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Article Summary

A Guide To Khat Addiction

Khat is a commonly abused stimulant used as an alternative to most recreational stimulants because of its relatively low cost and potency. Various organizations and agencies around the globe monitor its use, effects, and addiction, and most have identified khat as an illegal substance because it causes negative effects.

Today, most of these agencies have been trying to educate the general public about the effects arising from short and long term exposure to this substance. However, the practice/habit of chewing the drug is deeply embedded in many Arabian and African cultures.

Mayo Clinic reports that close to 90% of the entire male population in Yemen abuses khat. The situation is similar in other countries where the drug is widely available. As such, there is a deep concern for those communities in which the use of the drug has been normalized due to its prevalence, availability, and affordability.

Read on to learn more about this drug:

Understanding Khat

Khat is a stimulant created from the leaves of the indigenous Catha edulis shrub. The drug has been used in certain African and Middle Eastern cultures for centuries but found its way to the United States recently.

According to DrugFree.org, many people confuse methcathinone with khat. Otherwise referred to as cat, methcathinone is different from the latter. It is a synthetic drug with similar effects but more potent than khat.

The DEA (Drug Enforcement Authority) has classified the chemicals found in this drug as a Schedule IV stimulant according to the Controlled Substances Act. Among these chemicals is cathine. On the other hand, the cathinone chemical is classified under the same Act as a Schedule I stimulant. This means that it comes with a high potential for tolerance, dependence, abuse, and addiction.

As such, khat (or its resultant chemicals cathine and cathinone) has no medical use in the United States. There is also an inherent lack of accepted safety for medical or recreational use even under medical supervision.

In the US, as elsewhere on the globe, abusers and addicts chew the stems and leaves of the plant. Such use is so widespread that the NIDA (National Institute on Drug Abuse) estimates the number of users in the world at close to 10 million.

However, not every user is an addict. Still, khat is one of the most addictive of drugs and most people require medical assistance and addiction treatment to quit using it. The drug is also known by various street names, including:

  • Abyssinian Tea
  • African Salad
  • Bushman's Tea
  • Chat
  • Kat
  • Oat
  • Qat
  • Tohai

Khat Uses

Traditionally, khat was used for medical purposes in different countries like Ethiopia, Yemen, and Somalia for the treatment of stomach ulcers, fatigue, and depression. It is also used to enhance performance, and lower the need for sleep and appetite.

The drug additionally comes with military and civilian use because it is commonly associated with increased aggression. As such, it is believed to have been one of the factors that fueled the Somali civil war.

In other cultures, the drug has an elaborate history of use in religious and social practices. Most people chew khat in its natural form, after which it releases the stimulant chemicals embedded in the leaves and stems.

The drug is also used in all manners of ingestion where you do not have to apply intense direct heat to it. The Journal of Ethnopharmacology reports that users chew the tips of the stems to achieve the desired stimulating effects.

However, others might slowly dry the leaves and use the resulting chemical in drinks and food. Some have even managed to extract the drug from its plant taking care not to apply intense heat directly to the khat, which would only destroy the drug. As a result, most people prefer chewing or eating the leaves.

The primary stimulants in khat include cathine and cathinone, chemicals that work in the same way as amphetamines. As such, the drug will stimulate the CNS (central nervous system) and create similar risks and effects. These include a sense of euphoria, increased energy, and a false sense of happiness and well-being.

The drug might also lead to hallucinations and paranoia. It also comes with an increased risk of and potential for addiction much in the same way as methamphetamine and cocaine.

Khat Effects

Addiction to khat tends to take hold pretty fast. In many cases, addicts might feel energized and invincible after their first instance of use. These feelings are accompanied by a sense of euphoria that may keep you coming back to the drug for more of the same effects.

However, khat is similar to other stimulants in the sense that continued use causes tolerance, dependency, and addiction. Over time, the drug might produce:

  • Aggressiveness
  • Anorexia
  • Anxiety
  • Decayed and worn teeth
  • Elation
  • Euphoria
  • Feelings of happiness and well-being
  • Hallucinations
  • Heart attacks
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Increased breathing rate
  • Increased heart rate
  • Increased mental arousal and alertness
  • Infertility in men
  • Insomnia
  • Kidney damage
  • Lack of concentration
  • Loss of energy
  • Loss of motivation
  • Malnutrition and dehydration from not eating
  • Manic behaviour
  • Paranoia
  • Psychosis
  • Seizures
  • Severe depression
  • Stomach ulcers
  • Suppression of appetite

Khat Side Effects

Repeated khat use affects the body negatively. Most of these effects last for anywhere between 1 and 3 hours while it takes half a hour before you feel the stimulating effects of the drug.

Other side effects arising from long-term or heavy use of the drug include:

  • Anorexia
  • Anxiety
  • Cardiovascular disorders, such as myocardial infarction and irregular heartbeat
  • Euphoria
  • False pride
  • Gastrointestinal disorders like stomach inflammation and ulcers
  • Increased alertness
  • Insomnia
  • Irritability
  • Periodontal disease
  • Serious liver damage
  • Suppressed appetite
  • Talkativeness
  • Tooth decay
  • Worsening pre-existing psychiatric conditions

Abusing the drug chronically may result in severe mental impairment and behavioral changes, such as parodied delusions, schizophrenic psychosis, and suicidal depression.

Khat Addictive Qualities

Most of the people who start using khat are attracted to it because it is a plant. As such, they assume that it is not as addictive or as dangerous as most of the other drugs available on the open market or on the street.

However, these users fail to understand that the drug is a stimulant that works in much the same way as meth or cocaine. As a direct result, khat is quite as addictive as these two drugs.

If you start using khat and continue doing so for a while, you may end up having a difficult time trying to stop. With time, you can get addicted and start needing the drug for your body to function normally.

