Khat factsKhat leaves in bowl. © Australian Drug Foundation 2010.

What is khat?

Effects of khat

Tolerance and dependence

Getting help

Khat use in Australia

What is khat?

Khat (Catha edulis Forsk, Celastraceae family) is a stimulant. Stimulant drugs speed up the messages going between the brain and the body.

Other names

qat, kat, 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?

The fresh leaves and buds of the khat plant are chewed for their energising and stimulant effects. Dried khat is commonly chewed and it can also be taken as a tea or smoked.

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.

Effects of khat

The effects of any drug, including khat, vary from person to person. How khat affects a person depends on many things including their size, weight and health, also whether the person is used to taking it and whether other drugs are taken around the same time. The effects of any drug also depend on the amount taken.

There is no safe level of drug use. Use of any drug always carries some risk—even medications can produce unwanted side effects. It is important to be careful when taking any type of drug.

Immediate effects

  • increased heart rate, breathing rate, body temperature and blood pressure
  • increased alertness, excitement and energy
  • talkativeness
  • decreased appetite.

Long-term effects

  • increase in severity of psychological problems
  • difficulty sleeping
  • impotence
  • gastrointestinal tract problems, such as constipation
  • inflammation of the mouth and other parts of the oral cavity
  • oral cancer.

Other effects of khat use

Social problems

All areas of a person’s life can be affected by drug use.

  • Disagreements and frustration over drug use can cause family arguments and affect personal relationships.
  • Legal and health problems can also add to the strain on personal, financial and work relationships.


Pregnancy and breastfeeding

If you are pregnant, avoid chewing khat, as this can lead to serious health risks to the baby.

Read about the effects of taking drugs during pregnancy or breastfeeding.

Driving

It is dangerous to drive after using khat. The effects of khat, such as disorientation and increased irritability and anxiety, can affect driving ability.

Read more about the effects of drugs on driving.

Khat use in the workplace

Under occupational health and safety legislation, all employees have a responsibility to make sure they look after their own and their co-workers’ safety. The effects of khat, such as extreme tiredness can affect a person’s ability to work safely and effectively.

Preventing and reducing harms

  • The safest way to avoid problems with khat chewing is to avoid use.
  • If you are a regular user, try to reduce the quantity of your chewing, with reasonable intervals between sessions.
  • Avoid drinking caffeinated drinks such as cola and coffee. Drink water instead.
  • Avoid using alcohol or other drugs during or after your khat session. Mixing drugs can be dangerous.
  • If you smoke, limit the number of cigarettes you smoke while chewing khat. Avoid crowded sessions and keep windows open to allow in fresh air.
  • Have a balanced diet, and ensure you eat before and after your session.
  • Try to avoid chewing khat late at night, and never take sleeping pills unless prescribed by your doctor.
  • Avoid holding the khat in your cheek for a long time, as this can increase your risk of getting an oral infection.

Tolerance and dependence

It is unclear whether khat chewing can lead to dependence but heavy khat chewers have been shown to experience withdrawal symptoms such as extreme tiredness and lack of energy, difficulty performing normal daily activities and slight trembling several days after having stopped chewing khat. Prolonged and excessive use can lead to psychological problems such as depression, anxiety and irritation, sometimes leading to psychosis.

Getting help

Treatment

In Australia, there are many different types of treatments for drug problems. Some aim to help a person to stop using a drug, while others aim to reduce the risks and harm related to their drug use. Find out more about treatment.

What to do if you are concerned about someone’s khat use

If you are concerned about someone’s drug use, there is help available. Contact the alcohol and drug information service in your state or territory.

What to do in a crisis

Always call triple zero (000) if a drug overdose is known or suspected-and remember that paramedics are not obliged to involve the police.

If someone overdoses or has an adverse reaction while using khat, it is very important that they receive professional help as soon as possible. A quick response can save their life.

Visit the Better Health Channel to read St John Ambulance’s advice on drug overdose.

Khat use in Australia

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.

Is it legal?

Khat is not illegal in Australia, but its import is very strictly controlled. It is legal to import khat for personal use only. A person must obtain a Licence to Import khat.

Read more about drugs and Australian law.

For legal advice specific to your situation contact a legal aid service in your state or territory.

National drug policy

Australia’s national drug policy is based on harm minimisation. Strategies to minimise harm include encouraging people to avoid using a drug through to helping people to reduce the risk of harm if they do use a drug. It aims to reduce all types of drug-related harm to both the individual and the community.