Up to 300 tonnes of the drug khat are being smuggled through Britain into Europe and North America each year, according to a United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) report.
Khat is to be made an illegal Class C drug in Britain later this year, a move aimed at preventing the country from becoming a hub for illegal trade.
Angela Me, chief of the UNODC Statistics and Surveys Section, said the ban would help reduce circulation of khat.
“It would definitely make it more difficult for people to traffic through the UK. Traffickers use countries where substances are still legal.”
She explained that over the last few years, the UK and the Netherlands have become “market hubs” for trade on to regions including North America and Europe.
Khat is a leafy plant which is chewed as a stimulant and is popular among Britain’s Yemeni, Somali and Ethiopian communities.
But the drug can cause depression, hallucinations, insomnia, reduced appetite, anxiety and aggression.
A Somali-born health trainer in Leicester is urging people to support the plans to make khat illegal.
Abdikayf Farah, 41, said: “People can get addicted to khat and become dependent on it.”
“It’s not harmless – it makes people lazy and they can lose their job. People who use khat often stop looking after themselves and can become violent a lot of the time. It breaks up families.”
“It is so popular in the Somali community, I think every family knows of somebody who is suffering from the effects of khat. A lot of us are very worried”, he added.
Around 2,560 tonnes of khat worth £13.8 million was imported to the UK in 2011-2012.