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Explainer: Muguka vs miraa – what is the difference?

After the coastal counties of Mombasa and Kilifi banned the distribution and sale of muguka, but not miraa, Kenyans are left wondering: what is the difference?

The scientific name of the plant that produces miraa and muguka is cathaedulis, with miraa being internationally known as khat.

The leaf and stem contain cathinone and cathine, the two elements that cause intoxication and have both medicinal and recreational uses.

According to Kimathi Munjuri, chairman of the Nyambene Miraa Traders Association (Nyamita), there are more than 200 varieties of khat grown in different parts of the world, including Ethiopia, Israel, Yemen and Egypt.

The difference between miraa and muguka is in the structure of the plant. While miraa twigs sprout from the branches of the tree like coffee berries on a coffee tree, muguka is a shrub that resembles tea bushes.

While miraa is mainly grown in Meru, muguka is mainly cultivated in Embu.

Muguka bush plant. PHOTO| FILE

Miraa trees have existed for hundreds of years, with the oldest trees, known as ‘mbaine’, producing the best quality.

For miraa, the consumer peels the chewable parts from the twig; for muguka, it is the leaves that are chewed with the sap ingested by both.

In April 2016, miraa was declared a scheduled crop and recognised as a cash crop in the Crops Act. Mr Munjuri said the difference between the two crops was “like night and day”.

“Miraa has been on the market for a long time, but muguka was discovered a few years ago. But while miraa is more expensive, muguka is relatively cheap. A kilo of the best quality miraa can go for Sh5,000 locally and up to Sh20,000 on the export market,” he says.

As for muguka, which is not exported and is mainly consumed locally, the price of a kilo ranges between Sh300 and Sh600.

As for which is more potent, former National Council Against Alcohol and Drug Abuse chairman John Mututho said both miraa and muguka contain dangerous substances that can affect brain function and cause permanent damage.

He said miraa caused insomnia, high blood pressure and tooth decay.

Mr Munjuri argued that there was no substance that did not have side effects when abused. He said the difference between muguka and miraa was that the levels of cathine and cathinone were higher in the former because the leaves are chewed. But Mr Munjuri said the biggest problem with users on the coast was that they were mixing miraa and muguka with other drugs.

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