Khat is a plant containing psychoactive substances that have a stimulant effect on the brain. This has been used for many years for its ability to stimulate the brain so that the user does not feel tired or hungry. Commonly users stuff the leaves of the khat plant into their mouth and chewed whilst continuing to work. Khat consumption is widespread and its use is increasing among the young who may use it with others for recreation. If they are gathered together socially, rather than working in the fields, the stimulant effect will make them feel excited and talkative.
Stop reading for a moment and think whether the young people in your community consume khat. What harmful effects of khat consumption have you observed among young people?
Although being talkative and not feeling tired may seem harmless the active substance in the khat leaves increases respiratory rate, heart rate and blood pressure all of which can cause long-term physical problems for some users. Not feeling tired can become a long-term problem where the user finds they are unable to sleep and this can result in mental problems such as depression or mania. The adverse effects of loss of appetite can include gastric irritation and constipation. As already mentioned, khat consumption alters the mood or emotional state of the users making them talkative and excitable. During this time of mood change khat users are more likely to engage in risky sexual behaviours that could expose them to HIV infection.
Long-term, over-use of khat can be addictive and it also reduces the desire to have sex.
There is more than one psychoactive ingredient in khat, the major substance found is called cathinone and it degrades and looses its power within 48 hours of the leaves being picked. This is why fresh leaves are preferred. However, khat leaves are also powdered and transported (for use in urban areas for example) and in this form the psychoactive ingredients are less powerful.