poor trigger discipline kill people.

        1. Our investigation has determined that this shooting was justified….

          1. Tell me something I don’t know.

            1. I disagree.

    1. The takeaway for President Obama: If you want to prevent anti-government protests, legalize marijuana.

      Why wouldn’t he just legalize Qat?

  4. Its like global warming. When it sets record cold temps somewhere, its global warming. When it sets record high temps somewhere, that’s global warming too.

    (FindArrayName:(PanicMoneyButton)Bad things = .
    (FindArrayName:(PanicMoneyButton)Bad things = .

    Its code all its own for such psychologies, but very similar syntax in the Javadumb these slow brains run.

    1. Hey! Stupid thing hashed my code man!

      1. That’s because it was imperfect; and therefore an insult to the reason web app.

      2. The H&R comment page isn’t an IDE. However it could do well with some Intellisense. My comments would certainly go in faster… and make more sense…

    2. too ignorant to know the diff bet weather & climate?

      1. Not knowing diff between weather and climate? That’s global warming’s fault.

      2. At least he can form coherent thoughts. Was it the pot or the the PTSD that destroyed your brain, Orrin?

        1. It was Con Air that destroyed his brain. Just look at Tulpa.

          1. Con Air is a plague upon this nation. It causes brain damage, disrespect for authorities, and defamation of Nicolas Cage. Someone really needs to make a highly-slanted documentary about the dangers of illicit Con Air viewing. Think of the Children!

            1. Would you support the DHS seizing BitTorrent sites allowing access to Teh Con Air?

              And Nicholas Coppola is a douche, FTR.

              1. No bridge is too far to rid our society of the menace of Con Air. Seize the sites, smash the servers, send FCC SWAT teams through the windows of every man, woman, or child who owns a copy, and shoot the dog of everyone who has ever seen it. When they finally hunt down the kingpins behind the movie, sentence them each to ten years in the electric chair.

        2. fight club & whiskey

          1. The book or the movie? Either way I’m surprised you are still able to type.

      3. I would contend that the two are one in the same. It’s a silly as saying one is too ignorant to know the difference between the ocean and it’s waves. Again, they are one in the same.

      4. OhioOrrin|2.17.11 @ 1:27PM|#
        “too ignorant to know the diff bet weather & climate?”

        Ignorant enough to bleeve everything you read?

  5. …when qat allegedly made young gunmen irritable, aggressive, and trigger-happy.

    Shrugs Not Drugs!

    Now Reuters claims the very same plant makes chewers directly across the Gulf of Aden passive, lazy, and listless.

    Slugs Not Drugs!

  6. I’m pretty sure it also causes lycanthropy. And not the good, Twilight kind but more the Howling II kind.

    1. I was hoping more for the Ginger Snaps variety.

      1. You’re hoping for a puberty allegory? How strange.

        1. Specifically, I’m hoping to induce puberty if I get my hands on some qat. Something’s gotta work.

          1. Specifically, I’m hoping to induce puberty if I get my hands on some qat. Something’s gotta work.

            I think it just creates a burning sensation if you rub it on your genitals, Hugh.

    2. It causes qat scratch fever.

  7. Maybe it was wrong, but I always heard that the Qat hyped you up like any good stimulant but the after effects made you kinda listless.

    As I understood it, that’s why the “Blackhawk Down” raid in Somalia went so wrong. It was executed in the morning when everybody was on the “up” swing when all previous raids had happened in the afternoon when everybody was on the “down” side.

    Like I said, though, that could all be BS….

    1. I bet Qat goes the way of coca.

      Coca Mild stimulant that is popular everywhere it goes. Makes people work a little harder, little less hungry, little less irritable at being slaves in the Potosi mines.

      Some clever chemist will isolate qat’s active I and amplify it into equivalent of cocaine. Then it will become billions-o’-dollar criminal enterprise for Somali warlords because it won’t be illegal anymore, it will be Illegal. Can’t wait.

      1. Thank you for the internet!

          1. Anytime.

            Not so fast.

      2. Cathionine, one of qat’s active compounds, is already DEA Schedule 1, so it is already even more restricted than cocaine (which is Schedule 2–it has accepted medical uses).

        I’m not sure if that translates into qat leaves being unavailable in the US. Coca tea is technically restricted but is sold on Amazon.

        1. I need to get some of that shit, I’ve only had it a couple times but it really is a happy buzz compared to caffeine.

    2. As I understood it, that’s why the “Blackhawk Down” raid in Somalia went so wrong. It was executed in the morning when everybody was on the “up” swing when all previous raids had happened in the afternoon when everybody was on the “down” side.

      And here I’d always heard that it was because Les Aspen and his boss made sure they didn’t have any armored personnel carriers because they didn’t want their humanitarian mission to seem to militaristic…

  8. From everything I’ve read, this shit is no different from caffeine. Which sounds a) boring, and b) harmless. I wonder how many caffeine addicts are in this country, and when we’ll start seeing scare stories about their violent and/or lazy proclivities.

    1. From everything I’ve read, this shit is no different from caffeine. Which sounds a) boring, and b) harmless. I wonder how many caffeine addicts are in this country, and when we’ll start seeing scare stories about their violent and/or lazy proclivities.

      Whelp, we just banned Four Loko, so we’re getting around to Caffeine too.

      Oh I know, this whole drug war house-of-cards is coming tumbling down any day now.

  9. New designer beer opportunity

    1. Forget FourLoko…QuadQat! Must remember Qat for next scrabble round, too.

  10. All I knew about qat before this was that it is an acceptable q-without-u word in Scrabble.

  11. This qat’s pyschoactive properties is largely a bunch of hooey; it’s the FourLoko of the Arab world.

    I think why they are really down on the qat stuff is the limited water in the area and just making a big fuss that the qat farmers are not growing approved, “useful food crops” and essentially wasting scant water supplies.

  12. Some immigrants try to import qat, but most leave it behind. Or maybe coffee and weed are just better products.

  13. It’s the pax! The G-23 Paxilon Hydrochloride added to the air processors!

    1. You know, she really waited too long to shoot herself. Bad mistake.

      1. This is the social networking generation. Getting raped to death is a small price to pay for one last status update.

    2. Goddamn Firefly nerds.

  14. I’ve chewed qat before.

    In Israel, the old Yemeni jews chew it. It’s sort of like coke, but if it took 3-4 hours to peak, and was about 85% milder.

    1. Yeah, I tried it with a Saudi neighbor. After about two hours of a mild buzz and chatting over tea, I got all beligerent about why he went to the trouble of smuggling qat when he could have brought in some hash.

  15. Well then. Thank God all the hippies were on dope back in the 1960s.

  16. QAT IS OKAY, THE COMMANDER PREFERS AMPHETAMINES AND LSD FOR COMBAT READINESS. QAT IS GIVEN TO THE CHILDREN FIRST. SOME LEAVES ARE TINGED WITH THE COMMANDER’S SPECIAL COMPOUND. NO ONE SOLDIER KNOWS WHO WILL HAVE THE GODLIKE POWERS EACH DAY.

    BUT WE HAVE GODLIKE POWERS.

  17. Unfortunately, I think “Al Gore” upthread has a good point. Since it was banned here, the only way it will be seen in the US (like cocaine or heroin) will be as a concentrated alkaloid – that will be far more problematic than the natural substances.

    1. Yeah, I wonder what the pharmacology of qat is?

        1. G-rated meth. Sweet!

  18. I’ve had more drug experience than I care to admit, but have never taken anything that can make you bloodthirsty under one circumstance and totally mellow under another. It’s bunk.

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