Me Chewing Qat in Yemen

Chewing Qat (aka “Getting High”) In Yemen

Derek Yemen 101 Comments

Me Chewing Qat in Yemen

If there’s one word that I heard more than any other during my stay in Yemen, it is the word ‘qat’. And the reason that word is so important is because, at approximately 2pm every single day, the entire nation stops everything they are doing and focuses on qat and on qat only.

Qat is a plant that is grown all over Yemen, on what seems to be every square inch of land, whether in the valleys or on the mountainsides, that could be used to grow a plant. When the leaves of the plant are fresh, they are chewed, an activity that leads to a state of increased excitement with the possibility of mild euphoria as a bonus. This state is the result of a stimulant similar to amphetamine that is found in the plant and which, using the best description I’ve heard, acts as if you’re drinking endless cups of very strong coffee. Qat, and the substance it contains, is actually illegal in many countries and its use is mostly limited to Yemen, Somalia, Ethiopia, Djibouti and a handful of other countries in the same geographical area.

In Yemen, people chew qat while walking, sitting, talking, driving, working and just about anything else they might be doing. And when I say ‘people’, I am referring to what appears to be the entire over-18 male population of the country as well as many women, who also chew the leaves according to their husbands at least.

It’s quite traditional for Yemeni males to wear a jambiya every day, a curved ceremonial blade that is displayed in the front by wedging it into a thick belt. And when qat time comes around, most males suddenly have a huge bag of leaves hanging from the handle of their knife so that they have easy access to their qat.

This is not just some hobby. Every male I met admitted that they were addicted to qat and that the only way they could stop chewing it was if they had no money at all and couldn’t afford even the cheapest variety, which runs about 500 rials ($2 USD) for a huge bag.

Did I try it out? Of course I did. Not a day went by when a local person didn’t give me a gift of qat to chew and you know how it goes…when you receive a gift of qat, it’s certainly rude to refuse.

HOW DOES CHEWING QAT WORK?

Morning – Go to the Qat Market to buy your daily supply, choosing the best quality that you can afford. Qat typically stays fresh for one day so most people buy a new batch every day.

Qat Market in Yemen

Qat Market, Jebel, Yemen

1:30pm – Eat a massive lunch.

Lunch in Yemen

2:00pm – Pull out your bag of qat, find a comfortable mufrage (sitting room designed specifically for chewing qat that can be found in every home, restaurant and hotel and may sometimes be located outside) and get into the proper qat chewing position. See below photos for an example…

Mufrage in Yemen

2:01pm – Start chewing qat by first pulling the leaves out of the plastic bag. Then, place a few leaves and stems into your mouth and chew on them for a minute before stuffing those leaves and stems, using your tongue, into the inner cheek on one side of your mouth. Continue chewing the leaves slowly, squeezing out the juice, while stuffing more and more leaves into your mouth the entire time until you have a bulge in your cheek the size of ?????. And then you repeat the process, over and over and over and over and over again, never spitting the growing mass of leaves out of your mouth.

Chewing Qat in Yemen 5

3:00pm – Keep on chewing qat, crunching up those leaves and growing that bulge.

Chewing Qat in Yemen 4

4:00pm – Don’t stop now! Keep chewing.

Chewing Qat in Yemen 3

5:00pm – You guessed it…chew away my friends!

Chewing Qat in Yemen 6

6:00pm – The weakest qat chewers will now spit their mushy ball of chewed up leaves out of their mouth while the stronger ones will continue going for many hours more.

Chewing Qat in Yemen

Some time in the night – The qat session finally comes to an end and you spit out the remaining qat from your mouth. You drink a cup of black tea and then you sit there on the cushioned floor of the mufrage, trying to engage in some conversation with the others around you until dinner is served or it’s time for sleep.

Chewing Qat in Yemen 2

WHAT ARE THE EFFECTS OF QAT?

As mentioned above, qat users get a bit excited and as a result, they will often become extremely talkative and hyper, spitting out words in such a rapid and animated fashion to anyone who will listen. However, it also seemed to me that just as many users I met were perfectly content to sit in silence, staring at the wall and minding their own business.

Behind the scenes, your blood pressure and heart rate increase, you lose your appetite and to top it off, you become constipated. Long term effects may include cancer of the mouth, depression and psychosis, all fun stuff.

Growing Qat in Yemen

MY EXPERIENCE CHEWING QAT

It was okay. Seemed like quite an effort for such a little buzz. The qat made me a bit spacey and somewhat hyper, and I had a good time as a result, but it took four hours of chewing leaves to get there. However, with a 65% unemployment rate in Yemen, I can understand the appeal. A quick high would leave most people with very little to do all afternoon and evening. Qat fills in the day.

But for me, all that chewing was a painstaking process as the inside of my mouth became sore and raw, the stuff kept me awake at night and I’m quite sure that it messed with my digestive system. And that’s after only chewing qat for one week.

Would I do it again? Sure, simply because that’s the thing to do in Yemen and in the end, it is a social activity. Had I not chewed qat I probably would not have had the same interactions and conversations with locals that I ended up having. Qat honestly helped bridge the tourist gap, allowing me to take a few more steps closer to the culture I wanted to learn about.

I could definitely have done without the constipation though.


Have you ever tried qat? Would you try it?

