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What is khat?

What is khat?

                  Khat (Catha edulis) is a flowering shrub native to northeast Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. Individuals chew khat leaves because of the stimulant effects, which are similar to but less intense than those caused by abusing cocaine or methamphetamine.

Khat for sale at market.

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What does khat look like?

When fresh, khat leaves are glossy and crimson-brown in color, resembling withered basil. Khat leaves typically begin to deteriorate 48 hours after being cut from the shrub on which they grow. Deteriorating khat leaves are leathery and turn yellowgreen in color.

How is khat used?

Khat typically is ingested by chewing the leaves as is done with loose tobacco. Dried khat leaves can be brewed in tea or cooked and added to food. After ingesting khat, the user experiences an immediate increase in blood pressure and heart rate. The effects of the drug generally begin to subside between 90 minutes and 3 hours after ingestion; however, they can last up to 24 hours.

What Does Khat Do?

Khat’s effects are similar to those of other stimulants, such as caffeine. People who use khat may become talkative, alert, elated, and experience euphoria. Some people report feeling increased self-esteem. Others describe increased imagination and ideas. Khat is usually chewed, with people typically holding the chewed leaves in their cheek for several hours, chewing periodically. Chewing sessions typically last 3 to 4 hours. When people from these countries migrate to other parts of the world, they often use the social act of chewing khat to maintain a sense of connection to their community. The practice has lead to the development of an international drug trade for khat.

What the Experts Say

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the effects of khat consumption are similar to those of strong coffee.5 Research published in 2011 suggested the effects of khat are seen in the central nervous, cardiovascular, respiratory, endocrine, gastrointestinal, and genitourinary systems.

Other Uses

Khat has no approved or evidence-based medical uses in the United States. In countries where its sale and use are legal, khat is sometimes used to treat fatigue, headaches, colds, and depression.6 People also use khat to experience the effects of euphoria, increased energy, and appetite suppression.

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Plant Description

Khat is a tall, erect, glabrous, slow-growing evergreen shrub or tree that normally grows about 1–5 m (3 ft. 3 in–16 ft. 5 in) tall, bole straight and slender, up to 20 cm in diameter. However, it can reach heights of up to 10 m (33 ft.) in equatorial areas. The plant is found growing in evergreen sub montane or medium altitude forest, commonly near the margins, or in woodland often on rocky hills. It grows in wide range of moderately acid to alkaline soils, from sandy loams to heavy clays, adequately deep and well drained, with high organic matter content in the topsoil. It is not salt tolerant. Bark is thin, smooth and pale grey-green in cultivated plants, rough on large trees. Branches are terete, pale to brownish-grey. Young twigs are usually flattened, dull green to brownish-red.

Traditional uses and benefits of Khat

  • Khat leaves are chewed mainly for their psycho-stimulant and euphoric effects.
  • It has traditionally been used to elevate mood and combat fatigue.
  • Khat is also supposed to have anti-obesity effects due to appetite suppression.
  • Khat leaves have been used in traditional medicine for the treatment of depression and fatigue.
  • Khat is also traditionally supposed to have a role in obesity due to its appetite suppressant effects.
  • It has been used to improve memory and alleviate pain.
  • Khat consists of the alkaloid cathinone, a stimulant, which is said to cause excitement, loss of appetite, and euphoria.
  • Its fresh leaves and tops are chewed or, less frequently, dried and consumed as tea, to achieve a state of euphoria and stimulation.
  • In traditional African and Arabic medicine the leaves and roots of khat are considered a panacea against all sorts of ailments and diseases.
  • It is also used to lower the need for food and sleep, decrease sexual desires, and increase aggression.
  • Khat chewing is an age-old habit in rural areas to alleviate fatigue during fieldwork or to enliven religious and family gatherings.
  • Khat is  used  in indigenous  medical  systems for ailments such as venereal  disease,  asthma  and  other  lung conditions,  colds,  fevers,  coughs  and headaches.
  • It is used to prevent pest and malaria epidemics.
  • It is  beneficial  for  minor ailments such as headaches, colds,  body pains,  fevers,  arthritis,  as  well  as depression.
  • In Ethiopia, khat advocates claim that the plant eases symptoms of diabetes, asthma, and intestinal tract disorders.
  • Processed leaves and roots are used to treat influenza, cough, other respiratory ailments, and gonorrhea.

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Other Facts

  • Freshly harvested khat has traditionally been wrapped in banana leaves to keep it moist during export to neighboring African countries.
  • In Scotland, khat has been blended and filtered to be served as a drink called “Herbal Ecstasy.
  • Wood of large trees is golden-yellow to brown, lustrous, straight grained, fine and even in texture, strong and moderately hard.
  • Wood pulp makes excellent blotting paper.
  • The first harvesting of chewable leaves is usually after the third or fourth year; although it usually requires another 6–7 years for the tree to fully mature.
  • Khat can be purchased in the United States in various ethnic bars, restaurants, grocery stores, and smoke shops.

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