Khat: Description of the Drug

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Khat, a particular shrub native to East Africa and nearby Arabian Peninsula is known to contain alkaloids, cathinone, and cathine. These chemical acts as natural stimulants producing various side effects including increased aggression and decrease sexual desires. Users commonly ingest, chew, and smoked the drug.

Street names of the drug include:

  •    qat
  •    gat
  •    chat
  •    miraa
  •    murungu
  •    quaadka
  •    Catha
  •    tohai
  •    tschat
  •    Arabian or Abyssinian tea

History of Khats

The history of the shrub dates back to the early East African nations. People from these regions continuously used the drug in the past 50 years because of its euphoric effects. The Somali soldiers commonly used the drug with the intention of inhibiting their need for food and sleep as well as increasing their aggression.

Chewing 100 to 200 grams of Khat leaves for over 3-4 hours provides its users that sweet taste and astringent actions or properties where it acts as a medicine against:

  •    depression
  •    fatigue
  •    obesity
  •    stomach ulcers
  •    male infertility
  •    decrease appetite
  •    decrease sexual desires
  •    increase aggression

What makes Khat addictive?

Khat affects the brain and the spinal cord like that of amphetamines. The drug contains cathinone which affects the central nervous system. This can cause overstimulation and excess of the dopamine level in the brain. Accumulation of the drug can cause hallucinations and intense feeling of euphoria which most users seek in a drug.  Because of these properties, users easily get hooked using khat regularly.

Signs and symptoms of the drug

Khat users are often identified due to their adverse effects such as:

  •    euphoria
  •    increased alertness
  •    garrulousness
  •    hyperactivity or excitement
  •    aggressiveness
  •    anxiety
  •    elevated blood pressure
  •    manic behaviour
  •    insomnia
  •    malaise
  •    lack of concentration

Side Effects of the Drug

Khat produces side effects similar to other stimulant drugs such as cocaine and methamphetamine. In rare cases, it can result to psychotic events of grandiose delusions and may lead to paranoia or hallucinations. However physical dependence does not occur in khat abuse but it can generate life-threatening effects on the body.

Some of the side effects from abusing khat include:

  •    mental depression
  •    sedation
  •    social separation or isolation
  •    Elevated Blood Pressure
  •    Hypothermia
  •    Dilated pupils
  •    Arrhythmia
  •    Increased aggression
  •    Mania

When users take khat the effects can last 1 hour up to 3 hours. The stimulant properties of the drug will kick in just after 30 minutes to 40 minutes. Some of the effects include:

  •    Increased energy and alertness
  •    anorexia
  •    extreme talkative
  •    hyperactivity
  •    the feeling of euphoria
  •    suppressed appetite
  •    decreased inhibition

The government banned khat because of the extremely adverse effects it provides such as:

  •    Cardiovascular diseases
  •    Gastrointestinal problems
  •    Migraine
  •    cerebral hemorrhage
  •    Pulmonary edema
  •    Schizophreniform Psychosis
  •    Paranoid Delusions
  •    Grandiose Delusions
  •    Violence
  •    Suicidal depression
  •    Manic behavior

Chewing or ingesting the drug is often associated with:

  •    Duodenal ulcer
  •    Oral cancer
  •    Esophageal
  •    Gastric carcinoma
  •    Upper gastrointestinal tumors
  •    Increased chance of heart attack

Addiction and Khat

Even though khat does not provide any physical dependence, it can build psychological dependence. Users experience extreme depression and need to undergo antidepressant and anti-anxiety drugs to ease severe withdrawal symptoms.

During this stage, health practitioners monitor the user’s heart, breathing and kidney functions. Any abnormalities in these organs’ functions are treated immediately before any further damage can occur. In a few days to a week, the addict can leave detox and enter Khat rehabilitation centers.

Rehab is about managing cravings for the drug and learning to cope with life without getting high. Khat users can accomplish this through group therapy and individual talk therapy sessions with trained mental health workers. The goal also includes getting to the underlying issues behind the addiction in an effort to prevent the need for the drug in the future.

After 60 to 90 days of Khat rehab, the addict can re-enter the world, with a renewed sense of recovery and focus. Addicts continue their recovery using periodic group therapy sessions and scheduled individual sessions. Doctors may prescribe antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications for users after leaving a Khat addiction treatment facility. These medications can help them manage long-term depression at bay.

Users who undergo rehabilitation would often exhibit withdrawal symptoms despite the fact that they can be serious in heavy users.  These withdrawal symptoms are like prolonged low experiences after the extreme high feeling that is given by this stimulant.  

Symptoms include:

  •    extremely vivid nightmares
  •    suicidal thoughts
  •    loss of interest in any activity
  •    sedentary existence
  •    severe depression

If left untreated, these feelings can lead to death, but not from the drug itself. Suicide is the most common cause of death associated with excessive Khat use. Detoxification for khat abuse is still manageable without going to rehabilitation treatment facility.

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