Is Kava Legal? | Botanic Tonics

Is Kava Legal? | Botanic Tonics

Reviewed by Erin Berthold

Is Kava Legal?

The South Pacific is globally renowned for countless reasons, from its glorious beaches and laid-back ethos to its nuanced cuisine and enchanting kava-kava—a beverage, more commonly known in the U.S. as kava, that’s practically synonymous with Polynesian culture.[1]

What was almost exclusively found in Hawaii and island nations like Tonga, Fiji, Samoa, and Vanuatu has made a considerable splash in the continental U.S., with dozens of kava bars opening up from Manhattan to Miami in the last eight or so years.[2,3] But despite its present ubiquity, the advisory alert set out by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2002 naturally evokes the question: Is kava legal in America?[4]

In a word: Yes. The Department of Justice (DOJ) does not consider kava a controlled substance, nor has it ever been listed as a controlled substance by the Federal Controlled Substances Act.[5,6] Read on as we peel back the layers on kava’s legal status in the U.S.—and why people across the world are increasingly turning toward kava.

What is Kava—and Where is it From?

Kava is derived from the root of the plant  Piper methsysticum, a perennial, tropical shrub that’s endemic to the South Pacific islands, and parts of the North Pacific, such as Hawaii. 

Traditionally, the kava drink was prepared by chewing the roots and spitting out the juice. Today, this grinding down of the root is performed mechanically or by hand. The mixture is then diluted with water, strained, and either tossed back or savored— often in a coconut husk, as a nod to the classic way it was consumed. 

Depending on where you are in the world, kava goes by a handful of names, like intoxicated pepper (its Latin name) and kava. It’s available in a variety of forms, including:

  • Tea 
  • Tinctures
  • Extracts
  • Powders
  • Capsules

How is Kava Consumed?

In many of the kava bars throughout the U.S., kava is added to mocktails. As for the question, what does kava taste like?, regular kava has an earthy, bitter flavor, while fresh kava has spicy notes that may call to mind licorice. 

Learn more about the differences between kava pills vs drink options.

While drinking kava might be all the rage in the U.S. now, it has been consumed for religious and cultural purposes in the South Pacific for centuries, most often to experience a sense of ease and calmness during ceremonies and in other social settings. It was also—and remains in parts of the South Pacific— used for medicinal intentions. 

In the U.S., the kava craze began with the New Age set, but now it’s become a broad, enormous trend in some of the largest metropolises in the country—and is used by a wide variety of people.

Why Has Kava Exploded in Popularity?

The beauty of this root lies in all of the kava supplement benefits it provides, thanks to the wealth of organic compounds it boasts. This includes kavalactones, some of which bind to GABA receptors in the brain—neurotransmitters that play an essential role in creating feelings of calm.[7]

Kava is primarily prized for kavalactones’ potential capacity to naturally encourage a healthy, more relaxed and measured mood

It’s precisely these advantages that have made kava so alluring. Kava has become the go-to drink and/or supplement for many—so much that the kava industry is expected to rise to a $3.41 billion market by 2029.[8] It’s also one of the most popular herbal supplements on the shelves, virtual and otherwise. 

So Why Has Kava Been The Subject of Scrutiny?

In the early aughts, preliminary research performed in Europe linked a smattering of liver failures associated with the consumption of commercially available   kava products. As a result, countries ranging from Poland to Germany banned kava for personal use.

In the decades that followed, however, more research was conducted. It was concluded that kava is generally safe to use but may interact with certain over-the-counter and prescription medications, like any supplement. Some of these include:

  • Acetaminophen
  • Muscle relaxants
  • Sedatives
  • Haloperidol
  • Benzodiazepines
  • MAOI antidepressants
  • SSRIs

Experts also recommend avoiding using alcohol and kava simultaneously, as this may exacerbate the effects of alcohol. 

Where is Kava Legal?

As we discussed earlier, kava is legal for personal use in the United States. You don’t need a prescription to obtain it as a beverage, a capsule, or in its other iterations.

However, the customer advisory released by the FDA over 20 years ago remains in effect. Simply put, the FDA warns that individuals who have liver complications—or who take medications that might affect the liver—should receive express approval from their healthcare providers before consuming kava.

Where is Kava Illegal?

For years, kava was illegal in several European countries as a precaution taken by their governments in light of the correlation between liver issues and kava we mentioned above.

