kAVA (A complete review)

kAVA

In this blog article, we will discuss what Kava is commonly used for and the positive and negative health effects. 

Table of Contents

What is Kava? 

Kava is a drug that depresses the central nervous system and acts as a muscle relaxant.

It is commonly used to reduce stress, anxiety, migraines, and insomnia. It is often considered a substitute to alcohol due to hypnotic and muscle- relaxing effects.

The root of the kava plant is ground down and often mixed into various drinks and teas, although it may also be found in the form of a tablet over the counter. 

On the contrary, there is a brand coffee, known the Black insomnia coffee which causes insomnia and still relaxes the muscles.

kAVA (A complete review)

Background of Kava

Kava is made from the root of the Piper methysticum plant, which is a member of the pepper family.

It originated in the Pacific islands. There, it was ground down and mixed with cold water to create a special drink used in rituals and in ceremonies.

The drink was believed to connect people with spirits. The drink was also a status symbol, drank by those of higher ranks.

Kava was then brought to Australia in the 1980’s, as it was commonly used as a substitute for alcohol due to its muscle- relaxing and hypnotic effects.

Even today, there are café’s selling Kava drinks that market these drinks as an alternative to alcohol. 

Effects of Kava

Kava usually produces the effects of feeling happy, a feeling of well- being, and a feeling of relaxation. It may also lead to sleepiness.

Kava has also been known to produce effects of reduced or loss of appetite as well as a feeling of numbness in the mouth and the throat.

After taking large amounts of Kava, additional effects may be experienced: drowsiness, loss of muscle control, mild fever, nausea, pupil dilation, and eye redness.

Some long- term effects of Kava may include: mood swings, apathy, shortness of breath, dry skin, weight loss and malnutrition.

Kava has also been linked to irreversible liver damage, especially if mixed with alcohol or an acetonic extract.

For this reason, it is important to avoid drinking alcohol with products including Kava, and to take caution if you have a pre- existing liver condition. 

Overall, the effects of Kava depend on a variety of factors.

It depends on how much Kava you’ve ingested, as well as your size and your overall health.

The effects of Kava may also vary depending on other drugs you are currently taking at the same time.

The effects of Kava also vary if you have taken it in the past. 

Anxiety and Kava

As stated before, the primary use of Kava is to relieve tension and anxiety, and many studies have been performed to investigate this.

The results of the studies show that Kava was in fact more successful at reducing anxiety symptoms than the placebo was.

However, experts say that more studies should be performed in order to fully evaluate the side effects of Kava before it can be a recommended therapy.

Many take it for sleep disorders, as they claim the relaxing effect of Kava can help aid in getting a more restful night’s sleep.

However, studies show that there is no positive nor negative effect of Kava on sleep disorders compared to placebo. 

kAVA (A complete review)

Risks of Kava

Overall, Kava should be avoided while taking other medications, as minimal research exists on its interactions with other drugs.

You should especially take caution if you are taking benzodiazepines and antidepressants.

Those have similar effects to those of Kava on your central nervous system, and it may create too large of a depressant effect.

You should also not take Kava if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, or if you drive and operate heavy machinery.

Kava should be avoided in children as well.

It should be avoided while drinking alcohol and should also be avoided if you have a preexisting liver condition, as its risk of permanent liver damage is higher in this population.

Despite the research performed on Kava and its effects, the mechanism by which Kava can damage the liver is still not fully clear.

Because of the known risks of Kava as well as the lack of studies available to further elucidate the side effects of this drug, many countries have banned Kava.

However, it is in fact legal in the United States, because various studies have found a very clear positive benefit- to -risk ratio.

The Food and Drug Administration does still issue caution against its use. 

Kava is known to have some negative effects, which include:

-breathing difficulties

-liver damage and kidney damage

-compromised immune function

-loss of drive and motivation

-worsened symptoms of pre-existing mental illnesses

-visual changes, including photopobia (sensitivity to light)

-contact dermatitis

-appetite loss

-alterations to white and red blood cells as well as platelets

Taking Kava in high doses for a long period of time could also produce the following effects:

-dry, scaly skin

-yellow skin (jaundice)

-heart problems

-worsened eye problems 

If you are concerned about any of these side effects it is important to contact your doctor right away.

If you experience any of the following while taking Kava, it is important to call your doctor as well:

-fever

-extreme fatigue

-abdominal pain

-appetite loss

-nausea or vomiting

-elevated body temperature

-unusual bruises or bleeding

-yellowing of the eyes or the skin

-brown- colored urine

How to use Kava

Kava was originally created by grinding the root portion of the plant into a paste, then mixing with cold water.

It is often then boiled to make tea. Kava is commonly sold in tea or in other drinks.

Kava may be sold in powder form, which is commonly mixed into juice. Kava may also be sold in a tablet or capsule form.

Studies show the recommended dose for Kava is under 250 milligrams a day. 

Note: If you are interested in using Kava, it is recommended that you speak with a healthcare professional first.

Because of the side effects and possible drug interactions, it is important to make sure that Kava is the right choice for you.

