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Catha edulis, khat

Catha edulis, qat


Depending on where you are in the world, Catha edulis is either a dangerously addictive stimulant which will get you a long jail sentence or an important cement holding whole communities together whose effects are more due to the context of its use than its actual physical properties.

'Poisonous Plants 1-2-1' video

This short video summarising the story of khat is just one of a series.



Meaning of the Name

Latinised version of the Yemeni word ‘Qat’.
Edible.  The name comes from the plant being first seen being chewed rather than growing.

Common Names and Synonyms

khat, qat, abyssinian tea, african salad, african tea, arabian tea, bushman's tea, cat, catha, chafta, chat, ciat, crafta, djimma, ikwa, ischott, iubulu, kaad, kafta, kat, khat, la salade, liss, liruti, mairongi, mandoma, maonj, marongi, mbugula mabwe, mdimamadzi, meongi, mfeike, mhulu, mira, miraa, mirungi, miungi, mlonge, m'mke, msabukinga, masbukinja, msuruti, msuvuti, msekera, muholo, muhulu, muirungi, mulungi, muraa, musitate, mutsawari, mutsawhari, mutsawhri, mwandama, mzengo, nangungwe, ol meraa, ol nerra, qat, quat, salahin, seri, somali tea, tohai, tohat, tsad, tschad, tschat, tshut, tumayot, waifo, warfi, warfo.

How Poisonous, How Harmful?

Catha edulis

Catha edulis, khat

Contains cathinone and cathine , psychoactives with effects similar to amphetamine. It is a stimulant; the effects are rather like ephedra or amphetamine and are said by some to include euphoria, increased alertness and excitement, ability to concentrate, confidence, friendliness, contentment and flow of ideas.

Others say these effects are mostly the result of the social environment in which it is used. For some, it is more akin to coffee than the better known psychoactives.

The June, 2006 issue of the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine contains a paper entitled ‘Severe Ischaemic Cardiomyopathy Associated with Khat Chewing’. The paper, which examines in detail one patient, says long term chewing can lead to heart attacks, liver damage, tooth loss and throat cancer. Khat seems to affect blood clotting and cause spasms in the arteries supplying blood to the heart. It refers to a study in the Yemen which claimed that regular Khat chewing could produce a 39 fold increase in myocardial infarction.

Catha edulis, qat


Writing in the Guardian on 5th February 2004, the reporter, John Vidal, recounts his experiences travelling in Ethiopia when he chewed khat with his companion on a bus trip. He notes that ‘After 10 minutes there was a slight numbing of the gums. After 15, Mark started jabbering loudly. At 25 minutes we were laughing uproariously. After 45 minutes, Ethiopia's troubles had slipped away and a sense of wellbeing, alertness, euphoria and lucidity took over.'

The above was taken from this article in The Guardian

Charles Moser, a former American consul in Aden, wrote an article for the National Geographic Magazine in 1917. In it he describes the pervasiveness of khat in what is now Yemen and his own experience of trying it. In spite of chewing ‘a huge supply of leaves’ for two hours he felt no effects. That night, however, he found he could not sleep. This seems to concur with the often mentioned idea that khat’s euphoriant properties rely on the mindset of the chewer.

Folklore and Facts

One version of khat’s discovery is that it was found by a goat herder named Awzulkernayien, who observed that when the goats ate the leaves they were very alert, and he decided to try them himself. He experienced wakefulness and added awareness. There is also a legend that tells of two devout people who often spent the entire night in prayer, but frequently found themselves dropping off to sleep. They prayed to God to give them something to keep them awake. An angel appeared and showed them the khat plant, which would keep them awake.

Catha edulis

The tender top of Catha edulis, khat

It is impossible to be sure when the effects of khat were first discovered but the medicinal uses of khat were first described in the thirteenth century by the Islamic physician, Naguib ed-Din. He used it to treat depression.

Khat leaves are banned in many countries including Canada, Ireland, Norway, Sweden, Saudi Arabia and the United States but in many others it remains a legal substance. The leaves and the plant are legal in the UK but cathinone and cathin, two of its active ingredients, are controlled substances.

On 2nd March, 2006, it was announced in the House of Lords that the government would accept the recommendation of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) not to make khat itself a controlled substance since it is used by only one or two ethnic groups, mainly the Somali community. In October 2010, the new government's Home Secretary, Theresa May, asked the ACMD, under its new chairman, Prof. Les Iversen, to look again at khat. This followed statements from a number of Conservative politicians that the new government would outlaw the plant. The ACMD's report was published in January 2013 and, to its credit, concluded that little had changed since the previous study. If anything, the use of khat, based on VAT payments on imports, seemed to be declining.

