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Alkaloids of Catha Spp.

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The levels of the psychoactive alkaloids S-(-)-cathinone and its primary metabolite cathine, consisting of the diastereomers (+) -norpseudoephedrine and (-)- norephedrine were determined in Catha edulis (Vahl) Forssk. ex Endl., Catha transvaalensis Codd and Catha abbottii Van Wyk & Prins. Alkaloid levels were investigated in C. edulis plants collected from three different localities in South Africa, and one from a Nairobi khat market. The efficiency of three different methods for the extraction and isolation of cathinone and cathine were investigated, viz. an aqueous acid extraction, an organic solvent extraction and an aqueous acid extraction using the commercially available Extrelutᴿ procedure. The aqueous acid extraction resulted in the rapid loss of cathinone and yielded variable alkaloid levels in replicate studies. This was also observed when this method was coupled with the Extrelutᴿ procedure. In contrast, the organic solvent extraction did not result in a loss of cathinone and provided consistent results over a number of replicates; it also proved to be a simple and rapid method for extracting and isolating cathinone and cathine. A trifluoroacetic acid (TFA) derivatization procedure which has been suggested to produce characteristic diagnostic fragments for gas chromatography / mass spectrometry (GC/MS) identification, was investigated, but failed to produce consistent TFA derivatives of cathinone and cathine. However, underivatized cathinone and cathine were easily identified by GCMS due to their unambiguous mass spectra. All subsequent studies were undertaken using the organic solvent extraction and isolation method, coupled with GC analysis and GC/MS identification of underivatized cathinone and cathine. Leaves of C. edulis were found to contain cathinone and cathine at levels 100 times higher than those of C. transvaalensis. The alkaloids were undetectable in C. abbottii. Plants grown from cuttings of C. edulis collected from the Durban Botanical Gardens were found to contain cathinone and cathine at levels of 0.410 mg per gram fresh weight and 0.157 mg per gram fresh weight in leaves, respectively, while these levels in plants derived from different localities decreased in the order: Eastern Cape (0.319 mg/g f.w cathinone and 0.029 mg/g f.w cathine), Mpumalanga (0.139 mg/g f.w. cathinone and 0.171 mg/g f.w. cathine) and Nairobi (0.032 mg/g f.w. cathinone and 0.025 mg/g f. w. cathine). In an investigation of the cathinone levels in the different plant parts it was found that the highest levels were found in leaves of the shoot tip (0.243 mg/g f.w.) but decreased with the age of the leaf and developmental stage of the plant in the order: juvenile leaves (0.124 mg/g f.w.), mature leaves (0.035 mg/g f.w.), young stem (0.033 mg/g f.w.) and mature stem (0.004 mg/g f.w.). Concomitantly, cathine levels increased with the age of the leaf: leaves of the shoot tip (0.006 mg/g f.w.), juvenile leaves (0.011 mg/g f.w.), mature leaves (0.019 mg/g f.w.). The cathine level in the young stem material was found to be the highest in the entire plant (0.270 mg/g f.w.) but decreased markedly in the mature stem (0.052 mg/g f.w.). Both cathinone and cathine levels in the mature root were greater than levels in the mature stern, being 0.012 mg cathinone per gram fresh weight, and 0.063 mg cathine per gram fresh weight. Neither cathinone nor cathine were detectable in young root material.


Thesis (M.Sc.)-University of Natal, Pietermaritzburg, 2001.


Qat., Catha spp--Research., Alkaloids--Physiological effect., Theses--Botany.