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. Khat is usually chewed or brewed into 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).
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.2
Research suggests that about 20 million people all around the world are regular users of khat. Although khat use began in the Ethiopian and Arabian regions, in the past few decades use has extended to other parts of the world, including Europe and the United States. One of the reasons for widespread use of khat is that scientists have created synthetic forms of the drug, which has made access to khat easier in recent years. Many of the khat users in western countries are immigrants from the Middle East or Eastern Africa.8
Although khat use is accepted and considered a social activity in some areas of the world, it is illegal in the United States and considered to be a drug of abuse by the World Health Organization. Research has found that it is responsible for a number of negative health effects.7
Short-term Effects of Khat Use
Khat abuse increases levels of norepinephrine and dopamine in the brain, neurotransmitters which produce feelings of pleasure and alertness.7 Users may experience the following effects right after using khat:7,8,9,10,11
- Increased blood pressure and heart rate
- Dilated pupils
- Sweating or chills
- Manic behavior and grandiosity
- Impaired judgment
- Loss of appetite
The effects of khat can last anywhere from 90 minutes to 3 hours.<sup.7 Many of these effects can be dangerous and can lead to dire consequences. If you or someone you love abuses khat, don’t hesitate to seek out formal detox and addiction treatment to begin on the path to recovery.
Consequences of Chronic Use
Using khat can result in a number of negative side effects that impact an individual’s mental and physical health, especially over the long term. Some of the detrimental effects of khat include:7,8,9,10,11
- Cardiac complications, including heart failure, heart attack, coronary artery disease, and cardiomyopathy.
- Stomach pain.
- Gastrointestinal tumors.
- Liver damage.
- Tooth decay and gum disease.
- Violent behaviors.
- Depression and suicidal thoughts or attempts.
- Weight loss.
Long-term abuse of khat can increase the risk of experiencing harmful physical and psychological effects and can exacerbate any existing conditions.
Effects and Symptoms of Khat Withdrawal
Like other stimulant substances, people may quickly develop physiologic dependence to the drug when used repeatedly. Should a dependent person stop using khat, they may experience some symptoms of withdrawal. Common physical withdrawal symptoms from khat include 3:
- Lack of energy.
- Mild depression.
Of course, as with any drug, withdrawal symptoms can vary from person to person, depending on such factors as regularity of use, underlying medical conditions, poly-substance abuse, and other harder-to-determine psychological and physiological factors.
Detox Timeline and Protocol
When a person uses khat, the peak time of its effects is about 45 minutes after it is chewed. However, many people who use khat keep it in their mouth and chew on it for several hours at a time, which keeps them feeling the effects for many hours.
Detox is more than just managing the symptoms of physical withdrawal. The strong psychological cravings that exist with the use of any stimulant type drug, such as khat, can increase the risk of relapse.
Khat elicits amphetamine-like effects on the user, such as increased energy, suppressed appetite, and confidence, and withdrawal symptoms mirror those of amphetamines, as well 4.
As the withdrawal symptoms are not generally life threatening, stimulant detox will usually be less medically complicated than detox from some other drugs, such as benzodiazepines or alcohol. However, certain psychological symptoms like depression may require medical intervention. Additionally, polysubstance abuse — e.g., concurrent use of khat and alcohol — can complicate the withdrawal and detox process. A supervised detox program can ensure you have the safest, most comfortable detox process.
Detox is more than just managing the symptoms of physical withdrawal. The strong psychological cravings that exist with the use of any stimulant type drug, such as khat, can increase the risk of relapse. A supervised detox program provides emotional and behavioral support in a therapeutic environment that gives a much greater chance of success than trying to quit alone at home.
Ideally, once detox is complete, you will continue on to a more robust addiction treatment program that includes therapy and counseling.
Do I Need Khat Detox?
Khat is seen by many people as being only mildly addictive; however, studies have shown that prolonged use of khat may have a multitude of negative long-term effects, including detriments to motivation, family relationships, and sexual functioning 6.
The long-term risks of khat use, including the raised risk of oral cancer, highlights the importance of discontinuing khat use.
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). Cravings and mental health symptoms can also make stopping extremely difficult without the support of a formal program.
How Does Detox Help?
Detox from a stimulant such as khat can be fairly simple and uncomplicated. However, research on withdrawal from stimulants indicates that many people quickly relapse and start using again after a period of abstinence.
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. Stopping without treatment assistance may be difficult for most people, and in some cases – such as those where depression and suicidal thoughts are a concern – will be strongly advised against 5.
While it is possible to detox from khat at home, it can be in your best interest to enter a facility where you will be separated from your environmental triggers and where any potential complications can be addressed on the spot. This is especially important if you have underlying mental 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. A number of programs for detox and substance abuse treatment are available throughout the country. There are detox programs that are inpatient, meaning that a person enters a structured 24-hour facility for a short period. In this setting, a person receives medical oversight by nurses and physicians, and typically, supportive counseling.
Residential rehab programs usually last longer, from a few weeks to a few months. Rehab will involve more intensive counseling. The counseling can be group-based or individual counseling. Many programs also incorporate family counseling to support the person in detox by working with their family as a means of support, as well as helping to heal some of the family problems that have occurred as the result of drug use.
Across the country, there are programs that vary in terms of price and quality. The most expensive programs tend to offer the most luxurious options, such as chefs, private rooms, and spas. There are some free detox programs, and others that are available on a sliding scale basis, depending on a person’s income and other factors.
Outpatient programs are also available, which can provide a structured environment for detox, but allow a person to be in their own home at night. These outpatient programs can run from a few hours a week, to several days per week.