Last updated : March 23, 2017
Kava is a depressant drug, which means it slows down the messages travelling between the brain and the body. Kava is made from the root or stump of the kava (Piper methysticum) shrub.1
Kava comes in different forms including:
Kava kava, kawa, waka, lewena, yaqona, grog (Fiji), sakau (Pohnpei), ‘awa (Hawaii), ‘ava (Samoa) and wati (New Guinea).3
Traditionally, Pacific Islanders crushed, chewed and ground the root and stump of the shrub, then soaked it in cold water to produce a drink for ceremonies and cultural practices. These rituals were said to strengthen ties among groups, reaffirm status and help people communicate with spirits.1
Many Pacific Islanders who have settled in Australia have continued drinking kava or using kava extracts.5
Kava was introduced to the communities in the north of Australia in the 1980s as a substitute for alcohol, to reduce alcohol-related harms in the community. The kava drink is often used for sedative, hypnotic and muscle-relaxant effects, in much the same way that alcohol is used.1
Kava extract is used in some herbal preparations. They are sold as over-the-counter tablets and preparations to be used in the treatment of insomnia, stress and anxiety.4
There is no safe level of drug use. Use of any drug always carries some risk. Even medications can produce unwanted side effects. It’s important to be careful when taking any type of drug.
Kava affects everyone differently, based on:
The following effects may be experienced:
If a large amount of kava is taken the following effects may also be experienced:
Regular use of large amounts of kava may eventually cause:
People with a family history of mental illness or who are experiencing mental health problems such as depression and schizophrenia, may find excessive use of kava makes the symptoms of these conditions more severe.6
Manufactured products such as herbal remedies that contain kava extract have been linked to irreversible liver damage. Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration recommends that anyone at risk of liver damage or who has an existing liver condition should avoid taking preparations containing kava.7
The effects of taking kava with other drugs – including over-the-counter or prescribed medications – can be unpredictable and dangerous, and could cause:
Kava + alcohol: increased drowsiness, impaired reflexes and risk of liver damage.
Kava + benzodiazepines: sedation.3
The import, advertising and sale of kava in Australia are strictly controlled. Kava is listed as a controlled substance under the Customs (Prohibited Imports) Regulations Act.
Commercial importations of kava are no longer allowed, except for medical or scientific purposes.
Passengers coming into Australia, who are over the age of 18 years, are allowed to bring 2kg of kava without a license or permit, provided it is in their accompanied baggage.7
There is no evidence that people who regularly use kava become dependent on the drug, so if you stop taking it, you are unlikely to experience withdrawal symptoms. However, if you have health problems seek medical advice.6
If your use of Kava is affecting your health, family, relationships, work, school, financial or other life situations, you should seek help and support.