It should be said that the drop in khat imports could be a decrease in use in the UK or a reduction in covert re-export to countries where it is illegal.

Unlike other reports related to the Misuse of Drugs Act, the government did not offer an immediate response to the ACMD's conclusions.

Though illegal in Saudi Arabia the Arab Times, in an editorial dated 31st May, 2006 estimated that 5 million tons of khat leaves were smuggled into the country from Yemen in 2005. The income which can be derived from selling khat leaves is far above normal wage levels and, though theoretically punishable by death, most khat dealers suffer nothing more than a few days imprisonment.

The growing and sale of khat in Ethiopia offers an object lesson in how markets operate when not distorted by governments. Khat is legal in Ethiopia but not encouraged. This means growers receive no assistance in terms of subsidies or cheap fertiliser. Khat is, therefore, only grown because it can be sold at a price which is profitable to the grower.

The key features of khat are the softness of the leaves, the taste, the freshness and the power. There are numerous varieties offering different combinations of these features. Varieties with leaves staying fresh longest are more likely to be chosen for the export trade while softer chewing leaves are favoured by the higher classes even though this, generally, means a reduction in the stimulus achieved.

Because khat is legal it can be taxed and the revenue derived from khat exceeds government expenditure on healthcare, an indication of its importance. Most of the tax is collected at checkpoints on the main roads into cities where traders bringing khat to the city markets are stopped by customs officers. The Ethiopian government acknowledges that corruption and smuggling reduces the tax take but it tries to minimise this with spot checks and by moving customs men around so they do not form bonds with regular traders.

Catha edulis

Catha edulis, khat

The attraction of khat as a cash crop is enhanced by its tolerance of poor growing conditions and its resistance to disease and insect attack. Khat can be grown in a large range of climatic conditions.

In parts of East Africa, khat has been responsible for the development of the transport infrastructure because it needs to reach its markets quickly. Writers on khat have gone as far as to suggest that, if vaccines and medical supplies could be distributed as efficiently as khat, aid programmes would be much more successful.

The khat market, increasingly, resembles the market for any other consumer product. In Kampala, one farmer sells khat which he has harvested himself, from a small plantation of khat trees, and packed by hand in new banana leaves. Each package bears his signature as proof of origin and, as a result, this brand of khat, called kasuja, retails for double the price of any other in the market.

Khat is not, however, without its problems. The idea of khat as a traditional, cultural activity which has been undertaken for hundreds of years without harm does not stand up to scrutiny since it has spread rapidly in the last twenty or so years to parts of Africa where it was not used before.

A growing concern with khat in Africa, shared by many older khat chewers, is the tendency of young people to use alcohol or cannabis after khat to alleviate the period of depression which follows khating for some people. In the UK Somali community khat is not chewed by young people because it is thought to be the preserve of unsophisticated old men and not something new immigrants growing up in a new country should embrace.

In 2012, a campaign calling for reduced use of khat in Yemen started. It seems that the political turmoil in the country may have led to an increase in khat consumption as a way of escaping everyday problems. It has been suggested that the country could experience a severe water shortage because of all the water required to grow khat.

Mephedrone, the common name given to 4-Methylmethcathinone, is a chemical related to cathinone. It is, however, manufactured and not obtained from Catha edulis directly. There is growing concern over the use of mephedrone, which has a variety of 'street' names though 'Meow Meow' was an invention of the UK press, in the club scene as an alternative to ecstasy. There are surveys suggesting that use of mephedrone has increased since it was included in the Misuse of Drugs Act.

Further information on khat can be found in the 'Phantastica' section of The Poison Garden website.

Earlier Blog Entries

Read more about Catha edulis, khat, in these blog entries from 2012 and before;

