Kratom Guides

Khat vs. Kratom

Kratom (Mitragyna speciosa) is a Southeast Asian tree but has a home in the hearts of many people worldwide. In recent years, it has become increasingly popular for those seeking alternative medicines; mainly it’s analgesic properties.

On the other hand, khat leaves (Catha edulis), a shrub indigenous to the Middle East and East Africa. People traditionally chew its leaves to get stimulating effects. 

Though similar, these plants have stark differences. Here we’ll compare the two and explain what makes each unique.

Written by Audrey Webber
Last Updated 11 months ago

Audrey Webber

Anthropologist & Freelance Writer

Khat vs. Kratom: A Comparison Chart

The following chart gives a quick look at some of the most critical aspects of the two plants. 

Active Ingredients Cathine and cathinoneMitragynine, 7-hydroxymitragynine, & other alkaloids
Psychoactivity NoMild
OriginMiddle East, East AfricaSoutheast Asia
Main Benefits Reduced appetite, improved concentration, euphoriaHelps with pain, anxiety, depression, addiction, and energy
Pain SupportBelieved in providing a low level of pain support. Believed in providing a moderate-to-high level of pain support
Mood SupportIt may produce an energetic feelingIt may produce a sense of well-being and peace 
Level of Safety Moderate riskLow to moderate risk
Dose100 grams to 300 grams of fresh leaves2 grams to 12 grams
LegalityCathinone is a Schedule I DrugFederally legal; state laws vary

What is Khat?

Khat is a flowering plant that grows in Africa and the Middle East. In its native areas, indigenous people have chewed on khat leaves for thousands of years. Its two main alkaloids, cathine and cathinone, provide stimulant effects similar to ephedrine. 

Khat is extremely popular in Yemen; as many as 90 percent of men, 73 percent of women, and even 15-20 percent of children partake regularly. 

It makes up approximately 30 percent of Yemen’s groundwater usage and represents up to 50 percent of each household’s purchases. 

Khat (Catha edulis)

People traditionally use khat for multiple reasons. In Harar, for example, users chew it for entertainment, religion, and work [1]. Evidence shows that the people of Harar started chewing khat before the 19th century. 

Unfortunately, regularly consuming khat can lead to addiction, resulting in high rates of ill health among those affected. In addition, its use is associated with significant economic and social consequences.

What is Kratom?

Kratom (Mitragyna speciosa) is a close relative of the coffee plant. The leaves of kratom plants grow in Southeast Asia. In countries like Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, and Malaysia, workers have chewed the leaves to endure long labor shifts in the fields.

Its alkaloid content varies and is what gives the strains their unique effects. Mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine are the two dominant alkaloids and give kratom its energizing and sedative effects.

Kratom has a strong taste that most people don’t like. Many users make it into a tea or take it in capsule format to avoid the bitter taste. 

There are many different kratom strains with varying effects, giving you greater control over the impact you feel.  

Kratom (Mitragyna speciosa)

Kratom can be categorized into three strains:

  1. Red Vein Kratom Strains — the most sedative and analgesic strains.
  2. White Vein Kratom Strains — the most euphoric and energy-boosting strains.
  3. Green Vein Kratom Strains — a middle-ground between the red and white strains.

Kratom usage is cultural, too, and can come with similar societal problems. The biggest difference is in the strength of the addiction. Kratom addiction is less severe and easier to break; in fact, it can help ease the symptoms of opioid withdrawal. 

It also helps with many issues that usually require prescription drugs, like depression, anxiety, chronic pain, and insomnia. While kratom isn’t a cure, it often nudges users into a more normal life.

Pain Management: Khat vs. Kratom 

Kratom has a long history of helping people manage pain. Centuries ago, people used it to combat back pain, arthritis, and severe headaches or migraines.

Other conditions where people use kratom as a painkiller are:

Khat offers less strength in terms of pain management. However, a study published in 2000 by the Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology showed evidence that khat had similar analgesic benefits to ibuprofen and amphetamines in mice [2]. 

