Betel Nut

Betel Nut

is used by almost a tenth of the world’s population, mostly in Asia. It is a stimulant equivalent to the nicotine in cigarettes or several cups of coffee and is reported to be used variously as a symbol of love, marriage and a cure for indigestion and impotence.

The nut comes from the areca tree which is described as a feathery tropical palm tree that produces the nut all year. The chewing of betel nut dates to antiquity.

betel nut

Betel Nuts are found across Asia where they are harvested from the Areca palm and are chewed for their stimulating properties. Used by women and children, the nuts are especially popular among working-age men, who chew to stay awake through long hours of work. Betel Nuts have a downside. They can cause oral cancer.

An international working group of scientific experts convened by the Monographs Programme of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), part of the World Health Organization, has reviewed the published studies related to cancer and chewing betel quid and areca nut. A previous evaluation in 1985 had found that chewing betel quid with tobacco is carcinogenic to humans. The new evaluation goes further to conclude that chewing betel quid without tobacco is also carcinogenic to humans. The working group also concluded that the areca nut, a common component of many different chewing habits, is carcinogenic to humans.


Betel Nut
Areca nuts wrapped in betel leaves.

Oral cancers are more common in parts of the world where betel quid is chewed. Of the 390,000 oral and oropharyngeal cancers estimated to occur annually in the world, 228,000 (58%) occur in South and South-East Asia. In some parts of India, oral cancer is the most common cancer. Striking evidence has emerged from Taiwan, China, where the incidence of oral cancer in men has tripled since the early 1980s, coinciding with a steep rise since the early 1970s and predominantly among men, in the practice of chewing betel quid. Tobacco generally is not added to the betel quid in that region.

Source: World Health Organization

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Other Sources

Drug Identification Guide

CDC Facts

CDC Addiction Info

CDC Substance Treatment

Samhsa Workplace Programs


Federal Register Codification

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