Why Is Yemen Addicted To A Drug Called Khat?

Khat is a narcotic found in the leaves of the Khat shrub. Though its use dates back centuries, the drug has spread over the last few decades and is wreaking havoc on the country of Yemen.

You may have never heard of khat, but estimates have shown that as many as 10 million people worldwide may chew this amphetamine-like drug. One large study found that around 82 percent of men and 43 percent of women in Yemen reported using it at least once in their life. The pervasiveness of this potentially addictive drug has some concerned but others consider it akin to a cup of coffee.

Khat is made of the leaves of a shrub that grows in East Africa and southern Arabia. It is used like chewing tobacco with users holding the leaves in their cheek. Khat releases chemicals that are structurally similar to amphetamines, called cathinone and cathine. These trigger the release of norepinephrine and dopamine, resulting in increased feelings of euphoria and alertness. In general, these effects dull after 90 minutes to three hours but can linger for as long as 24 hours.

Along with its psychological effects, khat use is associated with tooth decay, gastrointestinal disorders, and cardiovascular problems. It is also often linked to violence in the areas of the world where it is used. According to LiveScience, a 2007 study found that over 36 percent of combatants in Somalia had used khat in the last week. Whether or not khat is addictive is not known but the United States and the United Kingdom are willing to take the risk, the drug is banned in both places.


National Institutes of Health: DrugFacts: Khat

Aljazeera America: "Khat smuggling capital of Europe" Britain bans popular stimulant