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PLoS One. 2011;6(6):e20602. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0020602. Epub 2011 Jun 15.

Khat use is associated with impaired working memory and cognitive flexibility.

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  • 1Institute for Psychological Research and Leiden Institute for Brain and Cognition, Leiden University, Leiden, The Netherlands.



Khat consumption has increased during the last decades in Eastern Africa and has become a global phenomenon spreading to ethnic communities in the rest of the world, such as The Netherlands, United Kingdom, Canada, and the United States. Very little is known, however, about the relation between khat use and cognitive control functions in khat users.


We studied whether khat use is associated with changes in working memory (WM) and cognitive flexibility, two central cognitive control functions.


Khat users and khat-free controls were matched in terms of sex, ethnicity, age, alcohol and cannabis consumption, and IQ (Raven's progressive matrices). Groups were tested on cognitive flexibility, as measured by a Global-Local task, and on WM using an N-back task.


Khat users performed significantly worse than controls on tasks tapping into cognitive flexibility as well as monitoring of information in WM.


The present findings suggest that khat use impairs both cognitive flexibility and the updating of information in WM. The inability to monitor information in WM and to adjust behavior rapidly and flexibly may have repercussions for daily life activities.

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