Khat, Catha edulis, qat, chat, jaad, and miraa is a flowering plant native to East Africa and the Arabian Pennisula. Khat is a shrub, that grows from 5m to 20m in the wild. It contains several stimulants of interest. Khat contains the alkaloid cathinone, an amphetamine-like stumulant which is said to cause excitement, loss of appetite, and euphoria.

Introduction to Khat

[​IMG]Khat is a plant native to Eastern Africa and the Arabian peninsula. It is chewed and made into a tea by the locals much like we use coffee or tea. It is a stimulant with the alkaloids, Cathinone and Cathine as the main stimulating chemicals. It is grown in many African countries besides Somalia and Yemen. There are about 10 other countries that use it in Africa. Due to meager supplies of food in many African nations khat is used to prevent hunger. However, khat is mainly a cultural plant that induces stimulation and euphoria that has been used for thousands of years.[1]

Using Khat

The use of khat is mainly to stimulate the user. The user chews the leaves of the khat plant releasing its stimulating properties. The chemicals involved in causing stimulation, euphoria and to prevent hunger are cathine and cathinone. They are chemically known as (cathine) (+)-norpseudoephedrine and and (cathinone) (-) alpha-aminopropiophenone respectively.
100g of fresh khat leaves contains approximately 36mg cathinone, 120mg norpseudoephedrine, and 8mg norephedrine. [2]

Ways of administration

Khat's fresh leaves and tops are chewed or, less frequently, dried and consumed as tea, in order to achieve a state of euphoria and stimulation: it also has anorectic side effects. The leaves or soft part of the stem can be chewed with either chewing gum or fried peanuts to make it easier to chew.

Effects of Khat

The effects of khat are similar to and related to many stimulants. Some of the alkaloids that are in khat are: Cathinone, norpseudoephedrine, cathidine, and cathedulin. Cathinone and norpseudoephedrine give one the main stimulant effects of chewing or drinking the tea of khat.[3]

Combinations with Khat

Khat is usually consumed by itself by the local population in East Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. However the gastrointestinal absorption of the antibiotics amoxicillin and ampicillin may be reduced by khat chewing or ingestion, possibly decreasing the effectiveness of the antibiotices. However, taking amoxicillin or ampicillin 2 hours after chewing khat does not appear to affect the bioavailability of the antibiotics.[4]

Pharmacology of Khat

In the last ten years on the clinical and pharmacology of Khat a considerable body of evidence has been gathered. Khat effects are generally agreed to be of amphetamine-like type. In particular, Khat ingestion, like amphetamine ingestion, produces sympathetic activation, anorexia, euphoria, increased intellectual efficiency and alertness. These effects are mainly mediated by phenylalkylamines, such as cathinone and cathine, because the pharmacological actions of these agents and those produced by amphetamine almost overlap. In infra-human species cathinone is an effective positive reinforcer (i.e., it maintains self-administration). The bulk volume of Khat leaves, limits the ingestion of high quantities of the active principles. Accordingly, in habitual consumers Khat dependence is probably mild, because craving and tolerance to the sympathomimetic and neuroendocrine effects of Khat are present, but there is no definite abstinence syndrome.[5]

Chemistry of Khat

[​IMG]There are more than 40 alkaloids, glycosides, tannins, and terpenoids in Khat (Elmi 1983). Two phenylalkylamines, namely, cathine (norpseudoephedrine) and cathinone [S-(-)-alpha-aminopropiophenone] well account for the CNS stimulant effects (Kalix 1988). The S(-) enantiomer occurs naturally, and the R(+) enantiomer is synthetic (Kalix 1992). The structures of these chemicals follow:

Cathinone is not very stable and breaks down to produce cathine and norephedrine. These chemicals belong to the PPA (phenylpropanolamine) family, a subset of the phenethylamines related to amphetamines and epinephrine and norepinephrine.[6]

The dangers of Khat

Withdrawal symptoms that may follow prolonged khat use include lethagy, mild depression, nightmares, and slight tremor. Khat is an effective anorectic (causes loss of appetite). Long-term use can precipitate the following effects: negative impact on liver function, permanent tooth darkening (of a greenish tinge), susceptibility to ulcers, and diminished sex drive. Constipation is perhaps the most common GI symptom of khat use and is caused by the tannins and the sympathomimetic effects of the alkaloids.[7]

