Khat Is Abused All Over the World, and It’s Coming to America

Even if a mind-altering drug that is popular in other countries has not yet made a significant appearance in the United States, that does not mean Americans should not be informed of its potential dangers. Much of this country’s drug trafficking problem involves drugs being brought into the U.S. from other parts of the world. Drugs that are commonplace in other countries across the globe suddenly become accessible to users in the States just as soon as a demand for them develops.

As discussions about khat and interest in this substance become more frequent in the U.S., individuals, parents, and families should get informed on the substance. Khat is a mind-altering drug that can have harmful effects. It should not be used for any reason.

Khat Defined

Khat effects

But what is khat? A plant native to East Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, khat is a flowering evergreen shrub used for its stimulating and mind-altering effects. Khat is typically chewed, but the plant leaves can also be brewed into a tea, sprinkled on food, or smoked. Common street names for khat include Abyssinian Tea, African Salad, Catha, Chat, Kat, and Oat.

Khat has two active ingredients that contribute to the mind-altering effects of using the drug. These are cathine and cathinone, both chemicals that stimulate the brain and central nervous system.

Side Effects of Experimenting with Khat

As khat makes its way onto the international drug trafficking network, law enforcement organizations worldwide have begun studying the substance and learning more about it. According to the American Drug Enforcement Administration, chewing, smoking, brewing, or consuming the khat plant can have the following effects:

  • Delusions
  • Loss of appetite
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Increases in both blood pressure and heart rate
  • Liver damage
  • Cardiac complications (myocardial infarctions)
  • Violence
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Grandiose delusions
  • Paranoia
  • Nightmares
  • Hallucinations
  • Hyperactivity
  • Immediate increase in blood pressure
  • Spike in heart rate
  • Brown staining of the teeth
  • Insomnia
  • Gastric disorders
  • Physical exhaustion

Khat is a stimulant drug, so the effects are similar to other stimulants like cocaine, crack cocaine, amphetamine, and methamphetamine.

Given the concern surrounding khat, the Drug Enforcement Administration outlawed the chemicals in khat, effectively outlawing the plant itself. Quoting the DEA’s assertion of the drug’s danger and the need to outlaw the substance, “The chemicals found in khat are controlled under the Controlled Substances Act. Cathine is a Schedule IV stimulant, and cathinone is a Schedule I stimulant under the Controlled Substances Act, meaning that it has a high potential for abuse, no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, and a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision.”

Khat Use May Cause Heart Failure

Chest pain

Deaths and life-threatening emergencies related to khat are not well reported on. However, a group of researchers published findings in a 2015 issue of the Oman Medical Journal, indicating that khat abuse puts users at high risk for heart failure. Quoting the findings, “Khat is involved in serious cardiovascular problems among its users, including heart failure, through a mechanism of action on the circulatory system similar to amphetamine and cocaine.” It would seem that when people do die from using khat, it’s likely the result of heart failure.

“Khat is involved in serious cardiovascular problems among its users, including heart failure, through a mechanism of action on the circulatory system similar to amphetamine and cocaine.”

The study authors corroborated the DEA information on khat, drawing a comparison between khat and other dangerous amphetamine drugs. “Recent reports suggest that 20 million people worldwide are regularly using khat as a stimulant, even though the habit of chewing khat is known to cause serious health issues. The main component of khat is cathinone, which is structurally and functionally similar to amphetamine and cocaine. Several studies have demonstrated that khat chewing has unfavorable cardiovascular effects.” For the most part, Americans already understand how harmful cocaine, meth, and amphetamines are. Khat is similar to these substances and should be avoided at all costs.

Khat-Related Deaths

A 2010 study sought to chronicle deaths that could be traced to khat consumption in the United Kingdom. From the study authors, “Deaths associated with khat do occur. Thirteen deaths in the U.K. occurring in 2004–2009 associated with khat consumption are described.” The study described the fatalities and how khat contributed to them, indicating that khat is absolutely a life-threatening drug. If khat became a broadly used substance in the United States, there would almost certainly be an increase in lives lost because of it.

Harar, Ethiopia
Harar, Ethiopia

Countries that Have Serious Problems with Khat

Millions of people across the world use khat. One report suggested that Yemen, Somalia, and Ethiopia are the hardest hit by khat addiction. These countries have a history of including khat in community, religious, and cultural events and ceremonies. Quoting a report on international problems with khat, “The exact number of people worldwide who use Khat is not known but is estimated to be from 5 to 10 million, predominately in Yemen, Somalia and Ethiopia. Khat is widely used in Yemen, even by children. Studies have estimated prevalence to be 80% for males, and 50% for females in the capital Sana’a at age fifteen and above. Between 15–20% of children under age 12 are daily consumers of khat. Those consumers usually spend most of the day buying and chewing Khat, and that is severely affecting working hours and the national income in general, and the family and society in particular.” It does not take a strong imagination to consider what would occur and the damage that would ensue to the youth population of the U.S. if khat became a popular drug in this country.

The Drug Enforcement Administration has already documented several cases of khat misuse cropping up in the United States, mainly in cities such as Boston, Columbus, Dallas, Detroit, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Nashville, New York City, and Washington, D.C.

The Importance of Getting Informed on Khat

Any time a new mind-altering substance crops up, families must move quickly to get accurate data about that substance before misinformation sets in and people (especially young people) start hearing untrue, peer-pressuring suggestions about the new substance.

This is the exact situation with khat right now. The drug has made its first appearance in the United States, and it could be the next big drug of choice of the 2020s. That’s why families, parents, educators, public health officials, and community leaders must do everything they can to get people informed on khat.


Reviewed by Claire Pinelli, ICAADC, CCS, LADC, RAS, MCAP



After working in addiction treatment for several years, Ren now travels the country, studying drug trends and writing about addiction in our society. Ren is focused on using his skill as an author and counselor to promote recovery and effective solutions to the drug crisis. Connect with Ren on LinkedIn.