Betel nut

 areca nut, quids

The information on this page has been sourced from NSW Health and the Alcohol and Drug Foundation (ADF).

Betel nut is the seed of the fruit of the areca palm. The active ingredient in betel nut is arecoline. Betel nut is a stimulant, which means it speeds up the messages travelling between the brain and the body.

Betel nut laid out on white surface

This plant grows in most of the tropical Pacific and Asia. It is also known as areca nut as well as regional names such as paan or supari (India and Pakistan), bin lang (China), puwak (Sri Lanka) and buia or daka (Papua New Guinea).

Betel nut plays an important role in social customs, religious practices and cultural rituals in several countries throughout the Asia-Pacific region. Betel nut is also used for recreational purposes and as mouth freshener and digestive aid after meals.

Around 10% of the world’s population (600 million people) chew betel nut in some form. Betel nut is the 4th most widely used psychoactive substance in the world, after nicotine, alcohol and caffeine. The number of people presenting with health issues associated with betel nut use is increasing in Australia.

Betel nut and the law

Up to 10kg of betel nuts may be imported into Australia, however additional biosecurity requirements apply. Betel nut is classed as a schedule 4 poison and is illegal to possess or sell without proper authority. Betel nut is listed as a prohibited plant under schedule 23 of the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code, meaning it is prohibited from being sold as a food or being used as an ingredient in a food for sale.

How betel nut is used

Betel nut can be used on its own or as a mixture of various ingredients, known as 'betel quid'. The most common method of using betel nut is to slice it into thin strips and roll it in a betel leaf with slaked lime or crushed seashells. It is often mixed with tobacco and various spices.

Sometimes areca nuts are rolled in leaves other than betel leaf, such as a leaf from the rubiaceous plant (mitrogyna speciosa), nutmeg tree (myristica fragrans), or the pepper plant used in kava (piper methysticum).


Short-term effects

Short-term effects of betel nut may include:
•    relaxed feeling
•    alertness
•    fast heart rate and palpitations
•    high blood pressure
•    sweating
•    tremors
•    dizziness
•    upset stomach
•    psychosis

Long-term effects

Betel nut has been declared as a group 1 carcinogen to humans. The active ingredient in betel nut, arecoline, is a Schedule 4 poison. Using betel nut with tobacco also increases the risk of developing oral cancers. Regular, long-term use of betel nut may also cause:

  • discolouration of teeth and gums
  • mouth ulcers and gum disease
  • stomach ulcers
  • oral cancers
  • heart disease
  • financial, work and social problems

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