Cultural Drugs: Should Khat Be Illegal?

Around the world, different cultures have different preferences when it comes to getting high. In some areas, like the United States, opiates like heroin are sweeping the nation as the epidemic continues to build steam in our communities. Other places may, instead, favor cocaine or other substances. But one substance that you may not have even heard of is causing plenty of issues in South Africa due to its transportation and production. Khat, which is pronounced “cot”, is a lesser known drug, but it still packs a punch.

What is Khat?

Khat is a flowering plant native to Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. It contains the alkaloids called cathinone and cathine. It acts as an amphetamine-like stimulant. Much like other stimulants, it causes the user to experience excitement, loss of appetite, and euphoria. It is similar to the coca leaves in South America and the betel nut in Asia.

Since it originates in one of the oldest areas of the world, the act of Khat “chewing” (literally gnawing on the plant) has been around for thousands of years. Ancient Egyptians considered Khat to be a divine food and used it in a multitude of religious ceremonies. Today, many people simply use Khat to achieve its stimulant effects. Used in both a recreational and cultural sense, the use of Khat has been seen in countries around the world.

Khat can be taken orally in a tea, chewed into a paste, or put in food. Most commonly, its leaves, twigs, or shoots are chewed on and stored in the cheek. Khat is only potent immediately though. As soon as 48 hours after disturbing the plant by cutting it, Khat will begin to lose its potency.

How Does it Affect the User?

Since the side effects of Khat mimic amphetamines, they directly impacts the synapses of the brain. Following consumption of the drug, the user will feel a burst of energy, a decline in their appetite, and an increase in levels of alertness and motor activity.

Users will also experience an increase in their confidence, become more extraverted, and experience a greater level of contentment. These are the side effects most appealing to the user, which can attribute to the development of a psychological dependence to the substance over time.

However, not all effects of Khat are positive. People have reported some less than enjoyable side effects like hallucinations, grandiose delusions, and paranoia. This is likely due to the presence of the cathinone found in the plant.

Cathinone causes the body to produce an excess of dopamine. Over time, as more dopamine accumulates, a person may end up experiencing hallucinations, schizophrenia, and high blood pressure.

Is it Addictive?

One massive part that comes into play when talking about Khat is whether or not it is an addictive substance. The World Health Organization (WHO) has, in fact, classified it as a drug of abuse. It received this classification in 1980 when it was determined that it can produce psychological dependence. WHO does not consider the substance to be much a problem, but is this accurate?

The Drug Enforcement Agency, or DEA, has labeled the plant as dangerous. In 1993, the DEA placed the active ingrediant in Khat, cathinone, on the Schedule I list. In doing so, it also basically banned the plant altogether in the United States. Due to its stimulant-like effects on users, the DEA determined it had too great of a risk for abuse and potential for addiction. But is it actually addictive or not?

There is no actual proof that Khat can be physically addictive. However, there is evidence supporting that it is in fact psychologically addictive. People who use the drug frequently can become psychologically dependant on the substance. The withdrawal symptoms, while minor, consist of: laziness, depression, nightmares, and a slight tremor.

So, is it Legal?

Depending on where you may be in the world, Khat may be illegal or legal. In the United States specifically, it has no legitimate use, and therefore has been labeled as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act. This means, Khat has been determined to have a high potential for abuse, but had no currently accepted medical use in the United States. It also has no currently accepted safe uses under medical supervision.

While Khat may not necessarily have a physically addictive nature, it is probably better off keeping this particular substance illegal. Khat has no actual benefits behind its use, and psychological addiction can be just as serious as a physical addiction.

Need Help?

Being trapped in addiction can be a scary place to be. No matter what substance you or a loved one may be struggling with, Arete Recovery is here to help. Call us at 844-318-7500 now, and you’ll be connected to our addiction specialists who are available 24/7 to get you started on the admissions process. Don’t delay; begin your journey toward recovery and the happy, healthy life you deserve today!

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