Khat 101: What You Should Know

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Khat is the common name for cathinone, a stimulant drug that comes from a flowering evergreen shrub named Catha edulis. It’s a tall, flowering plant, reaching six to 10 feet tall, that’s grown in east Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, with a specifically large amount grown in Kenya, Yemen, and Ethiopia. The plant thrives in high elevation and the twigs, branches, and leaves can be harvested year round.

What’s Khat Like?

People use khat for its stimulant effect and the euphoric feelings it creates. It also suppresses the appetite, and in many places, people use it to help ration the limited food available and to dull hunger pains. A methcathinone, khat acts like a mild amphetamine, keeping a person up, focused, and moving.

The plant parts themselves taste sweet when placed between the cheek and teeth where users chew them, and swallow the liquid, creating a mild high that lasts, on average, between 90 minutes and three hours.

While it is typically used fresh—the plant pieces begin to lose their potency within 48 hours—it is sometimes cool dried and used to make tea or a chewable paste. Rarely, it is used by sprinkling it on food like an herb or smoking the dried leaves. In this dried form, it is often referred to as Graba.

Is Khat Illegal?

While khat is not illegal in many places, both the leaves and the plant are prohibited in the US, France, Switzerland, and Sweden. In east Africa, it’s one of the most common drugs and has been used recreationally by the indigenous people since the 13th century. Even so, overuse and addiction run rampant.

Many who use it, do so daily, and while the there is no risk of overdose due to toxic levels not being able to be reached through chewing the plant, it has been known to cause family and financial problems.

The Physical Effects of Khat

Like other stimulants, khat wakes you up and gets you moving. While it is stronger than coffee, its effects are similar to cocaine and methamphetamine, but not as severe. Here are some of the side effects people can expect after taking khat.

  • Increased alertness
  • Focus
  • Suppressed hunger
  • Aggressiveness
  • Anxiety
  • Talkativeness
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Manic behaviors
  • Paranoia
  • Psychosis
  • Gastric disorders
  • Liver damage
  • Heart attack

In long term users, behavioral changes and mental health agitation are often seen.

After the high of khat has worn off, it’s typically followed by a rebound effect which includes a depressive phase, including insomnia, numbness, and a lack of concentration.