Understanding Khat Abuse

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Khat, a leafy green plant, contains two stimulant substances that accelerate mental and physical activity. These effects are like those induced by amphetamines, although less intense.

Khat is predominantly consumed in North East Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, and by communities from these areas living abroad.

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What Is Khat?

Khat is a type of stimulant drug that quickens communication between the brain and the body. It’s a traditional part of social customs in certain Middle Eastern areas like Saudi Arabia and Yemen, as well as in East African regions such as Somalia.

People chew the buds and leaves of the khat plant (Catha edulis) for their stimulating and mood-enhancing effects. Historically, khat has been used for both medicinal and recreational purposes. The plant contains cathinone and cathine, which are responsible for its stimulant properties.

Typically, 100 to 300 grams of fresh khat leaves are chewed to create a lump (known as a quid) which is then placed against one side of the cheek. The juice is swallowed over the course of a khat session, which usually lasts between 3 to 4 hours.

Effects of Khat Abuse

Abusing khat can lead to various physical and psychological effects. Physically, khat effects may include an increase in heart rate and blood pressure, potentially triggering cardiovascular issues. Some people may also experience insomnia and appetite loss, leading to weight loss and malnutrition. In some cases, excessive chewing can result in dental problems and gastrointestinal issues.

Psychologically, side effects of khat abuse may include mood swings, irritability, and aggressive behavior. Long-term use can increase the risk of developing mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and in some cases, psychotic reactions characterized by delusions or hallucinations. Dependence on khat can also develop, where people feel unable to function normally without it, leading to a cycle of continued use and potential withdrawal symptoms when not using the drug.

image of man representing khat addiction symptoms

Khat Abuse Symptoms

Symptoms of khat abuse can be categorized into behavioral and physical signs:

Behavioral khat addiction symptoms include:

  • Increased energy and alertness: People often experience heightened levels of energy and may appear unusually alert.
  • Excessive talking: A common symptom of khat abuse is a noticeable increase in talkativeness.
  • Aggressive behavior: Some people using this substance may show signs of irritability or aggression.
  • Pattern of regular use: Habitual use of khat, often with periods of restlessness or irritability between uses, indicates abusive patterns of consumption.

Physical khat addiction symptoms include:

  • Dilated pupils: A visible sign of use can be the dilation of pupils.
  • Dry mouth: People may frequently complain of or show signs of having a dry mouth.
  • Increased heart rate: A noticeable increase in heart rate is commonplace among those addicted to khat.
  • Weight loss and insomnia: Prolonged use can lead to a decrease in appetite, weight loss, and difficulty sleeping.
  • Dental issues: Regular chewing of khat can lead to dental problems like gum disease and tooth decay.
  • Potential liver damage: Chronic use may result in symptoms indicating liver damage.
  • Cardiovascular issues: Long-term abuse can affect heart health, leading to various cardiovascular problems.
  • Gastrointestinal problems: Some people may experience digestive issues as a consequence of regular khat use.

Symptoms can vary widely from person to person and the presence of these signs alone isn’t definitive proof of khat abuse. A healthcare professional should be consulted for accurate diagnosis and advice. How to treat khat addiction, then?

Khat Addiction Treatment

Treatment for khat addiction typically involves a comprehensive approach that addresses both physical dependence and psychological aspects.

The first step in treating khat addiction often involves a medically supervised detox process. This helps manage khat withdrawal symptoms, which can include fatigue, mild depression, nightmares, and irritability.

CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) is particularly effective in helping people understand and change the thought patterns and behaviors associated with khat use. Motivational interviewing can also be used to enhance motivation towards recovery and change.

Participation in support groups like NA (Narcotics Anonymous) or other peer support programs can provide communal support and shared experiences that aid in recovery.

Involving family members in the treatment process can improve outcomes. Family therapy helps address any systemic issues and improves the support network for the individual in recovery.

It’s essential to treat any underlying mental health conditions, such as depression or anxiety, that may be contributing to the addiction. Coordinated treatment leads to superior outcomes.

Encouraging healthy lifestyle changes, including regular exercise, a balanced diet, and stress management techniques, can be beneficial for those recovering from khat addiction.

Developing new, healthy coping strategies will streamline long-term recovery. Relapse prevention and ongoing aftercare should help people remain abstinent from khat long-term. Here’s how you can connect with compassionate and effective treatment in California.

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Get Treatment for Drug Addiction at California Detox

If you or someone that you care about needs help addressing drug addiction in California, we can help you at California Detox in Laguna Beach, CA.

Most people tackling any kind of addiction find that supervised detoxification provides the smoothest pathway to ongoing recovery. You can gradually stop using khat rather than abruptly discontinuing use, and you can also access clinical care and medications during the detox process.

When you move into ongoing inpatient treatment, you will engage with a personalized blend of the following treatments:

Start moving beyond khat abuse by calling 949.694.8305.


Khat addiction, also known as cathinone dependence, is a condition where individuals develop a psychological and sometimes physical dependence on khat, a stimulant drug derived from the Catha edulis plant.
Signs of khat addiction include increased alertness, hyperactivity, euphoria, loss of appetite, and insomnia. Long-term use can lead to physical health issues like dental problems and digestive issues, as well as psychological problems such as anxiety and hallucinations.


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