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Navigation: Khat Overview, Khat Use around the World, Khat Addiction, Khat Withdrawal

Khat is a plant that is primarily grown in East Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. It is considered a normal social lubricant in some parts of the world, as it has stimulant effects when chewed. However, khat is an addictive and dangerous substance that can cause delusions, anorexia, and even heart attack.

In order to avoid its abuse, the first step is learning more about its various effects. Here we take a closer look at khat: its abuse, withdrawal symptoms, and effects of addiction.

Khat Overview

Khat users chew the plant to experience stimulant effects. Unfortunately, it also has unpleasant side effects. The plant’s scientific name is Catha edulis. The name “khat”—which is pronounced “cot”—actually refers to the leaves and shoots of the plant.

It has been used as a recreational drug by indigenous people of the Arabian Peninsula, East Africa, and the Middle East since the 13th century. To this day, people chew fresh khat to release its stimulant effects. It is typically kept in the cheek and chewed intermittently to extract the juices and release more of its effects.

Khat can also be brewed as a tea or made into a chewable paste. It can also be smoked or sprinkled onto food as powder. It is worth noting that people who are addicted to khat prefer fresh leaves because the plant quickly loses its potency within 48 hours of cutting the plant.

Khat’s primary psychoactive ingredients are Cathinone (keto-amphetamine) and Cathine (d-norpseudophedrine). Both of these chemical compounds have structural similarities to amphetamine. In the US, Cathinone is a Schedule I controlled substance, meaning it has no accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. It is in the same category as heroin, ecstasy, and LSD.

On the other hand, Cathine is a Schedule IV controlled substance, since it has medical benefits and a low potential for abuse and dependence. Still it poses moderate risks for dependence. Just like Cathinone, Cathine belongs to the amphetamine class of drugs. It produces stimulant effects but with less potency. The Schedule IV classification includes Xanax, Valium, Ambien, and Tramadol.

Khat is illegal in the United States. However, it is legal in parts of Europe, East Africa, and the Arabian Peninsula.

Khat Use around the World

Many people compare khat to coffee because of their similar stimulant effects. It can provide energy, help people stay awake at work, and induce euphoria.

Khat is also used as a social tonic in many cultures around the world. In Ethiopia for example, men gather to talk about life while chewing on khat leaves. Khat takes the place of alcohol in many social interactions.

Khat users in East Africa and the Arabian Peninsula say that the plant is part of their tradition. In fact its popularity stimulates the economy and acts as a lucrative cash crop in Yemen and Somalia.

About 10 million people around the world chew khat, and the growth of this plant generates hundreds of millions of dollars each year. The city of Awaday in Ethiopia is home to the world’s biggest market of khat. The market operates 24 hours a day and employs men and women who cut, clean, package, transport, and sell the branches. It makes an estimated $80 million in one night alone. And because the plant loses potency within 48 hours, there is a rush to get it to its customers.

Khat Addiction

Despite the fact that chewing khat is a tradition for many cultures around the globe, the consequences of doing so should not be ignored. People with an addiction to khat can suffer from a long list of adverse health effects. They may not even realize how dangerous the plant is to the mind and body.

Because the plant has been emerging more often in American culture in recent years, officials had to outlaw it. Still, khat addiction is prevalent in the US, especially among immigrants from Ethiopian, Somali, and Yemeni cultures.

The National Drug Intelligence Center states that use of the plant is highest in cities with those immigrant populations such as Boston, Columbus, Dallas, Detroit, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Nashville, New York City, and Washington, D.C. In 2019, Minneapolis police seized over 500 pounds of freeze-dried khat.

Common street names for khat include Abbysinian tea, African salad, Cat, Catha, Chat, Gat, Jaad, Jat, Kat, Miraa, Mairungi, Oat, Qat, Qaad, Tohai, and Tschat.

Despite its frequent comparison to coffee, khat is actually more similar with the drug cocaine. Once consumed, users feel increased alertness, energy, and euphoria. They become more talkative and excited, with a sudden decrease in appetite. Their heart and breathing rates are increased, while their body temperature and blood pressure are elevated.

Users also report feeling less fatigued and more sociable. Common short term effects of khat include constipation, irritability, insomnia, mania, breathing difficulties, and increased motor activity.

Addiction eventually develops  when a user becomes psychologically dependent on the plant. They may experience withdrawal whenever they try to quit taking the drug. They will crave for it and relapse.

Addiction is characterized by repeated attempts at quitting the drug and subsequently failing each time. The person will also keep taking khat even when they are already suffering from its physical and mental health effects. They will prioritize the drug over everything else, neglecting their responsibilities and losing interest in activities they used to enjoy.

Studies indicate that khat can induce dependence that is similar to that which amphetamine users experience.

Long term abuse of khat can lead to mental health impairment and behavioral changes. For example, high doses of khat combined with a lack of sleep can cause paranoia, violence, schizophrenia, and psychosis. Some users even hallucinate due to the high accumulation of dopamine in the brain.

Long term effects are potentially life threatening.  Khat addiction can lead to heart disease, liver damage, hypertension, gastric disorders, and an increased risk of cancer of the mouth. Chewing khat can have negative effects on a person’s oral health like severe staining of the teeth, and in some cases, gingival recession and bleeding.

Khat Withdrawal

According to a study conducted in 2017, the most common khat withdrawal symptoms are fatigue, depression, irritability, increased appetite, cravings, nightmares, insomnia, excessive sweating, and tremors. A lot of these symptoms are similar to the withdrawal symptoms of cocaine.

Withdrawal from khat generally lasts between 24 to 48 hours. The good news is that withdrawal from khat is not life-threatening. However, people with pre-existing medical issues may suffer from more severe adverse effects and should seek proper medical attention.

If someone in the family is struggling with drug or alcohol addiction, it is important to seek help. A combination of medical detox and behavioral therapy can go a long way in the fight against substance abuse. But because every individual is affected by addiction differently, a comprehensive program tailored to their specific needs is necessary. Look for a nearby addiction treatment facility today and find out how drug treatment programs work.

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Fel Clinical Director of Content
Felisa Laboro has been working with addiction and substance abuse businesses since early 2014. She has authored and published over 1,000 articles in the space. As a result of her work, over 1,500 people have been able to find treatment. She is passionate about helping people break free from alcohol or drug addiction and living a healthy life.

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