We used the micronucleus (MN) test to determine the genetic damage caused by khat, a widely consumed psychostimulant plant, in exfoliated cells of volunteers who chewed the drug on a regular basis. In the first study in which we compared the frequency of MN in buccal and bladder mucosa cells in 20 khat consumers (10-160 g/day) and 10 controls, a pronounced (8-fold) increase in micronucleated buccal mucosa cells was seen among khat consumers; khat consumption did not lead to a detectable elevation of micronucleated bladder mucosa cells. Among heavy khat chewers, 81% of the bin had a centromere signal indicating that khat is aneuploidogenic. To investigate the effect of simultaneous consumption of tobacco and alcoholic beverages, we compared the bin frequency in buccal cells of 25 khat consumers (20-85 g/day) who smoked cigarettes (15-60/day) and drank alcoholic beverages (15-80 g of pure ethanol/day) with a control group (control group I) of 25 individuals matched for age, body weight, tobacco and alcohol consumption and with another control group of 25 individuals (control group II) not consuming any of the drugs. The frequency of buccal mucosa cells with bin was higher in control group I than in group II and the effect of khat, tobacco and alcohol was found to be additive. A time-kinetics study on khat-induced bin showed that the highest frequency of bin was observed during the fourth week after consumption. In light of the large body of evidence on the close association between genetic damage and cancer, these results suggest that khat consumption, especially when accompanied by alcohol and tobacco consumption, might be a potential cause of oral malignancy.
- Buccal mucosa