Khat

Khat is a form of shrub that is often chewed for its mild stimulant effects. While Khat is used heavily in certain parts of the world, often with little to no health implications, there are some who become addicted to Khat much in the same way as other stimulants such as caffeine or nicotine.

What is Khat?

Khat is the common term for the Catha edulis shrub that is native to East Africa and parts of Southern Arabia. The plant contains two alkaloid chemicals; cathinone and cathine, both of which have similar effects to amphetamine stimulants like meth. Synthetic cathinone is also the primary chemical in the dangerous drug Flakka. Like Flakka and bath salts, when taken in high doses Khat can lead to aggressive psychosis and manic behavior.

The Khat plant is abused for its stimulant-like properties in a variety of ways including chewing the khat leaves, smoking them in joints or pipes, brewing them in teas, or baking them into food. 

As Khat affects neurotransmitters in the brain that release pleasure chemicals such as dopamine, the drug has a long history of abuse and addiction.

Get help during covid-19

Get help during Covid-19

At Recovered, we recognize the impact COVID-19 has had and the continued challenges it poses to getting advice and treatment for substance use disorders. SAMHSA has a wealth of information and resources to assist providers, individuals, communities, and states during this difficult time and is ready to help in any way possible.

Speak to SAMSHA

Who uses khat?

Khat is found in parts of East Africa such as Somalia, Ethiopia, and Yemen and has long been used as a natural treatment for fatigue, depression, and stomach ulcers as well as to enhance physical and sexual performance and to lower appetite and the need for sleep. Historical evidence suggests that it has existed since the 13th century in Ethiopia (Abyssinia).

Owing to the psychoactive reaction of cathinone that has been linked to increased aggression, khat has also been used by military forces and is believed to be linked to civil wars in Somalia.

Khat is still widely used on a daily basis in Yemen, with around 90% of adult males taking the substance daily. While khat is still mainly used in East Africa and Southern Arabia, it has also found its way across to foreign shores and there are many reported cases of khat abuse in Europe and America. 

Though harder to acquire than other stimulants such as cocaine in the US, khat can still be bought via the dark web and specialist drug dealers.

Effects of using khat

As with other amphetamines like meth, the stimulant reaction in the brain to khat occurs quickly, usually within 10-20 minutes. These effects often subside within 90 minutes but have been known to last for up to 24 hours. 

Chewing, smoking, or ingesting khat can cause these side effects:

  • Euphoria and elation
  • Increased feelings of well-being
  • Increased alertness
  • Increased sexual arousal
  • Suppressed appetite
  • Increased agitation and aggression
  • Increased blood pressure/heart rate
  • Paranoia
  • Anxiety
  • Manic behavior/psychosis 
  • Violence

Health risks of Khat abuse

Khat carries with it the same risks as other stimulants, including physical and psychological dependence and addiction. In addition, there are a range of reported physical and mental health risks associated with long-term khat abuse. These include:

  • Halitosis, tooth decay, and periodontal disease
  • Stomach ulcers, inflammation, and gastrointestinal disorders
  • Irregular heartbeat, cardiovascular disorders
  • Worsened preexisting psychiatric conditions
  • Liver damage
  • Insomnia, anxiety, and depression

Other names for Khat

Common street names for khat include:

  • Abyssinian Tea

  • African Salad

  • Catha

  • Chat

  • Kat

  • Miraa

  • Oat

  • Qat

  • Qaadka

Khat has no medical use in the US and its primary chemical component, cathinone, is a Schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act, meaning it holds a high potential for abuse and addiction. Khat’s other chemical component, cathine, is a Schedule IV substance, meaning it has a low but not impossible potential for abuse. 

This means that possessing or distributing khat in the United States is a felony and can result in fines and prison time.

Is Khat addictive?

Khat has been used around the world for hundreds of years and is still used by over 20 million people worldwide today. The stimulant has cultural significance in many countries and many believe the drug has been widely misrepresented by Western media. 

Many people who take Khat daily will do so as an alternative to caffeine, and The World Health Organization has likened the effect of khat to that of coffee consumption. Despite its cultural status and recognition as a mild stimulant in most countries, there are still reports of khat abuse, dependence and addiction.

What are the signs of Khat abuse?

If you suspect someone is abusing Khat in an unhealthy way, there are some indicators that can help identify if there is an issue. 

Some signs a person is abusing khat include:

  • Decreased appetite

  • Weight loss

  • Change in sleep patterns

  • Irritability/agitation

  • Hyperactivity (in intervals)

  • Appearing depressed/anxious

Khat withdrawal symptoms

One of the key indicators of a substance use disorder, and if a substance is addictive, is if withdrawal symptoms present themselves when use abruptly stops. While rare, some people display certain withdrawal symptoms after a prolonged period of abusing the substance. 

Khat's withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Headaches

  • Depression

  • Cravings 

  • Tremors

  • Increased blood pressure/body temperature

  • Fatigue

Withdrawal symptoms are one of the main reasons people attempt to quit substance abuse on their own relapse. In order for the initial stage of recovery to be successful, supervised detox is often necessary. 

Detox is an important part of addiction treatment and both inpatient and outpatient addiction facilities will prioritize this for almost all forms of substance use disorder. 

If you or someone you know is suffering from khat addiction or any form of substance use disorder, it is important to seek treatment from a dedicated addiction rehab. Visit our rehab directory today to find an addiction treatment center near you and begin the road to recovery.