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Khat Detox Guide: Symptoms, Timeline, and Effects

Khat is the term used for the leaves of the Catha edulis plant, native to and originally cultivated in East Africa and southern Arabia.1, 3 Khat is usually chewed or brewed into a tea for its stimulant effects. Khat’s active ingredients are cathinone, a tightly controlled Schedule I drug that is illegal in the US, and cathine, a Schedule IV drug (both central nervous system stimulants).1, 3

Khat acts somewhat like cocaine or methamphetamines in terms of causing feelings of euphoria, excitement, and bursts of energy. Many people like to use khat to increase their energy levels or stay more focused.1

Research suggests that about 20 million people around the world regularly use khat. Although khat use is thought to have started in Ethiopia and Arab regions, use has extended to other parts of the world in recent years, including Europe and the United States. Widespread use of khat is thought to have increased because scientists have created synthetic forms of the drug, making access easier.6

Khat use is accepted and considered a social activity in some areas of the world, but is illegal in the United States and considered to be a drug of misuse by the World Health Organization. Research has found that man-made khat can be stronger and potentially more dangerous than naturally occurring cathines and cathinones.6

Short-term Effects of Khat Use

Users may experience the following effects when using khat:1, 

  • Restlessness
  • Increased energy and alertness
  • Hyperactivity
  • Increased blood pressure and heart rate
  • Dilated pupils
  • Sweating or chills
  • Hallucinations
  • Paranoia
  • Nightmares
  • Manic behavior and grandiosity

The effects of khat can last anywhere from 90 minutes to 3 hours.2 Many of these effects can be dangerous and may lead to unintended consequences.6

Adverse Effects of Khat Misuse

Misusing khat can result in several potentially negative effects, which may impact a person’s mental and/or physical health, especially over the long term. Some adverse effects of khat include:1, 2, 6, 7

  • Irritability
  • Cardiac complications, including heart failure, heart attack, coronary artery disease, and cardiomyopathy.
  • Stroke
  • Seizures
  • Constipation
  • Ulcers
  • Stomach pain
  • Gastrointestinal tumors
  • Liver damage
  • Insomnia
  • Tooth decay and gum disease
  • Violent behaviors
  • Depression and suicidal thoughts or attempts
  • Weight loss

Khat Withdrawal Symptoms

Like other stimulants, people can develop physiological dependence with chronic khat use.2 If a person suddenly stops using khat, or drastically reduces their dose, they may experience withdrawal symptoms. Common khat withdrawal symptoms include:3, 6

  • Lack of energy
  • Nightmares
  • Mild depression
  • Low blood pressure

Withdrawal symptoms can vary from person to person depending on factors like how long a person has been using khat, other substances they’re using, and physical makeup.

Safe Detox from Khat

The detox process helps people to safely manage acute withdrawal symptoms, ease cravings, and remain medically stable while ridding the body of substances.5

Khat withdrawal symptoms are not generally life-threatening; however, like other stimulants, khat withdrawal can lead to certain psychological effects like depression, which could increase a person’s risk for self-harm.3, 5 Supervised detox can provide a person with mental health support to ensure they are safe during withdrawal.

Polysubstance misuse (use of more than one substance at a time) can complicate the withdrawal and detox process. A supervised detox program can ensure you have a safe, comfortable environment in which to detox.

There are not any approved medications to support stimulant withdrawal currently.5, 7

After detox is complete, it’s often encouraged that a person continues treatment in an inpatient or outpatient facility to support positive outcomes.5

Do I Need Khat Detox?

The long-term risks of khat use can be potentially dangerous including increased blood pressure, insomnia, and gastric issues, and can cause staining of the teeth.1 If you use khat and notice any of these effects, or other consequences affecting social, personal, or relational spheres, you may want to consider quitting khat.

It can be difficult for many people to stop without assistance, especially those whose culture is tightly tied to khat use (such as those from Ethiopia, Saudi Arabia, and other countries where khat use is very common).2 Cravings and mental health symptoms can also make stopping extremely difficult without the support of a formal program.

If khat use is negatively impacting your life and your health, you may need to help of a medical detox and/or treatment program to stop khat use for good.

How Does Detox Help End Khat Misuse?

Detoxing from a stimulant such as khat can be effective. However, withdrawal from stimulants can lead people to quickly relapse and start using again after a period of abstinence.5

This quick relapse indicates that although stopping the use of stimulants does not usually cause significant medical complications, the psychological dependence and cravings present significant challenges to many attempting to quit. Supervised detox and treatment can help support a person as they recover.

Home detox is not encouraged for any substance as no one knows how they may react when they withdraw from drugs or alcohol. It can be helpful to enter a facility where you are away from environmental triggers and potential complications can be addressed immediately. This is especially important if you have underlying mental or physical health issues or are using other drugs in combination with khat, as certain substances like alcohol can have life-threatening withdrawal symptoms.

Finding a Khat Treatment Program

There are many options available for detox from khat and other substances. Several programs for detox and substance use disorder treatment are available throughout the country. There are detox programs that are part of inpatient facilities, meaning that a person remains at the facility for the duration of treatment, which can range from a few weeks to a few months.

Outpatient programs are also available, which can provide a structured environment for detox and ongoing treatment, and allow a person to still live at their home. Outpatient programs can run from a few hours a week, to several days per week.

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