LONDON (AP) -- The British government said Wednesday it is banning khat, an herbal stimulant, despite advice against such a move by an official advisory body.
Khat, also known as cathonine, is popular in parts of the Middle East and Africa, where users chew the leaf to release stimulants that produce a mild high. It's classified as a dangerous narcotic in the United States.
In January, the British government's Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs concluded that khat has no links to adverse medical effects and should not be banned.
But Home Secretary Theresa May on Wednesday pointed out that the report had acknowledged lacking robust evidence on the scale to which khat is being re-exported to countries where it is illegal — a key concern for the government.
"The decision to bring khat under control is finely balanced and takes into account the expert scientific advice and these broader concerns," she said in a written statement to lawmakers.
She argued that since the whole of northern Europe and most other EU member states have banned khat, failure to act would put Britain at risk of becoming a trafficking hub.
Banning khat will "send a clear message" that Britain is serious about stopping illegal trafficking of the stimulant, May added.
The government move was quickly criticized by drug experts and drug policy campaigners.
Professor David Nutt, former head of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, called the announcement "yet another disappointment," while drug experts and drug policy campaigners roundly criticized the decision.