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Conservation status: Least concern (LR/lc)
Catha edulis
Catha edulis
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Magnoliophyta
Class: Magnoliopsida
Order: Celastrales
Family: Celastraceae
Genus: Catha
Species: C. edulis
Binomial name
Catha edulis
(Vahl) Forssk. ex Endl.

Khat (Catha edulis, family Celastraceae, Ge'ez ጫት č̣āt; Arabic قحط), pronounced "cot" and also known as qat, gat, chat, and miraa, is a flowering plant native to tropical East Africa. Believed to originate in Ethiopia, it is a shrub or small tree growing to 58 m tall, with evergreen leaves 510 cm long and 14 cm broad. The flowers are produced on short axillary cymes 48 cm long, each flower small, with five white petals. The fruit is an oblong three-valved capsule containing 13 seeds.


Cultivation and uses

Khat has been grown for use as a stimulant for centuries in the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. There, chewing khat predates the use of coffee and is used in a similar social context. Its fresh leaves and tops are chewed or, less frequently, dried and consumed as tea, in order to achieve a state of euphoria and stimulation. Due to the availability of rapid, inexpensive air transportation, the drug has been reported in England, Rome, Amsterdam, Canada, Australia and the United States. The public has become more aware of this exotic drug through media reports pertaining to the United Nations mission in Somalia, where khat use is endemic, and its role in the Persian Gulf. The khat plant is known by a variety of names, such as qat in Yemen, chat in Ethiopia, jaad in Somalia and miraa in Kenya.

Khat use has traditionally been confined to the regions where khat is grown, because only the fresh leaves have the desired stimulating effects. In recent years improved roads, off-road motor vehicles and air transport have increased the global distribution of this perishable commodity. Traditionally, khat has been used as a socializing drug, and this is still very much the case in Yemen where khat-chewing is a predominantly male habit. In other countries, khat is consumed largely by single individuals and at parties. It is mainly a recreational drug in the countries which grow khat, though it may also be used by farmers and laborers for reducing physical fatigue and by drivers and students for improving attention. This is similar to the use of the coca leaf in South America.

Khat is used for its mild euphoric and stimulating effects. Because of its anorectic effects, it is often used by Muslims in Ethiopia to aid in fasting. Today it is also used by Christians though the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church (along with its Eritrean counterpart) has forbidden Christians from using it due to its stimulating effects.

The Supreme Islamic Courts Council, which took control of much of the country in 2006, banned khat during Ramadan, sparking street protests in Kismayo. In November 2006, Kenya banned all flights to Somalia, citing security concerns, prompting protests by Kenyan chat growers. The Kenyan MP from Ntonyiri, Meru District stated that local land had been specialized in khat cultivation, that 20 tons worth US$800,000 were shipped to Somalia daily and that a flight ban could devastate the local economy.[1]


The stimulant effect of the plant was originally attributed to cathine, a phenethylamine-type substance isolated from the plant. However, the attribution was disputed by reports showing the plant extracts from fresh leaves contained another substance more behaviorally active than cathine. In 1975, the related alkaloid cathinone was isolated, and its absolute configuration was established in 1978. 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 the catecholamines epinephrine and norepinephrine.

Khat consumption induces mild euphoria and excitement. Individuals become very talkative under the influence of the drug and may appear to be unrealistic and emotionally unstable. Khat can induce manic behaviors and hyperactivity. Several cases of khat-induced psychosis have been reported in the literature. Khat is an effective anorectic and its use also results in constipation. Dilated pupils (mydriasis), which are prominent during khat consumption, reflect the sympathomimetic effects of the drug, which are also reflected in increased heart rate and blood pressure. A state of drowsy hallucinations (hypnagogic hallucinations) may result coming down from khat use as well. Withdrawal symptoms that may follow prolonged khat use include lethargy, mild depression, nightmares, and slight tremor. 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. Khat is usually not a addictive drug, although there are some people who can not stay with out it for more then 4-5 days, feeling tired and having difficulty concentrating.

User population

It is estimated that several million people are frequent users of khat. Many of the users originate from countries between Sudan and Madagascar and in the southwestern part of the Arabian Peninsula, especially Yemen. In Yemen, 60% of the males and 35% of the females were found to be khat users who had chewed daily for long periods of their life. The traditional form of khat chewing in Yemen involves only male users; khat chewing by females is less formal and less frequent. In Saudi Arabia, the cultivation and consumption of khat are forbidden, and the ban is strictly enforced. The ban on khat is further supported by the clergy on the grounds that the Qur'an forbids anything that is harmful to the body. This is in sharp contrast to the opinions of the clergy in Yemen. In Somalia, 61% of the population reported that they do use khat, 18% report habitual use, and 21% are occasional users.


Khat is used by members of the Somali and Yemeni community (mainly men), which is concentrated in London, Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Manchester and Sheffield. It is currently legal in the UK although there are calls from some sections of the Somali community for it to be banned.

Control status

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 abuse of this substance is a regional problem and may best be controlled at that level" [1]. For this reason, khat was not Scheduled under the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. In 1980 the World Health Organization classified khat as a drug of abuse that can produce mild to moderate psychic dependence.

Cathine is in Schedule IV and cathinone is in Schedule I of the U.S. Controlled Substance Act. The 1993 DEA rule placing cathinone in Schedule I noted that it was effectively also banning khat:

Cathinone is the major psychoactive component of the plant Catha edulis (khat). The young leaves of khat are chewed for a stimulant effect. Enactment of this rule results in the placement of any material which contains cathinone into Schedule I.

In the UK, Cathine and Cathinone are Class C drugs. The plant Catha edulis is uncontrolled. In Germany, Cathine is a controlled substance, and ownership and sale of the plant is illegal. Similar levels of control exist throughout most other European countries.

In Canada, Khat is a controlled substance under Schedule IV of the Controlled Drugs and Substance Act (CDSA). Every person who seeks or obtain Khat is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding eighteen months, where the subject-matter of the offence is a substance included in Schedule IV or is guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction and liable for a first offence, to a fine not exceeding one thousand dollars or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months, or to both, and for a subsequent offence, to a fine not exceeding two thousand dollars or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding one year, or to both. [2] [3]

In Australia, the importation of khat is controlled under the Customs (Prohibited Imports) Regulations. Individual users may apply for several required licenses to import up to 5 kg per month for personal use (primarily immigrants from the Horn of Africa). In 2003, the total number of khat annual permits was 294 and the total number of individual khat permits was 202."

"There are two types of import permits. The single use Permit to Import can be used only once and you must request a new permit for each time you wish to import khat. Annual Permits are labeled as such and consist of two pages. Annual Permits allow you to import up to 5 kg once a month for up to twelve months."


  • The word "qat" is well known to Scrabble players as a way to use the Q when no U is available.
  • Smuggling of the plant known as Qhat (Khat) is the main reason British nationals require consular assistance in Canada. [4]


  • Hilton-Taylor (1998). Catha edulis. 2006 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. IUCN 2006. Retrieved on 12 May 2006.
  • Dale Pendell, Pharmakodynamis: Stimulating Plants, Potions and Herbcraft: Excitantia and Empathogenica, San Francisco: Mercury House, 2002.


  1. ^ "Kenya bans all flights to Somalia", BBC News, 13 November 2006

External links

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