Select Page


photo showing Eastern Africa and the Arabian Peninsula where the Khat plant is native.

In 2014 the New York Attorney General brought a 215-count indictment against seventeen members of an alleged drug ring accused of importing tons of the euphoria-inducing plant from Yemen, Kenya and Ethiopia. Before this 2014 arrest, khat addiction was only known about amongst prevalent tightly-knit immigrant communities originating from Somalia, Yemen, and Ethiopia. For those outside these groups, khat use is rarely witnessed, and when it is, it is often seen as odd cultural practice rather than a form of drug abuse. This has made education about the potential for khat addiction and treatment of its abuse difficult to coordinate in the many countries which these immigrants now reside. In addition, attention to the problem of khat abuse in the “home countries” from which these immigrants depart is also limited, due to the conflict-riven status of this region of the world and the relative weakness of cultural and state institutions in these areas.

What Exactly is Khat?

Khat is a flowering evergreen shrub native to East Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. The plant’s scientific name is “Catha edulis” and contains two main active ingredients (the alkaloids cathinone and cathine) which are both stimulants. The most common way to ingest khat is to keep a ball of partially chewed leaves inside the cheek in much the same way as chewing tobacco. Less commonly, khat can also be dried and smoked, made into tea, or sprinkled on food. [1]

Traditional Uses of Khat

Khat usage has a centuries-long history in Somalia, Yemen and Ethiopia where it is often consumed in khat cafes called “mafrishes” and thought by many in this region to be akin to other cultural traditions such as drinking strong coffee or tea in other parts of the world. However, even within its original cultural context, many view khat usage as something much less benign. Chewing the leaves makes people feel more alert and talkative and suppresses appetite, but when cathinone (one of its active ingredients) is broken down in the body, it produces cathine and norephedrine, which have a similar structure to amphetamine and adrenaline. Regular khat use has also been associated with a rise in arterial blood pressure and pulse rate and a higher incidence of esophageal cancer and gastric cancer. Long term abuse by those with khat addiction can cause insomnia, anorexia, gastric disorders, depression, liver damage and cardiac complications. In addition, manic and delusional behavior, violence, suicidal depression, hallucinations, paranoia and khat-induced psychosis have also been reported among those who have abused khat over the long term. [2]

Connection to Violence in Somalia

Particularly in Somalia, khat abuse has been linked to militia activity, with a recent study indicating that khat addiction may help to fuel the civil conflict there. According to this study, 36 percent of Somali combatants had used khat during the prior week, and it is not hard to imagine how a drug associated with mania, violence, and paranoia could help to fuel a violent conflict over time. [3] And, the connection to this region’s violence does not stop at simply its impact on the mental state of individual militia members. Based on reporting from the UK version of the Huffington Post, almost every aspect of khat production and distribution is controlled by the Somali al-Shabaab terrorist group, making khat addiction the equivalent of signing up for a continuing donation to a vicious terrorist group. [4]

photo of a Somalian solder standing guard with his automatic weapon

The Spread of Khat Addiction to Europe and North America

As immigrants from this war-torn region of the world spread out through Europe and North America, the culture of khat consumption spreads with them. And, because many of these immigrants see khat usage as a key component of their cultural heritage, there is great cultural resistance among these groups to its designation as a banned substance. However, based on data from a recent UK Home Office report, changes in the cultural context of khat usage in their new countries seem to make immigrants more likely to fall into khat addiction, with all of its negative consequences. Some sources even view khat addiction as a sophisticated recruiting tool for potential terrorist recruits as young men get hooked on the substance and influenced to turn against their new homes by the al-Shabaab financed khat distribution networks. [4]

illustrated pie chart showing how popular Khat usage is amongst Somali men living in the UK

Khat Addiction Destroys Lives

In the context of immigrants trying to build successful lives in a new country such as the United States, khat addiction represents the ultimate trap. It can result in legal troubles, health problems, violent family outbursts, and even recruitment by terrorist networks. Khat addiction can turn the “American Dream” into a nightmare – resulting in death, incarceration, deportation, and more. And, as khat usage begins to spread outside of immigrant communities, it is no longer isolated to specific segments of the US population, putting all of us at risk. This isn’t simply a harmless cultural practice like drinking a Cuban coffee or settling in for Russian tea around a samovar; khat addiction is a very real and present danger to its victims and the society at-large.

End Khat Addiction Now

If khat addiction is negatively impacting your life, you should call BWR at 800-683-4457 to get help right away. BWR’s operators are available 24/7 to help you or your loved ones overcome this dangerous addiction and start down the road to a happier and healthier life.


Behavioral Wellness & Recovery is a Joint Commission accredited program. The Joint Commission recognizes excellence in health care organizations and programs.


Behavioral Wellness & Recovery is a Joint Commission accredited program. The Joint Commission recognizes excellence in health care organizations and programs.

Your decision to regain your life helps and heals your entire family. Do it for them. Do it for you.


1301 Wrights Lane East, Ste. 103
West Chester, PA 19380
Serving Philadelphia, PA, Lancaster, PA and Wilmington, DE