Without khat, your body is likely to go into withdrawal mode. Since the drug is limited in the country, if you get to this point, you may eventually start abusing other dangerous stimulants to achieve the same effects.

At this point, the drug addiction will start taking you to environments and situations you never imagined you'd find yourself in. This is because the cathine and cathinone stimulant chemicals are quite illegal in the United States.

If you experience any of the following signs, it is highly likely that you have become addicted to khat:

  • Aggression
  • Alertness
  • Energy increase
  • Fever
  • Insomnia
  • Loss of appetite
  • Paranoia

Most of these signs will start passing over close to a hour and a half after you chew or drink the stems or leaves. However, the high will linger for another 3 to 24 hours, although this will depend on the intensity of your addiction and the potency of the drug.

Khat Overdose

Although no overdoses have been reported following khat use and abuse, doctors believe that there's a risk of overdose because the drug is a stimulant. If you, for instance, overdose on stimulants like methamphetamine or cocaine, you might experience the following symptoms:

  • Agitation
  • Altered mental status
  • Chest pains
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Dilated pupils
  • Heart attack
  • High blood pressure
  • High body temperature
  • Kidney failure
  • Paranoia
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Stomach pain
  • Stroke

As such, doctors believe that if you overdose on the drug, you are likely to experience these same symptoms. The best way to prevent this from happening is to stop using khat. Sign up for rehab and detox and get the drug out of your system before rejoining society as a sober citizen.

At the moment, the dose required to constitute a khat overdose remains unknown. However, the drug is commonly associated with the following additional symptoms of overdose and toxicity:

  • Cardiac complications, such as myocardial infarctions
  • Delusions
  • Difficulty breathing
  • High blood pressure
  • Increases in heart rate
  • Liver damage (referred to as chemical hepatitis)
  • Loss of appetite

Khat Withdrawal

Most users are likely to overlook the symptoms arising from trying to withdraw from khat use. In heavy users, these symptoms tend to be quite serious. In many cases, you might experience a prolonged crash after the high from the stimulant wears off. You will also suffer the following withdrawal symptoms:

  • Anxiety
  • Brief hallucinations
  • Depression
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Emotional upheavals
  • Extremely vivid nightmares
  • Inability to focus
  • Irritability
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Loss of interest or enthusiasm in physical activity
  • Nightmares
  • Sedentary existence
  • Severe depression
  • Shakiness
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Tension

Khat Dangers

After a couple of weeks of repeated use, you might try quitting khat only to find that you are unable to continue functioning normally without it. At this point, you would have developed physical dependence on the drug.

When dependence developed into full-blown addiction, the dangers of khat abuse will start becoming apparent to you. With time, you might even require medical assistance to quit the drug.

Although khat is widely viewed as a safe and natural substance, it might end up proving more dangerous to your physical and psychological well-being than you imagined. In many cases, you might suffer the following risks:

  • Agitation
  • Appetite suppression
  • Cardiovascular problems
  • Depression
  • Disrupted sleep
  • GI (gastrointestinal) disorders
  • Hallucinations
  • Hemorrhoids
  • Hyperactivity
  • Impaired sexual function
  • Liver toxicity arising from excessive use
  • Malnutrition
  • Nervous tendencies
  • Nightmares
  • Oral cancer
  • Oral tissue inflammation (similar to meth mouth)
  • Paranoia
  • Periods of insomnia
  • Severe restlessness
  • Talkativeness
  • Tremors or bodily shaking
  • Worsening of any pre-existing psychological and mental health problems

In the long term, khat may also lead to suicidal depression. When this happens, you might have a hard time trying to get your life back because you would be fighting both addiction and depression.

Similarly, those who are already predisposed to poor mental health and psychiatric problems (particular schizophrenia and psychosis) are highly likely to induce more of these problems with continued khat abuse.

Signs And Symptoms Of Khat Abuse

Most people start abusing khat with a view to enhance their alertness and performance. In many cases, they won't know how dangerous the drug is or that it is addictive. At some point, the following signs and symptoms of abuse will start making themselves manifest:

1. Physical Symptoms
  • Cancer
  • Constipation
  • Decreased appetite
  • Dental problems
  • Heart arrhythmia
  • Hyperactivity
  • Inability to sleep
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Increased heart rate
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of inhibition
  • Loss of sex drive
  • Low appetite
  • Physical arousal
2. Psychological Symptoms
  • Euphoria
  • Improved concentration
  • Increased confidence
  • Mental stimulation
  • Surges in cognitive ability
3. Behavioral Symptoms
  • Absenteeism from school, work, or at home
  • Changing friends and acquaintances and replacing them with those who abuse the drug
  • Decreased academic or work performance
  • Facing academic probation
  • Maintaining lower GPA
  • Relationship problems due to the aggressive tendencies arising from khat use
  • Smoking tobacco cigarettes
  • Spending more time, energy, and money looking for and abusing khat
  • Stealing or borrowing money to get the drug
  • Using the drug recreationally on a daily basis

Treatment For Khat Addiction

Depending on how severe your addiction is, khat rehab might be better achieved by checking into an inpatient facility. Of course, you also have the option of going for outpatient treatment, although this is not always guaranteed to work quite as effectively as inpatient rehabilitation because the latter allows for round-the-clock medical monitoring and care.

Inclusive treatment will support you through medically observed and assisted detoxification before you proceed to therapeutic rehabilitation. The latter might comprise therapy and counseling sessions, as well as relapse prevention and recovery meetings.

In some cases, you might undergo cognitive behavioral therapy, contingency management, one-on-one therapy, as well as family and group therapy. These forms of therapy are effective because you may get the opportunity to work through your problems until you eventually overcome your addiction to khat.

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