Kava is a drug made from the ground roots of the plant Piper methysticum, a member of the pepper family that also includes black pepper. It is a native plant found in the South Pacific.
Kava can be taken as a drink or as a supplement or extract. Traditionally the root is crushed, ground or powdered and soaked in water to be drunk as tea. This tea is often consumed socially and as part of traditional ceremonies and cultural practices throughout the South Pacific Islands.
In small doses, the effects of kava include muscle relaxation, sleepiness and feelings of wellbeing.
Kava – effects on the body
The active chemicals in kava are known as kavalactones. Variations in growing conditions (such as soil type and the amount of sunlight and water available) and different varieties of plants mean that the strength of kavalactones can vary widely.
The strength of a dose of kava also depends on how the drink is prepared and how much-powdered kava is added to the water.
Kava is a central nervous system depressant. Even though there is no alcohol in kava, it can produce similar symptoms to drunkenness, including difficulty with balance, and slurred speech.
The effects of kava on your body can depend on:
- your body size
- your general health
- if you have taken kava before
- the strength and amount taken
- if you are taking other drugs at the same time.
Common effects include:
- for small doses – relaxed muscles, sleepiness, feelings of wellbeing and relaxation, mild loss of feeling in the throat and mouth, appetite loss
- for larger doses – dilated pupils, reddened eyes, nausea, drowsiness, reduced muscle control (ataxia).
Kava is dangerous for some people
It’s dangerous to take kava in combination with other psychoactive drugs or alcohol. There is little information on how kava interacts with other medications, so it's best to avoid kava if you are taking any prescription medicine.
Do not take kava if you:
- are pregnant
- are breastfeeding
- are driving or operating heavy machinery
- are currently taking pharmaceutical medicine
- drink large quantities of alcohol
- have a pre-existing heart, lung, or liver condition.
Children should not take kava.