Khat Dangerous for the Heart

Natural amphetamine khat increases risk of stroke

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Chewing an herbal stimulant such as khat may seem like a pleasant and safe way to unwind. In fact those that chew khat are at an increased risk of stroke and dying.

Khat, derived from the Catha edulis plant, prompts feelings of euphoria, restlessness and weight loss from lack of appetite. Popular since ancient times in the Arabian Peninsula and East Africa, the stimulant has been seized in locations in the United Kingdom and the Unites States in recent years where it is illegal.

"Avoid using khat to skip adverse health risks."

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, in the U.S. khat use is most prevalent among immigrants from Somalia, Ethiopia, and Yemen, either in casual or religious settings. The herbal drug is most often abused in U.S. cities with large immigrant populations such as Dallas, New York, Washington D.C. and Los Angeles.

Dr. Jassim Al Suwaidi, study co-author and consultant cardiologist and director of cardiovascular research in the department of cardiology and cardiovascular surgery at Hamad General Hospital in Qatar, said that global awareness of the negative impact of chewing khat on health and social life is necessary before it becomes an epidemic.

He said the research emphasizes the need for better education about the cardiovascular risks of khat, as well as additional studies about the stimulant.

During the study researchers compared 1,408 khat chewers, including both men and women, to 5,991 who didn’t use khat. Participants were enrolled at 65 hospitals in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Yemen, Qatar, United Arab Emirates and Oman. Most users were from Yemen, where khat is legal and socially acceptable, unlike the other countries in the study.

They found that khat users had a 7.5 percent chance of dying from heart disease versus 3.8 percent among those who did not use the drug. At one month, the fatality rate was 15.5 percent among khat users and 6.4 percent for non-users.
After one year, the death rate was 18.8 percent among khat users compared to 10.8 percent in those that did not use the stimulant.

About 86 percent of users were men, and they tended to have fewer heart disease risk factors such as diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol. However, male users were more likely to have a stroke compared to non-users. An increased stroke risk was not discovered among female users.

Users of the drug also were more likely to suffer from heart failure, recurrent ischemia, a second heart attack, cardiogenic shock and stroke.

The research was recently published in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
December 8, 2011
Last Updated:
December 12, 2011