Rumours that Theresa May is going to ignore ACMD because of 'potential' terrorism link
A 2011 report from the London Borough of Hillingdon has many dodgy numbers
ACMD report says khat use is declining and there is no robust evidence of harm
Decision on khat may have more to do with wider politics than the plant
Announcement expected soon on whether to outlaw khat in the UK
12th January is 'qat-free day' in Yemen but is khat the symptom rather than the cause of problems?
Baroness Warsi makes ridiculous claim about khat chewing amongst 'boys'
BBC reports anti-khat demo but doesn't challenge wild claims about khat-related deaths
The post office in Ethiopia sees a large fall in khat exports
In USA, khat smugglers get lenient sentences after no link with terrorism proved
Mail Online tries to link khat to terrorism with xenophobia an prejudice
News report says khat is like LSD and as addictive as heroin
Three of seven 'terror' suspects charged with mislabelling parcels
Seven people arrested on suspicion of terrorism
Suggesting a ban on khat would be beneficial is naive at best
A report from Australia shows the mess the control regime is in
BBC responds to my complaint about bias
BBC broadcasts completely biased programme about khat in the UK
11th January adjournment debate disappoints by the level of ignorance displayed on many points
Adjournment debate scheduled for 11th January 2012 about government policy on khat
NPIS makes bizarre claim about the effect of classifying mephedrone
Literature review of khat and link to social harm is published
Growing khat at home

Return to recent entries.


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Introduction to the A to Z section
Abrus precatorius, rosary pea
Aconitum lycoctonum, wolfsbane
Aconitum napellus, monkshood
Actaea racemosa, black cohosh
Actaea spicata, baneberry
Aesculus hippocastanum, horse chestnut
Amanita muscaria, fly agaric
Aquilegia atrata, columbine
Aristolochia clematitis, birthwort
Artemisia absinthium, wormwood
Arum italicum, Italian cuckoopint
Arum maculatum, cuckoopint
Aspergillus fumigatus
Atropa belladonna, deadly nightshade
Brugmansia suaveolens, angel's trumpet
Bryonia dioica, bryony
Buxus sempervirens, common box
Camellia sinensis, tea
Cannabis sativa, marijuana
Catha edulis, khat
Chelidonium majus, greater celandine
Cimicifuga racemosa, black cohosh
Claviceps purpurea, ergot
Clematis vitalba, old man's beard
Colchicum autumnale, naked ladies
Conium maculatum, poison hemlock
Convallaria majalis, lily of the valley
Cynoglossum officinale, hound’s tongue
Daphne mezereon, spurge olive
Datura stramonium, thorn apple, jimsonweed
Datura suaveolens, angel's trumpet
Delphinium, larkspur
Digitalis spp., foxglove
Dracunculus vulgaris, dragon arum
Echium vulgare, viper’s bugloss
Eranthis hyemalis, winter aconite
Erythroxylum coca, cocaine
Euonymus europaeus, spindle tree
Euphorbia x martinii, red spurge
Euphorbia pulcherrima, poinsettia
Fritillaria spp., fritillary
Galanthus nivalis, snowdrop
Hedera helix, common ivy
Helleborus spp., hellebore
Heracleum mantegazzianum, giant hogweed
Hyacinthoides non-scripta, bluebell
Hyoscyamus niger, black henbane
Ilex aquifolium, holly
Jacobaea vulgaris, ragwort
Juniperus communis, common juniper
Laburnum anagyroides, laburnum
Lactuca serriola, prickly lettuce
Leucojum aestivum, snowflake
Lithospermum officinale, gromwell
Lolium temulentum, darnel
Malus 'John Downie', crab apple
Mandragora officinarum, mandrake
Mercurialis perennis, dog’s mercury
Narcissus, daffodil
Nepeta faassenii, catmint
Nerium oleander, oleander
Nicotiana sylvestris, tobacco
Oenanthe crocata, hemlock water dropwort
Papaver somniferum, opium poppy
Pastinaca sativa, parsnip
Polygonatum odoratum, angular Solomon's seal
Prunus laurocerasus, cherry laurel
Pulsatilla vulgaris, pasque flower
Ranunculus acris, meadow buttercup
Rheum x hybridum, rhubarb
Rhododendron spp.
Rhus radicans, poison ivy
Ricinus communis, castor oil plant
Rosmarinus officinalis, rosemary
Rumex obtusifolius, broad-leaved dock
Ruta graveolens, rue
Salix alba, white willow
Salvia divinorum, sage
Scutellaria laterifolia, Virginian skullcap
Senecio jacobaea, ragwort
Solanum dulcamara, woody nightshade
Solanum melongena, aubergine
Strychnos nux-vomica, poison nut
Symphoricarpos albus, snowberry
Symphytum spp., comfrey
Taxus baccata, yew
Toxicodendron radicans, poison ivy
Thevetia peruviana, yellow oleander
Urtica dioica, stinging nettle
Veratrum album, white hellebore
Verbascum olympicum, Greek mullein
Vinca major, greater periwinkle
Viscum album, mistletoe
Vitex agnus-castus, chaste tree