Citation: bengt. "Within the Real Yemen Context: An Experience with Cathus edulis (Khat) (exp99358)". Erowid.org. Feb 22, 2013. erowid.org/exp/99358
Some years ago, I authored a Khat report titled “Within a Yemen Wedding Context,” which details my experience with a low dosage of (what I now consider) an inferior product imported to the United States. Having recently returned from a weeklong holiday in Yemen, I’d like to share what I hope is a significantly more authentic experience that many may not be able to recreate, given the current security situation.
I speak some Arabic and come from a Middle Eastern heritage, and even though exploring the capital by myself was no problem, I was advised to take a local with me to the Khat souk. The Khat market lies just inside the walls of Old Sanaa, and consists of a series of makeshift stands and sheds at which throngs of locals crowd around to haggle over the goods. Taking a local was a good idea -- this was the single place in Sanaa where I felt like I stuck out like a sore thumb.
I let my contact do the talking, and after opening and sifting through a few different products, he finally found one to his liking. The Khat comes in bags of what I would estimate is an ounce of fresh leaves and stems. We paid the merchant $20 for two bags; this seemed grossly overpriced to me, but I was later told that not only do prices skyrocket on Friday (the Muslim day of rest), but I was also unlucky enough to be visiting during a drought period.
My contact also assured me that this was the best Khat in the market. I asked how he knew this, to which he explained that you can tell from the quality of the leaves (color and freshness, I guess), and also the color of the chewed Khat: when chewed, quality Khat apparently turns a whitish-green tinge, which he demonstrated with a tiny sample.
Back at my guest house, my contact insisted that I eat lunch before chewing, lest I get sick. After our meal, myself and around five locals gathered in a sitting room to chew. One of the guys ran next door to grab a honey-flavored non-alcoholic malt beverage for everyone, which he claimed was a Yemeni tradition while chewing. Everyone sits with their bag on their lap, takes out a cluster of stems and leaves, and ritually manicures the leaves for size and freshness. You then mince the stuff with your teeth, grinding it into a sort of paste, and store this in your cheek. The whole thing takes practice, and I feel that this first time, I was swallowing quite a bit of plant matter.
Over the course of 3 hours, I finished my entire bag. I noticed that the experience happened in stages:
For the first hour, nothing happened. I chewed and tongue-wrestled the Khat into my cheek.
During the second hour I felt quite relaxed and I was uninhibited in my conversation. This was perhaps the only stimulant effect of the Khat, and it felt like a mile-a-minute bullshit session you might have on cocaine, minus the other effects. The conversation was broad and tangential, and this effect was the most noticeable to me as I am normally somewhat of an introvert. During this time, people came and went, but the conversation always flowed freely.
By the third hour, I felt sedated. The conversation died down, and I caught myself zoning out often. I felt like I wanted to go do something, but I also could not be brought to get up. I was pleasantly content to sit and do nothing, and I wished at this point that I had some music to entertain me.
Around the fourth hour, one of the locals asked if I’d like to go walk around Old Sanaa with him. While walking, I tried to keep the Khat in my cheek, but ended up having to spit it out. By this time, it was around 6pm in the evening, and most of the people on the street were chewing or had gigantic lumps in their cheeks. After spitting out my Khat, I felt queasy and did not enjoy the physical effort it took to walk clear across town. When I got back I laid down, and this feeling quickly passed. Despite everyone warning me of insomnia, I fell asleep with no trouble, and had wonderfully lucid dreams.
For the remainder of the week, I chewed Khat every day after lunch. The rest of the trip was spent on Socotra Island, which had it’s own Khat souk (2000 YER per bag for the good stuff). Following this experience, I came up with these notes:
- Many people I met did not chew daily. After the first day, the only effect of my chewing was a pleasant but mild relaxation, which perhaps indicates some sort of tolerance.
- I am normally someone who suffers badly from motion sickness, and the conditions of driving on Socotra should have effected me. However, while chewing Khat, I suffered no motion sickness at all.
- In my previous report, I noted that no women were chewing Khat. I learned that this is incorrect, and oftentimes the women will chew (albeit significantly less than the men).
- The locals claimed that Khat was an aphrodisiac. I experienced the complete opposite: not only was I entirely uninterested in sex, I don’t think I experienced a single erection after chewing.
- Any serious physical exertion after chewing made me feel very sick. One night I tried climbing a 300 ft. sand dune, and never felt so close to passing out and vomiting in my entire life.
- There is a definite appetite suppressing effect. While chewing, and for a period afterwards, I was not at all hungry. In fact, I missed a number of meals.
Overall, the effects of Khat are negligible but nonetheless pleasant. If nothing else, the simple ritual and social custom makes it a worthwhile experience, like gathering for coffee or smoking sheesha. Having said that, if it were legal, this is not something that you’d be chewing by yourself; there is a definite social aspect to Khat, and maybe this placebo is part of the effect. But I will say this: there is no better way to experience the magic of Yemen in all of it’s Arabian Nights glory than with a group of friends and a wad of Khat in your cheek.
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