Facts about Khat:

  • Khat (pronounced “cot”) is a stimulant type drug that is widely used socially, in some cultures, and parts of the world.   The drug is not very commonly used yet in the United States.  However, it’s use seems to be growing, as evidenced by increased arrest reports, about people who have been selling the substance in areas of the U.S. where it is not normally seen.
  • The abuse levels are highest cities such as: Boston, Columbus, Dallas, Detroit, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Nashville, New York City, and Washington D.C.  These higher rates of abuse, are attributed to the larger immigrant populations, of people who come from countries where the use of Khat is an acceptable part of their culture (NDIC, 2011).


  • Khat is a stimulant that also creates a euphoric effect similar to, but not as intense, as using methamphetamine or cocaine. It is used by chewing the leaves, and than holding them in the cheek, to absorb the chemicals from the plant.  The Khat plant is more of a shrub and most commonly grows in some parts of Africa and Saudi Arabia (NDIC, 2011).
  • The stimulant chemicals in the leaves are called cathinones and cathines. These chemicals increase the levels of one of the “feel good” chemicals in the brain called dopamine. In addition, the chemicals cause increased levels of a stress related chemical in the body, called norepinephrine, which makes a person feel more awake, alert, and talkative.
  • Because the chemicals cause too much dopamine to be used, when the drug wears off the user is left feeling depressed.  There is not enough natural dopamine left to allow you to feel happy “normally”.  This is the same type of process that occurs when a person uses cocaine.
The little yellow dots in the picture represent dopamine, being released from one nerve cell in the brain, to stimulate another nerve cell in the brain. While using a drug that stimulates dopamine, dopamine builds up in the synapse (gap between the two nerve endings), so there is basically an “overload” of this feel good chemical (dopamine).  After the drug’s effects wear off there is less dopamine available than normal.  With repeated use, sometimes there are fewer receptors, on the damaged nerve cells, for dopamine to attach to.  This makes it hard for a person to feel happy “normally” without the extra stimulation of the drug, leading to addiction.  The person now “needs” the drug (to increase the dopamine level artificially) to feel “normal”.
  • There is also research that indicates the plant can be quite harmful to your health.  First, it is never healthy for your brain, to expose it to a drug’s chemicals that alter the brains neurotransmitters (messengers), such as dopamine.  When you alter the way these chemicals work you are messing with your bodies system that allows you to feel naturals highs (things that would normally make you feel good), such as: hanging out with your friends, playing with your kids, smelling good food, watching a funny movie, and so forth. Without the ability to feel normal pleasures in life, a person can experience feelings of depression, and a feeling that you need to use a chemical substance to be happy.
  • Long term use can also cause exhaustion, loss of appetite, heart problems, tooth decay, and serious problems in your digestive tract.  In addition there can be some disturbing mental health issues.  For example, manic behavior, violence, suicidal thoughts, and paranoid delusions (NDIC, 2011).  Because it is a harmful substance, it is illegal in the United States.  The World Health Organization also labels it as a drug of abuse (Bellum, 2014).
  • Interesting bit of information: One of the main chemicals used in the drug “bath salts” is called methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV) and mimics the cathinones found in the Khat plant.  Cathinones are a type of psychoactive stimulant that can cause psychological addiction. “Bath Salts” are EXTREMELY dangerous! For more information watch the following video:     NEWS VIDEO ABOUT BATH SALTS
  • Cathinones are a Schedule I drug under the Federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA).  Schedule I drugs are considered to have the most dangerous potential.  They are classified by the CSA as having “a high potential for abuse, no currently accepted medical use in the United States, and a lack of accepted safety for use of the drug under medical supervision” (NDIC, 2011).

Resources for Help:

If you are a loved one is struggling with drug addiction.  Please reach out for help.




Bellum, S. (2014). Let’s Talk About Khat. Retrieved from https://teens.drugabuse.gov/blog/post/lets-talk-about-khat on October 19, 2017.

National Drug Intelligence Center [NDIC]. (2011).  Khat Fast Facts.  Retrieved from https://www.justice.gov/archive/ndic/pubs31/31482/ on October 19, 2017.