Muguka stimulant a double-edged sword for men’s mental wellbeing

Kalikali Mwika a miraa and muguka trader display his produce along Latema road, Nairobi on June 3, 2024.

Photo credit: Lucy Wanjiru | Nation Media Group

As June marks Men’s Mental Health Awareness Month, it is imperative to address a growing concern that has captured the nation’s attention—the use of Muguka. The stimulant derived from the khat plant variety has been a topic of debate in recent weeks, following President William Ruto’s lifting of its ban in the coastal region.

While there is no doubt that it brings significant economic benefits, contributing billions to the local economy, its potential health risks and societal implications cannot be overlooked. This abuse of the crop is pertinent to young men not just in the coastal region but in Kenya as a whole, who are increasingly turning to Muguka, possibly as a coping mechanism in the face of rising unemployment and a global shift in gender dynamics.

Muguka has since become a significant cash crop in Meru and Embu counties. Its cultivation and sale provide livelihoods for many farmers and traders, contributing to local economies. However, the economic gains are juxtaposed with alarming health concerns.

Health experts and local leaders have raised alarming concerns about Muguka’s detrimental effects, especially on mental health. Chronic use of the stimulant is linked to anxiety, depression, and even psychosis, with young men being the most affected demographic.

Kenya’s unemployment rate has been climbing, with young men bearing the brunt of this harsh reality. According to recent 2024 data from the International Labour Organisation, the unemployment rate among youth stands at a staggering 5.6 percent, a two percent increase from the previous year.

This economic stagnation has left many young men disillusioned and searching for ways to cope with their frustrations and anxieties. In this context, Muguka offers a temporary escape from their bleak realities.

The use, or as some would argue, abuse, of Muguka as a coping mechanism is a symptom of deeper societal issues. With limited job opportunities and a lack of support systems, young men find themselves in a vicious cycle of stress and substance abuse.

Muguka presents a complex challenge that intertwines economic benefits with significant health risks and social implications.

The health and well-being of our men are paramount, and it is only through a concerted effort that we can achieve a healthier, more prosperous future for all.

The writer is the founder of Nairobi Women's Hospital. 

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