If your doctor does not recommend that you take Kava, you can work together to come up with an alternative treatment that does work for you.

kAVA (A complete review)

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Kava:

Is Kava a hallucinogen?

Kava is not considered a hallucinogen, although it is known to have hypnotic effects.

Can you drive after drinking Kava?

There are not many studies on the effects of Kava on the ability to drive.

However, it is suggested that people take caution while driving or operating heavy machinery after consuming Kava anyway, as it is known to lead to drowsiness. 

How long does Kava stay in your system for?

The effects of Kava may vary from person to person.

It may vary according to a person’s size, a person’s metabolism, if other medications are being taken at the same time, if a person has already been consuming Kava for a long period of time, and how much Kava is consumed.

Someone who consumes a small amount of Kava will experience quicker, more minimal effects than someone who consumes a large amount of Kava, or over a longer period of time.

Some people may experience the effects of Kava for two hours, while some may experience the effects of Kava for much longer- for up to over four hours. 

Can I drink too much Kava?

It is important not to consume too much Kava due to its various side effects.

Drinking more Kava for a longer amount of time increases your likelihood of experiencing these side effects.

If you notice any of the following while taking Kava, it may indicate that you have consumed more Kava than recommended. 

-breathing difficulties

-liver damage and kidney damage

-compromised immune function

-loss of drive and motivation

-worsened symptoms of pre-existing mental illnesses

-visual changes, including photopobia (sensitivity to light)

-contact dermatitis

-appetite loss

-alterations to white and red blood cells as well as platelets

Studies show that consuming too much Kava could also lead to hepatotoxicity, or liver damage.

It may also lead to heart problems, as well as more other symptoms that could indicate the presence of health problems.

If you or someone you know has experienced any of these symptoms while consuming Kava, you should contact a medical professional right away: 

-fever

-extreme fatigue

-abdominal pain

-appetite loss

-nausea or vomiting

-elevated body temperature

-unusual bruises or bleeding

-yellowing of the eyes or the skin

-brown- colored urine

kAVA (A complete review)

Interested in learning more about Kava? Check out these recommended readings!

Kava: From Ethnology to Pharmacology (Medicinal and Aromatic Plants- Industrial Profiles Book 38) by Yadhu N. Singh

This book discusses kava’s benefits, origins, production, chemical properties, biological properties, and much more.

It delves into the variety of studies that have been performed to investigate its therapeutic effects.

This book is useful to anyone interested in studying Kava or who are interested in learning more about whether or not Kava is right for them.

Kava-Kava: Sacred Healing Brew by E.F. Steinmetz, MD and Beverly A. Potter, PhD

This book discusses in depth about the chemistry and botany of Kava. It delves into the background and history of the plant, including its many uses both currently and in the past.

This book contains plenty of visuals, including illustrations and photographs, to supplement your reading.

This book is especially geared to those who are interested in herbal medicine. 

Psyche Delicacies: Coffee, Chocolate, Chiles, Kava and Cannabis, and Why They’re Good for You by Christopher Kilham and Chris Kilham 

In this book, you will not only find an abundance of information about kava, but you will also find plenty of information about other foods that may produce similar effects to kava.

This book discusses these foods as well as cannabis, and the benefits that these may have on your mind and on your body. 

Herbs for Stress & Anxiety: How to Make and Use Herbal Remedies to Strengthen the Nervous System.

A Storey BASICS® Title by Rosemary Gladstar

This book serves as an informative guide to those who are interested in learning more about Kava and how it acts as an herbal medicinal treatment for stress, anxiety, migraines, and insomnia.

In this book, you will find recipes for herbal mixtures that can then be used in teas, tinctures, and capsules.

This book serves to enlighten those reading it about how to become more relaxed using herbal medicine and remedies.

 

References

Chua, Han Chow; Christensen, Emilie T. H.; Hoestgaard-Jensen, Kristen; Hartiadi, Leonny Y.; Ramzan, Iqbal; Jensen, Anders A; Absalom, Nathan L; Chebib, Mary. “Kavain, the Major Constituent of the Anxiolytic Kava Extract, Potentiates GABAA Receptors: Functional Characteristics and Molecular Mechanism.” PloS One, Public Library of Science, 22 June 2016, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4917254/#. (Accessed April 30, 2020).

“Kava.” Kava- Alcohol and Drug Foundation, 15 Aug. 2019, https://adf.org.au/drug-facts/kava/. (Accessed April 30, 2020.)

“Kava.” Better Health Channel, Department of Health & Human Services, 20 Mar. 2020, https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/kava. (Accessed April 30, 2020).

Kandola, A. “Kava kava: Benefits and safety concerns.” Medical News Today, 17 Dec. 2018. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/324015#is-kava-kava-safe. (Accessed April 30, 2020).

 

Juanita Agboola

Juanita Agboola is the editor in chief of HFNE and an expert in mental health online. She has been writing about online behavior, mental health and psychology issues since 2012. All Guides are reviewed by our editorial team which constitutes various clinical psychologists, PhD and PsyD colleagues.