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Khat is a plant that contains the alkaloid cathinone that when consumed has stimulant properties, with effects similar to speed. The fresh green leaves are usually chewed and kept in a pocket in the user's cheek, much like chewing tobacco, although the leaves can be dried, smoked, brewed in tea or added to food. When consumed, Khat produces a sense of euphoria, alertness, suppressed appetite, a calming effect and a sense of social stimulation where users may become more outgoing and talkative. It has been used for many years among individuals in many parts of Africa and the Arabian peninsula, but just recently made its way to Europe and the U.S. where it is used recreationally. Khat is currently a controlled substance in the U.S., U.K., Canada and Germany but it continues to be produced, sold and consumed legally in many areas of the world including many parts of Africa.
There are side effects and complications associated with use of Khat, and regular use may cause insomnia, eating disorders, irritability, acute mental health disorders including anxiety and depression, and can exacerbate pre-existing mental health disorders. The anxiety and depression that some users experience may be the result of psychological dependence which can develop after long-term use of Khat. Someone who has been using Khat regularly and stops suddenly will likely experience symptoms of depression, feel lethargic and may even experience tremors and nightmares while withdrawing from it. Because Khat does have stimulant properties, it may also cause elevated blood pressure and heart problems including heart palpitations. There is also some evidence that Khat may be associated with mouth cancer, particularly among long-term users. It can cause inflammation in the mouth and tooth decay. There are some reports of Khat users experiencing hallucinations, paranoia, delusional episodes and Khat-induced psychosis.
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