There are many plants and fungi on our planet that, when consumed, can cause many different euphoric or mood altering affects. Some of these plants and fungi are well known in the west. Some of these plants /fungi are drugs like psychedelic mushrooms, marijuana, opium, and even coca leaves from South America. These drugs are all fairly common. However, there are plenty of other plants found in nature that are not well known, but are widely abused.
For example, there is a shrub native to East Africa, Arabia, and parts of the Middle East. This shrub is called khat (pronounced ‘cot’) and it’s been used for centuries in Africa and Arabia. Khat has many adverse effects and has been declared by the U.S. government to have no acceptable medical value, meaning that it’s classified as a Schedule 1 drug. Khat doesn’t grow in the USA, so we’re not as familiar with the drug. However, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) does provide some information on their website about khat.
According to the NIDA website, khat is classified as a Schedule I drug because of the mind-altering chemicals found in it. Those chemicals (cathinone and cathine) are similar to amphetamines, although they are less potent. Nonetheless, khat is a stimulant which releases stress hormones and norepinephrine, both of which raise the level of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is the chemical in the brain that is used to regulate pleasure and movement.
Khat produces a euphoric high along with feelings of alertness and arousal. After using khat, the user may experience a depressed mood, irritability, loss of appetite, and difficulty sleeping. These effects usually last for a few hours, but sometimes the effects can last all day. A person consumes khat by chewing the leaves and holding them in their cheeks. Khat is similar to chewing tobacco in this way. How prevalent is khat around the world? One study estimated that there are over 10 million users of the drug. In Yemen, 82% of men and 43% of women admited to using khat at least once. Unfortunately, there are no reliable statistics available to estimate the prevalence of the drug in the U.S. or even in Europe. Long-term khat use can negatively affect the body leading to tooth decay, inflammation of the stomach, ulcers, increased risk of tumors, irregular heart beat, and even heart attacks.
Khat is known to be addictive and it may even be chemically addictive. Some people have reported withdrawal symptoms when they quit using khat. Some people experienced trembling, depression, and even nightmares when they quit. Khat presents many pitfalls for anyone who abuses it and uses it for its high, while ignoring the long term physical and psychological damage that the drug can cause.