Addictive Potential: Low
Emergency Room Visits Yearly: Unkown
Mandatory Minimum Sentence: None
Mechanism of Action: stimulant
The Betel (Piper betle) is the leaf of a vine belonging to the Piperaceae family. It is valued both as a mild stimulant and for its medicinal properties. The betel plant is an evergreen and perennial creeper, with glossy heart-shaped leaves and white catkin.
In India, Burma, Nepal, Sri Lanka and other parts of South Asia, as well as Southeast Asia, the leaves of Piper betle are chewed together in a wrapped package along with the areca nut (which, by association, is often called the “betel nut”) and mineral slaked lime (calcium hydroxide). Catechu, called “Kattha” in Hindi, and other flavoring substances and spices might be added. The lime acts to keep the active ingredient in its freebase or alkaline form, thus enabling it to enter the bloodstream via sublingual absorption. The areca nut contains the alkaloid arecoline, which promotes salivation (the saliva is stained red), and is itself a stimulant. This combination, known as a “betel quid”, has been used for several thousand years.Tobacco is sometimes added.
Betel leaves are used as a stimulant, an antiseptic and a breath-freshener Paan. In India, the betel and areca play an important role in Indian culture, especially among Hindus. Many traditional ceremonies governing the lives of Hindus use betel and areca. For example to pay money to the priest, they keep money in the betel leaves and place it beside the priest.
The betel and areca also play an important role in Vietnamese culture. In Vietnamese there is a saying that “the betel begins the conversation”, referring to the practice of people chewing betel in formal occasions or “to break the ice” in awkward situational conversations. The betel leaves and areca nuts are used ceremonially in traditional Vietnamese weddings. Based on a folk tale about the origins of these plants, the groom traditionally offer the bride’s parents betel leaves and areca nuts (among other things) in exchange for the bride. The betel and areca nut are praised as an ideal combination to the point that have become important symbols of the ideal married couple bound together in love. Therefore in Vietnamese the phrase “matters of betel and areca” is synonymous with marriage.
Side Effects and Adverse Reactions:
The high rate of oral cancer in India is thought to be due to the chewing of betel preparations, though it is unclear whether this can be attributed to the betel leaf, the areca nut, or to the tobacco which is added to some betel preparations. There is an association between the chewing of betel preparations and oral and esophageal squamous cell carcinoma. It is also unclear whether similar health risks exist with traditional recipes as those that are associated with modern betel mixtures. The addition of tobacco leaf (the most harmful and addictive component) to the chewing mixture is a relatively recent one, introduced during colonial times a mere few centuries ago.
More study is needed to understand the full spectrum of side effects, adverse reactions, and addiction potential.