Global, Mental Health, Social Determinants, Substance Dependence , , , ,

Khat: Dangerous drug, cultural pastime, or self-medication?

Khat is made from young leaves from the khat tree that are commonly chewed in the Horn of Africa and the Arab Peninsula. The drug produces stimulating effects and is said to make the chewer animated, energized, and social. Chewing can be done individually or as a social activity – in these gatherings, a communal tobacco pipe is placed at the center of the circle and passed around in addition to the khat. Khat chewing has become an extremely popular practice in the Horn of Africa – an estimated 90 percent of Somali men partake. Research suggests that this practice is associated with physical, psychological, and social risks, and the Somali diaspora is already one that faces high rates of PTSD and other mental health issues. Khat chewing may worsen these issues in the long run, but can also serve as a source of self-medication for those without resources for dealing with trauma.

There is controversy over khat in the countries where Somali refugees are resettling. Abukhar Awale, a Somali TV talk show host, suffered khat addiction himself and became a proponent of the ban. He called khat “the biggest barrier to our integration…segregating Somali youngsters from wider society…they do not contribute, they don’t speak English, they don’t feel they are part of the society.” On the other side, many argue that khat itself is not the problem, but the symptom of a society ravaged by war and trauma. They point to over-policing of people of color and the fact that the ban was associated very little support for those who were made to quit.


Image retrieved from: TripSavvy

  • Casey

    The use of stimulating drugs/plants with medicinal properties is a complex issue. I can see both pros and cons of khat use. If it helps people naturally cope with PTSD and other stresses, is it right to ban use? I also question the ethical implications of placing bans on a practice that seems to a long-held cultural practice. On the other hand, drug use is harmful at the population and individual level. Perhaps there should be health communication initiatives to educate younger populations about the harms associated with overusing khat.

  • Laurie Hursting

    Casey makes good points! Perhaps have an age limit on it like with tobacco? Or are these leaves very available and regulations like that wouldn’t do much