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Khat and Yemen

Dr. Wijdan Luqman, as a contribution to Yemeni Issues on the Net, allows them to reprint his 1976 article on Khat use in Yemen. Abstract in extended copy.

From The use of Khat.

The Use of Khat (Catha edulis) in Yemen Social and Medical Observations

WIJDAN LUQMAN, B.Sc., M.B.Ch.B. (Edin); and T. S. DANOWSKI, M.D., F.A.C.P.

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Catha edulis, or khat, a plant indigenous to Yemen, Ethiopia, and East Africa, has sympathomimetic and euphoriant effects. Its role in the economic, social, and political lives of people in North and South Yemen and certain clinical and psychiatric aspects are discussed.

Among other things, the article describes Khat gatherings:

Khat Gatherings

Yemenite homes are constructed to provide a warm reception room for khat chewing. In keeping with the total segregation of the sexes at social functions, women are excluded. However, women do hold their own khat sessions, but they are much less frequent. At either event, the guests are distributed in accord with their familial, social, or political importance and prestige. Drafts interfere with comfort at a khat gathering, and hence the choice places are those farthest removed from the doors and windows.

The chewers lean against three or four specially made large and hard pillows. Each side of the room accommodates six to 10 persons, and occasionally up to 20. One or two communal tobacco pipes or "hubble-bubbles" stand in the center. Each consists of a tobacco bowl, a 3- or 4-foot high metal pipe, a water filter, and a 20-foot long flexible tube. The tobacco is ignited with a layer of charcoal, and the flexible tube is passed from guest to guest. Each must limit himself to a few puffs because excesses produce dizziness, tremulousness, palpitations, and severe nausea.

During such khat sessions, drinks are available, that is, cola, weak black tea, or just cold water.


Urban khat sessions usually begin soon after lunch. The chewers prefer fresh leaves, and they are therefore purchased just before or after lunch. Purchase of the leaf matches the acumen of the habitual chewer against the seller's attempts to peddle yesterday's leaf. The expert khat buyer first shakes and smells the sui)t)ly because fresh leaves do not fall off and have a characteristic odor. Arguments about price may involve shouting and pushing, but violence is rare. Once the khat has been acquired, the customer leaves with a smile of satisfaction and anticipation.

The chewing session starts with slightly euphoric behavior and a friendly sense of humor. The leaves are plucked off the twigs, chewed, and stored against one or the other cheek. The mixture of saliva and extract from the leaves is swallowed. As new leaves are taken, the cheek bulges out. The euphoric effects appear shortly after the chewing begins, suggesting absorption through the oral mucosa. The session and the friendly atmosphere last about 2 h. These are followed by a mood of zeal that lasts another 2 h, and during this interval current subjects and problems are discussed. This in turn is supplanted by a serious mood and may be accompanied by irritability.


In the country the chewing of khat starts earlier, that is, soon after breakfast, and continues throughout the day. Even the children chew khat. The stimulant effect lightens the daily tasks. In such regions, food, education, medicine, and recreation are lacking. The anorexiant effect of khat decreases the need for the midday meal or even the evening meal and assumes a major role in day-to-day living.

See the full text (above link) for much more. The article is ambiguously cited on that page, but appears to have originally appeared as Annals of Internal Medicine 85:246-249.

Posted by Jon on January 30, 2005 at 09:45 AM in Khat, Yemen | Permalink


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