Mood Support: Khat vs. Kratom 

Similarly to ephedrine and other stimulants, khat can provide an energy boost shortly after intake. However, khat’s effects wear off quickly, and there have been cases of people experiencing reactive depression symptoms. There is also evidence that shows khat could worsen the symptoms in those with pre-existing psychiatric diseases [3]. 

On the other hand, kratom is often used as a mood enhancer. Regularly, kratom effects kick in after 20-30 minutes, lasting about 2-3 hours. It’s powerfully euphoric while you’re on kratom. Afterward, the effect wears off and puts you back to square one. 

Benefits & Side Effects: Khat vs. Kratom

Kratom is safer and has only been linked to deaths when mixed with other substances. Kratom can be addictive, though this takes long-term use, and withdrawal symptoms are less severe than with opiates. 

The overall risk of death from khat and kratom is low, but khat has a higher risk of severe side effects and death. 

Why do people take these in the first place? They both come with some attractive benefits. Unfortunately, these benefits can lead to addiction, especially when it comes to khat. 

Khat’s Benefits

When you first chew khat, it causes many acute effects [4], including the following:

  • Appetite suppression 
  • Boosted work performance
  • Energy boost
  • Euphoria 
  • Excitement
  • Increased concentration
  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure 
  • Increased imagination 
  • Increased inhibition
  • Increased locomotor activity 
  • Increased mental alertness
  • Increased wellbeing 
  • Libido boost
  • Talkativeness 

Kratom’s Benefits

Kratom also has several benefits. These vary based on the strain and dose you take but may include: 

Using any substance long-term can cause problems. Sometimes the benefits outweigh the risks, but not always. Here’s a look at the side effects you could face from the extended use of khat or kratom.

Khat’s Side Effects

Khat comes with several safety risks and is addictive. It can increase the risk of cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, central nervous system, obstetric, and genitourinary diseases. It’s also believed to cause cancer in some cases [5].

Khat’s risk of death is relatively low, but it does happen. For instance, 13 people in the UK died from taking khat from 2004-2009 [6].  

Numerous potential side effects indicate that khat isn’t safe [7]. These include: 

  • Acute myocardial infarction 
  • Anxiety
  • Constipation 
  • Depression
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Elevated heart rate
  • Gastritis
  • Insomnia
  • Lack of concentration
  • Numbness
  • Periodontal disease

Taking khat regularly (defined as at least three times per week), or suffering from khat withdrawal, can lead to the following: 

  • Anxiety 
  • Cravings
  • Delusions 
  • Hypnagogic hallucinations 
  • Insomnia
  • Irritability 
  • Lack of concentration 
  • Loss of appetite 
  • Low Mood
  • Manic behavior 
  • Numbness
  • Restlessness
  • Suicidal thoughts 
  • Tremors 
  • Violence

Kratom’s Side Effects

Most side effects of kratom become noticeable after two to eight weeks of regular usage. These include: 

Kratom can be addictive with long-term usage. Fortunately, it’s much less addictive than opioids.

When tapering off kratom, people may also show symptoms of kratom withdrawal, including:

Legality: Khat vs. Kratom

Khat itself is not illegal, but its main compounds are. Cathinone is federally a Schedule I Drug, and cathine is a Schedule IV Drug. States can choose to make contradictory laws, though. 

On the other hand, kratom is federally legal though some states have banned it. 

Kratom is easily accessible online or in local shops if it’s legal where you live

Key Takeaways: Khat vs. Kratom

Khat and kratom both have pros and cons. 

If you’re looking for a way to deal with the withdrawal symptoms of opioid addiction, kratom is definitely the best choice. Kratom is also generally safer to take than khat and has fewer symptoms when you stop taking it.

Another big bonus for kratom is that it’s legal throughout most of the US Khat is illegal in the US and has been since 1993. 

No matter which one you choose to take, be careful of any potential side effects. Overall, though, kratom is considered safer, making it the better choice. 


Further Reading