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Khat is a shrub or small tree (Catha edulis) that grows in the higher regions of Yemen and East Africa. The plant is called qat in Yemen, tschad in Ethiopia, and miraa in Kenya. Chewing the leaves, buds, and sprouts of khat releases a substance that acts as a stimulant . Khat leaves can be made into a tea, but chewing is the most common way to achieve the stimulating effects. A person chews each leaf thoroughly and swallows the juice. Fresh, young leaves produce the greatest effect.

In Yemen, people often get together to chew khat in social settings, much as people in the United States or Western countries gather at coffee houses or in pubs for a beer. Use of khat is an important tradition and an essential part of a successful social life. In Yemen, many houses have a room set aside for the khat session, for which men meet almost every day. Women use khat less formally and much less frequently. In East Africa, khat is used in a more recreational way. The leaves are sometimes chewed in combination with drinking alcohol or taking other drugs. Farmers and craftspeople chew khat to improve work performance and to stay alert.

Khat consumption has increased during recent decades. About 5 million portions of khat are consumed per day. Although most of this use occurs in the region where it grows, khat is also exported by air to Europe and North America, where it is sold mainly to immigrants from Yemen and East Africa.

The Effects of Khat

Khat is a mild stimulant of the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord). It produces a state of mild euphoria (a feeling of well-being) and excitement, often accompanied by talkativeness. Large doses may cause restlessness and highly excited behavior. Taking too much of the drug may lead to toxic psychosis. Khat also produces loss of appetite and constipation. A person who has taken a large amount of khat will have dilated pupils and a staring look. A habit of chewing often results in brownish stains on the teeth.

Khat's effects are very similar to those of amphetamines . Longterm use of khat can cause dependence , with withdrawal symptoms that include slight trembling, lethargy, mild depression , and bad dreams. People who are dependent on khat often become obsessed with obtaining daily supplies of the drug. They often seek the drug even if it means that other important needs will not be met. In the countries where khat use is widespread, use of the drug has serious social and economic consequences.

see also Amphetamine; Drug Use Around the World.

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