Khat is a stimulant derived from a shrub that is native to East Africa and southern Arabia. When used as a drug, the leaves and buds of a khat plant are chewed in a fashion similar to chewing tobacco. Khat is typically chewed for 3 to 4 hours at a time, and the stimulant effects begin to appear around the first hour of chewing. Khat users can also smoke the drug or mix the drug into teas or other infusions.
Khat use is well-established in the Arabian Peninsula and many countries in eastern Africa. The drug is embedded in the Muslim, Somali and Yemeni cultures and has emigrated into the evolving multi-cultural American society. Khat is commonly used as a social tool similar to alcohol, especially in Muslim communities that prohibit the use of alcohol.
What Are the Effects and Risks of Using Khat?
As a stimulant, khat increases one’s energy and mood levels. The drug produces effects of euphoria while making people more alert, energized, and talkative, which is why the drug is used in social situations. The effects of khat are described as being similar to caffeine. Users express an increased ability to generate imaginative and creative thoughts, improved communication, and elevated self-esteem while on khat. Khat is considered a low-risk drug, but it has the potential for a variety of short-term and long-term health effects.
Typical short-term effects of khat include the following:
- Increased heart rate, respiratory rate, blood pressure, and body temperature
- Suppressed appetite
- Reduced inhibitions
- Increased attention, alertness, excitement, and energy
Long-term risks of khat use include the following:
- Dental diseases
- Oral cancers
- Heart complications
- Liver disease
- Sleep difficulties
- Gastrointestinal complications
- Chronic constipation
- Increased risk for psychological problems, including psychosis, depression, irregular mood swings, violence, and aggressive behavior
- Social, relationship, financial and legal problems
- Tolerance and increased risk for dependence
The risks of khat can be contributed to the drug itself, as well as the effects of smoking or consuming high-caffeinated substances or ingesting toxic pesticides found on the plant.
Is Khat Addictive?
The addictive potential of khat is still under review, but there is evidence that long-term use of khat can cause users to develop a tolerance and dependence on the drug. Long-term khat users can experience symptoms of withdrawal when they stop using khat, which is known as chemical dependence or physical addiction. Khat-dependent individuals may experience withdrawal symptoms, such as intense lack of energy, fatigue, tiredness, trembling, shaking, depression, anxiety, irritation, and psychosis, when they cease use.
Is Khat Use Legal?
Khat use is legal in many countries, including countries in native Africa, the United Kingdom, and Australia. However, the active ingredient in khat (cathinone) is considered a Schedule I controlled substance in both the United States and Canada, so khat use is illegal in both countries.