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Info about Kat

Scientific Name: Khat

Other Names: Catha edulis, Chaat, Gat, Kat, Miraa, Qat, Tschat

Who is this for?

Note: Khat is not legal to use in the United States.

Khat contains stimulant chemicals similar to but much weaker than amphetamines. These chemicals - primarily the alkaloids cathine and cathinone - affect the central nervous system, potentially increasing excitement, mental alertness and a feeling of happiness. However, depression and psychoses may also be associated with the use of khat. Additionally, it may cause physical or psychological dependence or both.

In animal and laboratory studies, khat has shown limited effectiveness for relieving inflammation and pain. These effects are very mild, however, and other drugs provide better relief of both symptoms with less possibility of side effects. Because khat may also decrease the appetite, it has been studied as a drug to treat obesity. Although khat has shown some ability to control weight in animal studies, it has not been proved in human studies to have any effect on appetite or obesity. In general, khat has no medical uses. The use of khat is not advised due to the probability that it may cause dependence and serious side effects.

In addition, khat contains a relatively high percentage of chemicals known as tannins. Tannins are not thought to be absorbed from the gastrointestinal tract, but liver damage has occurred in people who took large oral doses of tannins. One case study revealed a higher incidence of tongue and lip cancer in several individuals who regularly used large amounts of an oral product similar to khat for many years. Cancers of the nose and esophagus may also be more likely in individuals who use large amounts of tannin-containing products for long amounts of time.

When should I be careful taking it?

Khat is illegal in the United States and many other countries. While its use is strongly discouraged for all individuals, certain individuals should be especially careful to avoid it:

  • Khat should not be used by pregnant women. Results from several observational studies show that it may contribute to low birth weight, possibly due to a reduction in the blood that circulates to the developing fetus. Additionally, some study evidence has associated the use of khat with birth defects.
  • Reportedly, using khat may reduce the production of breast milk in women who are breast-feeding. Furthermore, chemicals in khat are known to pass into breast milk and they have been detected in the urine of babies whose mothers use khat. Because the effects of khat for infants are not well known, it is best to avoid using it while breast-feeding.
  • Individuals with mental illnesses should not use khat due to the possibility that it may cause or worsen depressive, manic, or psychotic behavior. While results from human studies have not been published, case reports have also documented personality disorders attributed to khat use - especially when khat is used for long periods of time.
  • The use of khat has been shown to raise blood pressure, increase the heart rate, and cause the heart to beat irregularly. Therefore, individuals with any type of heart disease, including high blood pressure, should not use khat.

What side effects should I watch for?

Because khat stimulates the central nervous system, using it may be addictive. Individuals who use it may develop physical or psychological dependence or both.

Individuals who chew khat may experience thickening and irritation of the tissue inside the mouth. Reportedly, cases of oral cancer have been associated with khat use, but some observational studies contradict this theory. Khat has also been shown to slow the passage of food through the stomach and intestines - a possible risk factor for developing chronic constipation. More serious conditions, including irritable bowel disease and cancers of the lower gastrointestinal tract may be more likely to occur among individuals who suffer frequent or continual constipation.

Severe side effects, seen especially in individuals who have used khat consistently for long periods of time, may include:

  • Bleeding into the brain
  • Fluid or swelling in the lungs
  • Heart attacks
  • High blood pressure
  • Kidney damage
  • Liver damage

Although recent studies of laboratory animals may show that chemicals in khat may actually improve male fertility, men who use khat may experience infertility and lose interest in having sex. In human and animal studies, khat use has been shown to decrease numbers of sperm, as well as their ability to function. Defective sperm and decreased levels of testosterone have been documented in some men who use khat regularly.

Less Severe Side Effects

Other side effects that have been associated with using khat include:

  • Constipation
  • Dizziness
  • Expanded pupil size in the eyes
  • Hallucinations
  • Hemorrhoids
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Insomnia
  • Loss of appetite
  • Migraine headaches
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Rapid breathing
  • Stomach upset

Excessive thirst often accompanies khat use, which may also cause the user to crave sweet drinks and foods.

Individuals who have stopped using khat after long periods of time have reported:

  • Depression
  • Nightmares
  • Shaking

What interactions should I watch for?

One small study showed that blood levels of certain penicillin-type antibiotics were reduced when they were taken within a few hours of using khat. As a result, the antibiotic may not have been effective at controlling the infection it was intended to treat.

No other interactions have been identified with using khat. However, because few scientifically designed studies of its use have been conducted, khat may have other interactions that have not yet been identified. Using it is strongly discouraged.

Some interactions between herbal products and medications can be more severe than others. The best way for you to avoid harmful interactions is to tell your doctor and/or pharmacist what medications you are currently taking, including any over-the-counter products, vitamins, and herbals.

Should I take it?

An evergreen shrub that may grow as tall as 10 to 20 feet, khat can survive on dry, desert land that will not support other crops. Generally, its buds and leaves are used as soon as possible after harvesting, because the amounts of some active ingredients in khat decrease rapidly as the plants dry out. Typically, the fresh leaves are chewed like tobacco or gum. Less commonly, dried or powdered forms are smoked in pipes, chewed, or made into a drink. For transport, khat used to be kept damp and cool by wrapping it in banana leaves. Now, it is refrigerated or even frozen, packed in plastic, and shipped by plane to areas remote from where it is grown. Frequently, shipments of khat are seized by customs services in countries where it is illegal. Many confiscated shipments have been found to contain potentially harmful bacteria, funguses, molds, or other organisms.

Khat contains central nervous system stimulants which may produce feelings of happiness and pleasure. A large part of the economy in the country of Yemen and neighboring areas of east-central Africa, khat has been used socially for centuries - much as alcoholic beverages are used in western countries. In some areas of the region, khat also plays a role in religious ceremonies. Because it may prolong energy and mental alertness, khat has gained popularity among athletes, industrial workers, and students in its native areas. Its use is spreading into the United States and Europe as immigration from eastern Africa increases. Since 1980, the World Health Organization has listed khat as an addicting drug. Khat use is legal in Britain. However, along with the United States, Canada, and much of Europe; several African and Middle Eastern countries ban its use. Cathinone, one of the alkaloids in khat, has recently been designated as a Schedule 1 controlled substance by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). Schedule 1 controlled substances have no valid medical uses, they are not considered safe to use, and they are most likely addictive.

Dosage and Administration

The use of khat is illegal in the United States.

Summary

Both central nervous system-stimulating chemicals and tannins in khat make it dangerous to use. It is not a legal drug in the United States.

Risks

Khat use by a pregnant woman not only may cause the baby to be underweight, it may also increase the risk for birth defects. Khat may cause or worsen heart conditions, mental illnesses, and cancers of the esophagus, intestines, mouth, stomach, and throat.

Side Effects

Using khat has been associated with causing heart attacks and damaging the kidneys and liver. It may cause infertility in men who use it habitually. Khat may also cause:

  • Constipation
  • High blood pressure
  • Insomnia
  • Migraine headaches
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Rapid breathing
  • Stomach upset

Interactions

No major interactions have been identified between khat and prescription or non-prescription drugs, dietary supplements, other herbal products, or foods. Not all of its potential interactions may be known, however.

Last Updated June 24, 2004

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(Note: The above information is not intended to replace the advice of your physician, pharmacist, or other healthcare professional. It is not meant to indicate that the use of the product is safe, appropriate, or effective for you.)

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