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Drugs & Health Blog

Let’s Talk About Khat

This blog post is archived and is no longer being updated. For the latest content, please visit the main Drugs & Health Blog page.
Sara Bellum

Never heard of khat (pronounced “cot”)? That’s okay—not many people in the United States use it (its use isn’t measured, so we don’t know the exact numbers). But in some parts of the world, chewing leaves from the khat plant is a social activity, much like meeting a friend for coffee in the United States. However, khat is less like caffeine and more like cocaine.

Although we don’t yet know if khat is addictive, research shows it can be very harmful to your health, which is why it is illegal in this country. It is considered by the World Health Organization to be a drug of abuse. 

How Does Khat Affect the Brain and Body?

Khat is a stimulant drug that comes from a shrub that grows in East Africa and southern Arabia. Like chewing tobacco, leaves of the khat shrub are chewed and held in the cheek to release their chemicals.

Cathinone and cathine are the stimulants in khat that make a person feel high. In the brain, khat increases the level of dopamine, the neurotransmitter which makes you feel good. It also stimulates the release of the stress hormone norepinephrine, which makes you more alert—almost hyper.

In the body, khat can increase blood pressure and heart rate, like other stimulants. Using khat a lot or over a long period of time can cause tooth decay, gum disease, and heart problems. It can also cause problems with your stomach and digestive tract, such as constipation, ulcers, pain, and tumors.

The effects of khat can last 90 minutes to 3 hours. Users may feel depressed and irritable, and have trouble eating and sleeping once it wears off.

Who Uses Khat?

People in Africa and the Arabian Peninsula—and people who have emigrated from those areas elsewhere—are the main users of khat. People in those regions have used khat for centuries as part of their cultural traditions and social interactions, and demand for khat has increased in the United States as people from those areas have moved here.

To learn more, check out DrugFacts: Khat.

Comments posted to the Drugs & Health Blog are from the general public and may contain inaccurate information. They do not represent the views of NIDA or any other federal government entity.


khat is not very harmful for your health, if you'd researched it more you'd know that, it was banned because it's a natural stimulant and only brown people chew it
every one i know has heard/used it
then why is it popular in springfield?
I agree that there are chemicals in khat, that make user experience a depressed mood, irritability, loss of appetite, and difficulty sleeping. In addition to its psychological effects, user can also experience physiological effects, including heart rate or increase in blood pressure.
your website is pretty useless hopeless people
really, only brown people chew it your so racist!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I think Khalid was implying that the U.S. is racist for banning it b/c only middle eastern (brown) people chew it. It was sarcasm.
so technically khat and pot are like the same thing, only used differently?

@CMartinez, no, khat and marijuana are not the same thing.  While it is true that they both consist of stems and leaves from a plant, they are two very different drugs.  Khat is a stimulant drug, which means it can make you feel more alert and energized.  Marijuana has the psychoactive ingredient THC, which makes you feel high.  Both can be harmful to your health.  

If we leave out smoking, how can THC be harmful to your health? When used by adults, I've seen no evidence for brain damage, or long term cognitive impairment. In fact, marijuana can be neuroprotective: [link removed, per comment guidelines] I'm seriously curious.

That's what NIDA is trying to figure out by researching the effects of THC and all other drugs on the brain and body.  The medicial benefits of cannabinoids are beginning to surface, but we're still not sure of the long-term effects of using THC on the brain.  Removing the smoking element might not be enough to remove the harm, much like the nicotine in e-cigarettes may still be harmful to your health even if you don't smoke.  

Why did you remove my link? The link was to a scientific study. Are you trying to suppress evidence that goes against your political agenda?

The link was removed per our comment guidelines.  Scientific studies should originate from sources that are objective, unbiased, peer-reviewed, and scientifically sound.  

While the link was to a norml website-- the site was referring to two studies that were peer reviewed. Here, I'll post both links (just the abstract--since they are in peer-reviewed journals, you need to pay to access the full articles): (this is in pubmed database, from the journal Neurotoxicology and Teratology) This explains how adolescents who binge drink and use marijuana have less damage to the white matter of the brain than adolescents who binge drink w/out using marijuana. J Stud Alcohol Drugs. This study shows that marijuana users suffered little to none of the cognitive impairment associated with alcohol hangovers Clearly the safety profile (not one death by overdose) and the nascent understanding of the myriad cognitive and medical benefits of marijuana should have you embarrassed by your position on this drug. Maybe it's just a race issue? Do you honestly believe this should be a schedule I drug? If you could explain to me how these are not scientifically sound, that would be great.

NIDA does not schedule drugs, that is the role and responsibility of the DEA with input from the FDA.  Our mission is to undertand social and biological underpinnings of drug abuse and addiction in order to better prevent it and treat it.  There is no doubt that we have a long ways to go in fully understanding marijuana’s health effects on the brain and body, but the evidence that we have on the developing brain is solid and we stand by our position that teens use of marijuana is inadvisable.

What link did you remove? was it bad information?
What is harmful about THC? Does it make white women want to sleep with hispanics and african-americans, like Harry Anslinger said? You know what I'm talking about. Don't lie.
deez nuts