US Customs and Border Patrol agents in Pittsburgh made an unusual find on Monday, when a shipment marked as "general products" was found to be concealing over 100 pounds of an stimulant found in southern Arabia and East Africa.
A package of wigs and hair-extension products from Kenya and destined for an address in Mckees, Pennsylvania, arrived in the US on Friday.
US customs agents examined the package on Monday, discovering about 110 pounds of dried khat with an estimated value of up to $30,000.
"It is uncommon for Customs and Border Protection officers to encounter any sizable narcotics in Pittsburgh, so this was a great khat identification and interception by our CBP officers," Susan Anderson, CBP port director for Pittsburgh, said in a statement.
Khat, illegal in the US but permitted in areas where it is produced, grows as a 6- to 12-foot-high flowering shrub and is found primarily in Somalia, Yemen, Kenya, and Ethiopia.
It's typically ingested by chewing on the leaves, but can also be brewed in tea or added to food.
The drug is mild and similar in effect to amphetamines, but it can be very addictive.
Users see a rapid increase in blood pressure and heart rate after ingestion, and the effects subside after about 90 minutes to three hours, though they can last all day.
In Africa and the Middle East, it is mostly used by men.
In Somalia, war-torn and long lacking a functional central government, khat distribution has, in the past, been an uncharacteristically orderly industry.
During a gun battle between US special-operations forces and Somalia militias in Mogadishu in 1993, US soldiers were reportedly impressed by the endurance of Somali fighters on khat.
Authorities in Western Europe have voiced concern the drug's sale was used to finance terrorism, and it has been reported that profits from the khat trade are linked to al Shabaab, an al Qaeda affiliate in Somalia.
The UK has also banned the drug.
In the US, demand has been high among communities of immigrants from the Middle East and East Africa, and US authorities have had to be more vigilant about its importation in recent years.
"We grew up this way, you can't just cut it off," a 35-year-old Ethiopian medical technician told the LA Times in early 2009, between mouthfuls of khat.
US border agents busted 110 pounds of an East African stimulant in Pittsburgh — hidden under wigs posted first on http://lawpallp.tumblr.com