What Is Khat?

Have you ever heard of khat? If not, we’ll fill you in.
What Is Khat?
CBS Chicago

Khat is a leafy green flowering plant originally cultivated in East Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. There, the fresh leaves of the plant are chewed or dried and made into a tea for medicinal and recreational purposes. The World Health Organization (WHO) listed the herb as a drug of abuse in 1980. Since then, khat started to become banned in countries across the world.

What Is Khat?

At the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, chewing Khat predates the use of coffee. Socially, their uses are similar. When chewed, the leaves act as a stimulant due to the cathinone content. Cathinone is an alkaloid with effects that have been compared to amphetamines.

There are few health effects that users may find beneficial. However, not all of the effects are positive. The plant comes with a set of effects and risks.


The main observed effect is mild euphoria and excitement similar to what you would expect from a cup of coffee. Socially it is used in similar ways.

Khat can also be helpful with obesity, depression, fatigue, stomach ulcers and more.


The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs said liver toxicity and dependency were possible from the excessive use of Khat. Constipation is another possible side effect.

With excessive use, the energetic effects can turn into insomnia or constantly disrupted sleep. Regularly chewing the leaf can apparently make pre-existing mental health problems worse as well.

Other risks include high blood pressure, heart palpitations and other heart issues.

Long-term use can lead to gingivitis, loose teeth and an increased chance of esophageal cancer.

California’s list of scheduled substances groups raw opium, morphine and coca leaves together with cathinone.

In 1993, the DEA added cathinone to the Controlled Substances Act making Khat federally illegal in the United States. The ban extends to most parts of North America and Europe.

Final Hit: What Is Khat?

Khat is an herbal stimulant that is no longer available in most countries due to the risks involved. While chewing it once served as a potential alternative to coffee-drinking, the legal status has reserved its use to North East Africa and the Arabian Peninsula where it originates.

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