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Last updated : June 26, 2017

What is khat?

Khat is a stimulant drug, which means it speeds up the messages going between the brain and the body. The drug is the leaves and buds of the khat plant (Catha edulis Forsk).1

The leaves may be used fresh or dried.1

Other names

qat, kat or chat

What does it look like?

The leaves and buds of the khat plant. The leafy green shrub that can grow to tree size.

How is it used?

  • Fresh leaves and buds are chewed
  • Dried khat is chewed, taken as tea or smoked1

The chewing of khat leaves is common in some countries of east Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. It has a deep-rooted social and cultural tradition in some Muslim, Somali and Yemeni cultures. In some Muslim countries in which alcohol is prohibited, khat is commonly used in social situations, although it is often condemned on religious grounds.2

Effects of khat

There is no safe level of drug use. Use of any drug always carries some risk. It’s important to be careful when taking any type of drug.

Khat affects everyone differently, based on:

  • Size, weight and health
  • Whether the person is used to taking it
  • Whether other drugs are taken around the same time
  • The amount taken
  • The strength of the drug (varies from batch to batch)

The following effects may be experienced immediately:

  • Fast heartbeat and breathing
  • High temperature and blood pressure
  • Talking more and feeling energetic
  • Reduced appetite3

Long-term effects

Regular use of khat may eventually cause:

  • Worsening of existing mental health problems
  • Sleep problems
  • Impotence
  • Digestive problems, such as constipation
  • Sore, inflamed mouth
  • Mouth cancer
  • Needing to use more to get the same effect
  • Dependence on khat
  • Financial, work and social problems1

Withdrawal

Giving up khat after using it for a long time is challenging because the body has to get used to functioning without it.

It’s not clear whether it’s possible to become dependent on khat, but there is some evidence to suggest that if it’s used heavily, withdrawal symptoms may be experienced for several days after the last time the drug was used. These symptoms may include:

  • Extreme tiredness
  • Difficulty performing normal daily activities
  • Slight trembling4

 

Khat and the law

It is illegal to import khat into Australia for personal use. Khat can only be imported for medical or scientific use. Importing khat without a permit is subject to fines or prosecution. For more information visit the Australian Government’s Department of Health website.

Khat statistics

It is unclear how much khat is used in Australia, however in 1993 it was estimated that 700–1000 people in Melbourne enjoyed khat chewing.

Khat chewing is predominantly a male activity, though women are occasionally involved and, according to some reports, this is increasingly the case in Australia. For example, some women who did not chew khat in their former homeland began to use khat after their arrival in Australia.3

References
  1. Douglas, H., Pedder, M. & Lintzeris, N. (2012). Law enforcement and khat: An analysis of current issues [PDF:481KB].
  2. Basker, G. (2013). A review on hazards of khat chewing [PDF:487KB], International Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, 5 (suppl. 3). 74–77.
  3. Fitzgerald, J. (2009). Khat: a literature review [PDF:886KB].
  4. Cox, G. & Rampes, H. (2003). Adverse effects of khat: a review.

Effects

fast breathing, fast heart rate, feeling energetic, high blood pressure, higher body temperature, reduced appetite, talking more.

AKA

chat, kat, qat.