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Comments 101

  1. Kween Frostine

    I’ve chewed coca leaves for years & would love to try khat. Coca is so mild compared to coffee & other stimulants; I imagine khat to be slightly stronger than coca. Cathinone (the active alkaloid) is a decent stimulant anyway…

    I’ve never heard of a stimulant causing constipation though? Usually it’s the other way around–they speed up the bowels. I know some khat users end up with a dangerous liver reaction similar to some kratom users, but it’s kind of rare. I think I’d like the Yemeni culture, minus the child bride stuff. That meal looks delicious & the khat room is GORGEOUS! I could really get behind working ’til lunch & then getting stoned all day. The rest of the world should try this, actually.

    I think all plant drugs should be legal & accessible to anyone who wants to use them. It’s really interesting learning about the different botanicals that grow naturally around the world & how they’ve been used by cultures since the beginning of time.

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  3. michael

    I have yemen freinds. I just tried kat for the First time. It was alright concentration was increased and gave me enough energy to move a house after working 11 hours. I recomend if u need a boost. It did not cause me to get paranoid like other stimulants.

  4. ALI

    Socotra is the wonderer human heritage of now-a-days. An believeable natural spot on the Globe. Amazing. No words can describe its beauty and uniqness.

  5. SOMALIA

    I am from Somalia, I think everyone reading these comments know about Somalia and its satiation. One of the most important thing behind this satiation in Somalia is Qat,Kat,Gat. Almost all militias weather its is government military or Al-Shabab militias use Qat. I am a health worker, although there is no research done in terms of the health related problems of Qat, but in my experience I have seen a lot of people most of them men aged above 25yrs old had at least 5 yrs of chewing Qat history, complaining about severe headache and lack of sleep(insomnia), and constipation, and hallucinations most of them after investigation seen that their Blood Pressure(BP) was high, some of them they had surgery to relive intestinal obstruction due to Qat accumulation in their intestine, some of them die before they come to hospital because of stroke while they where chewing Qat. Now I am in China doing my masters here, my teacher ask me to write research article about Qat. Any help will be appreciated I mean researches done about Qat. U can send your info on my e-mail: hilalnor@hotmail.com. Thank you.

  6. Dani

    I am Ethiopian. I have chewed khat for about 20 years now. I started it when I was in high school. I used it for studying before every exam I had until my time in college. It worked for me and I was one of the highest scorers both in high school and college. I was one of the distinction students in college. I used khat to digest a mountain of information within no time. What surprises me is that I am not addicted to it anymore. Currently, I work as a training coordinator for my organization and I chew khat whenever I encounter workload. This might be in two weeks time, a month time or so. When I have social gatherings with my friends we chew khat to get the best out of the time. I you do it correctly, i mean manage your consumption of khat, it is the best leaf both to perform and chill out. Consuming Coke or chocolate on a daily basis is more dangerous to health than consuming khat on a daily basis.

    1. kaith

      *Consuming Coke or chocolate on a daily basis is more dangerous to health than consuming khat on a daily basis.*

      very true

  7. Hatim

    I bet you had a wonderful stay in Yemen.
    I have a little correction to the post … The product shown on the picture of the pickup truck is not Qat. it looks like qat, but it is green beans that Yemeni people often consume as a raw veg.
    Thank You for sharing your experience in my country,Yemen.

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  14. gmohamed

    I chew with my husband who is from Yemen a few times a month. Its not bad but makes me a little hyper Lol its also a nice way for us to chill and spend time together after a long week at work.

  15. Someone with a good mind

    I lived in yemen my entire life and i am a yemenie
    Notes you should know
    not everyone chews Gat ( Yes its Gat G not Q … Q sounds weird)

    There are JUST A FEW SO VERY FEW intelligent people like me who thinks Gat is a disgusting vile thing that i never once in my life put in my mouth and never will.
    it is a tool used for ignorant retards to make their pathetic life easier.
    They all claim ” we can stop if we want to ” But they avoid the fact that its highly addictive and they actually cannot quit it no matter what.

    It causes ALL kinds of diseases you’d be surprised by the numbers, which is why they keep watching it so much before they chew it, and even still it would cause cancer.

    And All of them ALL are Muslims and they believe that anything addictive or bad for you is against Islam and yet they Gobble it like tic-tac … pathetic ignorant little fools… this … this is why i dont have friends because they rather waste their lives chewing this instead of doing something fun and creative

    1. helen

      Oh dear. You are just so intelligent, that you managed to make your point without being judgemental or insulting at all. Bravo. Very clever.

    2. ARE U EVEN KIDDING ME!

      intelligent ?! your own ppl looks stupid that’s your point ! right ? , !
      I AM Yemeni ! , and i think not all ppl chewing Qat ! , but there are many many creative ppl in Yemen , it’s not about chewing qaat or not , it’s about what you did in this life to make a deference in others lives ! , we live in a small world bro , what have you did mr. intelligent ?! ,

      think about it

      and wandering earl that was a first class experience xD , HOPE TO SEE YA AGAIN .

  16. Andre

    My friend told about me about qat, so I asked him can he get me some,… so now I’m sitting here chewing qat with bubblegum for nearly 2 hours and reading your article :)I think I will not last until i get the buzz..

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