Producing/Growing Khat

Khat is indigenous to Eastern North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. Khat is so popular in Yemen that its cultivation consumes much of the country's agricultural resources. It is estimated the 40% of the country's water supply goes toward irrigating it with production increasing by about 10% to 15% every year. It is also estimated that one "daily bag" of khat requires about 500 liters of water to produce. Water consumption is so high that groundwater levels in the Sanaa basin are diminishing; because of this, government officials have proposed relocating large portions of the population of Sana's to the coast of the Red Sea.[8]

It takes nearly seven to eight years for the Khat plant to reach its full height. Other than access to sun and water, Khat requires little maintenance. A good Khat plant can be harvested four times a year.[9]

Forms of Khat

Khat come in one form, in the form of plant matter from the Catha edulis plant. Extracts of Khat would not be considered of form of Khat. However, extracts would mainly be Cathinone and Cathine.

Legal status of Khat

United Nations

In 1965, the World Health Organization Expert Committee on Dependence-producing Drugs' Fourteenth Report noted, "The Committee was pleased to note the resolution of the Economic and Social Council with respect to khat, confirming the view that the substance is a regional problem and may best be controlled at that level". In 1980 the World Health Organization classified khat as a drug of abuse that can produce mild to moderate psychological dependence.


In the United States, cathine is a Schedule IV controlled substance and cathinone is a Schedule I drug. The 1993 DEA rule placing cathinone in Schedule I noted that it was effectively also banning khat.


In Denmark, Finland, Germany, Netherlands, Norway, and Poland it is classified as a narcotic drug and is illegal to use. Penalties differ from country to country.

Other Countries

Somalia: On November 17, 2006 the usage and distribution of khat was made illegal in Somalia, however with the Provisional Government backed Ethiopian forces in the end of December 2006, khat has returned to the streets of Mogadishu.

Israel: The plant itself, not any extract of, is allowed to chew and sell as no harm was found in normal quantities. In 2012, Khat Juice sold in convenience stores gained massive popularity as a legal stimulant and appetite suppressant. It was eventually made illegal to sell in August that year, though it is still sold in some places.

Saudi Arabia: Khat is forbidden. The Qur'an forbids anything that is harmful to the body.

United Kingdom: Khat is legal in the UK. Khat has a short shelf life, Britain serves as a main gateway for khat being sent by air to North America.

Canada: Punishment for the possession of khat could lead to a maximum sentence of three years in prison. Trafficking in khat can be as high as 10 years.

Australia: In Australia the legality depends on the province one lives in. In Queensland khat is listed as a Schedule 2 dangerous drug. Legality elsewhere, like NSW, is not clear.[10]

History of Khat

Khat appears to have originated in Ethiopia. It spread early on to Somalia, Djibouti, Eritea, and the Arabian Peninsula. It is also grown in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, the Congo, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Zambia and South Africa.

The ancient Egyptians considered the khat plant a "divine food" wich was capable of releasing humanity's divinity. The Egyptians used the plant for more than its stimulating effects; they used it as a metamorphic process and transcended into "apotheosis", intending to make the user god-like.

The earliest known documented description of khat is found in the Kitab al-Saidala fi, an 11th century work on pharmacy and materia medica written by Abu Rayhan al-Biruni, a Persian scientist and biologist.[11]

Popularity of Khat over time

KhatCatha edulis


[1] Randall T. Khat Abuse Fuels Somali Conflict, Drains Economy. JAMA. 1992;269L12-15
[2] Kalix P. Catha edulis , a plant that has amphetamine effects. Pharm World Sci . 1996;18:69-73
[3] The Merck Index, 13th Edition, 2001;5326:950
[4] Attef OA, Ali AA, Ali HM. Effect of khat chewing on the bioavailability af ampicillin and amoxycillin J Antimicrob Chemother . 1997;39:523-525
[5] Jager AD, Sireling L. Natural History of khat psychosis. Aust NZ J Psychiatry . 1994;28:331-332
[6] Kalix P. Cathinone, a natural amphetamine. Pharmacol Toxicol . 1992;70;77-86
[7] Cats A, Scholten P, Meuwissen SG, Kuipers EJ. Acute Fasciola hepatica infection attributed to chewing khat. Gut . 2000;47:584-585
[9] (Under Growing)
[10] (Under Regulations)

Categories: Beta-Ketones, Cathinones, Stimulants

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