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Khat’s Appeal

Teen drinking khat in tea.When khat leaves are dried and processed, they can be chewed, brewed into tea, or sprinkled on food. The substance is bitter and pungent, so most users try to take khat alongside something sweet, like soda or desserts. These users are willing to endure the nasty taste because of the bliss that khat can bring.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), a khat user feels euphoria and elation due to drug-related chemical changes in the brain. Signals relating to pleasure and reward are boosted in response to khat, so users feel both happy and fulfilled. Those feelings can persist for as long as three hours, NIDA says.

These sensations are similar to those delivered by amphetamines, but khat is a little less potent. This is a big boon for teenagers that might be overwhelmed and intimidated by stronger drugs. If they take something like cocaine, for example, they might be overwhelmed by the brain changes that drug can cause. But khat seems like a weaker, less dangerous upper to try. For some teenagers, that’s a big benefit.

Khat may also be appealing because it’s hard to spot on a standard drug test. The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction reports that the active ingredient in khat is hard to detect eight hours after the drug is used. Teens worried about failing sports-related or employment-related drug tests might appreciate the fact that their khat use could fade away so very quickly. That could allow them to keep using the drug without facing very real consequences associated with drug abuse.

Cultural Connections

In theory, any teen living anywhere in which there is khat access could become an abuser and/or a khat addict. But the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) says that khat is concentrated in a few major cities, including:

  • Boston, Massachusetts
  • Columbus, Ohio
  • Dallas, Texas
  • Detroit, Michigan
  • Kansas City, Missouri
  • Los Angeles, California
  • Minneapolis, Minnesota
  • Nashville, Tennessee
  • New York, New York
  • Washington, DC

All of these cities have large groups of people immigrating from Somalia, Ethiopia, and Yemen, the DEA says. These are cities in which khat tends to grow in abundance, and it’s possible that young people in these immigrant communities use khat in ways that have a lot to do with cultural habits.

In an analysis of people living in these immigrant communities, published by the Los Angeles Times, residents report that khat use is akin to coffee use. Both khat and coffee are considered stimulant substances that boost feelings of pleasure and enhance a sense of energy and purpose. Both could be considered a sort of cultural wakeup drink, and sometimes, those substances are introduced to people who are incredibly young.

A basket of khat leaves.If a young person is accustomed to the idea of watching parents drinking khat tea in the morning, that young person might grow into an adult that also sips on khat while reading the early edition of the newspaper. It’s a tradition, passed from one generation to the next.

Similarly, in communities that celebrate the religious holiday Ramadan, khat might have a cultural role to play. During that festival, observant people are expected to fast, even as they continue to attend to their daily obligations. According to CESAR, some people use khat to reduce the sensation of fatigue that a longstanding fast can bring, and for some, khat might also help to decrease the gnawing sense of hunger that could prompt some people to eat before they should.

Teenagers exposed to khat in the family home aren’t using the drug safely, experts say, because the drug has the ability to change brain chemistry. That means teens who grow up using khat on occasion could develop persistent changes in the way their brain cells work. When that happens, these teens could discover that they crave khat at other times, too. They might move from using khat as a morning wakeup call to using khat to assist with the movement through an average day. An addiction could set in, and these teens might not have any control at all over how much khat they use and when they use it. In time, the use can become simply compulsive.

Teens might tell themselves that the drug is harmless, and they might suggest that they need continued khat for school. According to a report in LiveScience, it’s not at all unusual for teens in other countries to use khat in order to study for a test or perform well in an academic setting. Stimulant drugs seem to deliver a sensation of focus and energy that could make studies a little easier to complete. However, teens with an emerging khat addiction may find that they simply don’t have the energy to do well in school. They may find it hard to focus on classwork at all, because parts of their minds are always looking for and seeking out extra hits of khat. As a result, it’s safe to say that teens abusing khat in order to achieve academic success are really just fooling themselves. The drug won’t help them to do better in school, especially when the benefits are weighed against the very real dangers of this drug.

Khat Dangers

In addition to sparking addictions in young users, khat can deliver very real physical dangers. For example, the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids reports that users can experience manic episodes that might include paranoia, hallucinations, or both. A teen high on khat could get into a great deal of trouble in no time at all, particularly if that high stretches on for long hours. Teens could fight with others, get arrested, go through car accidents, or more, all because their brain cells are altered with drugs.

It’s also important to note that khat is an illegal drug. There are no approved medical uses for khat, which means it isn’t a substance that doctors can prescribe and that people can use in order to treat their ailments. That means teens caught with khat in their possession could face very real drug-possession charges by the authorities. Those authorities are cracking down on khat use. In New York, for example, three men were arrested in March of 2015 for selling khat, according to the New York Daily News.

An arrest and conviction on a drug charge could be incredibly difficult for a young person to recover from. That’s a black mark that can stick, and it could close the doors to opportunities involving education, employment, and more.

Recovering From Khat

There are no specific medications that are proven to deliver khat addiction relief, but that doesn’t mean that there’s no help for teens with khat addictions. In fact, there’s a great deal of help available to teens who need assistance.

The adolescent mind is always under construction, with new connections forming while others fade away. Therapists can build on that tremendous growth with innovative therapy techniques. They can help teens to understand their drug use at a granular level, and therapists can help teens to develop real-time skills they can use in order to enhance and boost their path through life, so they’ll be less prone to drug abuse in the future.

While thinking about drug use in a child can be frightening, parents who choose to take action could help their teens to do a vital course-correction. Often, teen therapy programs are much more pleasant than parents ever thought possible.

A mother and her teenage son standing together with an arm around the other's shoulder.

In a teen drug addiction treatment program, counselors mix very real addiction care with lifestyle interventions. Teens might participate in group counseling sessions in the morning, spend the afternoon on a nature hike, and then dip into classroom instruction in the evening. All of these interventions are designed to help teens develop a sense of efficacy and self-confidence, but to a teen, these interventions can just seem like a lot of fun. Instead of feeling isolated by addiction, they can be connected to caring peers who really understand. And they’ll have access to talented counselors and specialists who know just how addiction works.

Families interested in an addiction treatment facility made just for teens should look no further than Next Generation Village. This facility has all the amenities teens enjoy, while providing the science-based therapeutic value parents look for. Clinicians are adept at assisting with khat addictions, along with other substances teens might choose to use and abuse. Teens who enroll can tap into academic help that allows them to keep their educations on track. Interested families can call the number at the top of the page for more information. Operators are standing by.

Medical Disclaimer: Next Generation Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.

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