Many of these bans have since been lifted. In Germany, for example, kava was legalized in 2015. However, as of 2023, it’s still illegal in the United Kingdom.[9] Further, strict regulatory controls over the sale, advertising, and use of kava are still administered in various parts of the world. These include:

  • Canada
  • Australia
  • Japan
  • Germany
  • Norway
  • South Africa
  • Singapore
  • Switzerland
  • Malaysia
  • France

Is Kava Regulated by the U.S. Government?

The FDA categorizes kava as a dietary supplement that’s limited to personal use—even if kava bars peddle beverages that star kava.[10] This status means that kava isn’t regulated as a prescription drug would be, but it also cannot be used as an ingredient in foods and beverages. (Confusing, we know.)

Technically, kava can only be crafted, processed, packaged, and labeled specifically as a supplement in a facility the FDA monitors. To be considered legal, it must also comply with stipulations set forth by the FDA, such as:

  • Kava products can be sold only as dietary supplements
  • Kava products must be “hermetically” sealed in individual packages

Additionally, the FDA recommends that individuals under the age of 18—as well as expectant or breastfeeding mothers—should refrain from using kava. 

Are There Any Travel Restrictions with Kava?

Given that kava is legal at the federal level in the United States, you should be able to travel with kava without a hitch. 

That said, it’s important to double- (and perhaps even triple-) check travel guidelines if you plan on traveling to countries outside of the U.S. with kava in hand: In Australia, for example, you must be a minimum of 18 years old and carrying 4 kg or less of kava to enter the country, although you don’t need a permit or license to do so.[11]

How Can You Use Kava Safely?

Whether or not you have liver complications or take medications that may impact your liver, you want to obtain the green light from a trusted healthcare professional before waltzing into a kava bar or ordering kava online. 

Additionally, consider these tips before jumping on the kava bandwagon:

  • Keep proper dosages in mind – To mitigate the potential of kava overdose, experts suggest refraining from exceeding 250 mg of kavalactones—the active ingredient in kava—per day. If you’re purchasing kava online or from a local brick-and-mortar retailer, remember that a high-quality manufacturer will list the amount of kavalactones the product features. When it comes to meandering into a kava bar—or, hey, having a dedicated stool for yourself at one—The New York Times asserts that most kava bars serve a far less powerful form of the supplements of yore. But this (of course) depends on the establishment.

  • Seek out pure kava – This means that you should look for products that use only the roots of the plant, not its leaves, stems, and other parts. Why? These are the parts of the shrub that may negatively affect your liver—although that’s still up for debate.

  • Relish a Mellow Mood with Botanic Tonics

    Is kava legal in America? is a valid and perfectly understandable question, whether you’re curious about giving kava a go or have been enjoying its effects for years. For now, kava is legal in the U.S., and its surging popularity suggests that proponents of the dietary supplement will do their best to ensure it remains accessible for personal use.

    In the meantime, you can ensure that you consume a quality and clean product by choosing Botanic Tonics. Our feel free kava tonic tonic and feel free kava capsules go through the proper testing measures to ensure they contain only the good stuff and none of the awful gunk, like toxins and heavy metals. Plus, our products are vegan and organic, so you can rest assured that you’re elevating your self-care routine mindfully.

    Explore our products today to get your own taste of exceptional—and legal—kava.


    1, Healthline. Kava kava: benefits, side effects and dosage.
    2,6, The New York Times. Stressed New Yorkers take to kava, nature’s Xanax.
    3, Rolling Stone. Kava: inside the all-natural high that’s sweeping America.
    4, Mental Health America. Kava.
    5, Drug Enforcement Administration. Kava.
    7, Cleveland Clinic. Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA).
    8, Fortune Business Insights. Kava root extract market size.
    9, NutraIngredients. Kava banned in UK.
    10, Public Health Investigations. Denver Public Health & Environment.
    11, Alcohol and Drug Foundation. Kava.

    About The Author

    Erin Berthold Botanic Tonic

    Erin Berthold, PhD

    Erin Berthold is the R&D Director at Botanic Tonics. She holds her PhD in Pharmaceutics from the University of Florida. There she studied the interaction potential between mitragynine and cannabidiol, two compounds from complex natural products. She is passionate about developing creative and alternative options for individuals suffering from substance use disorders.

    Erin earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Illinois at Chicago in 2011. Prior to going back to obtain her PhD, she worked in manufacturing, quality control, engineering, and quality assurance roles across regulated industry at pharmaceutical, medical device, and dietary supplement companies.

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