Is Kava Safe? A Guide to Kava Consumption
Call it kava-kava while you’re Spring Breaking in Florida, ‘awa while you’re vacationing on Kauai, or faikava while you’re visiting Tonga’s Vava’u. No matter the name you use or where you mellow out with it, there’s no denying kava’s growing popularity.
Kava bars are sprouting up from Brooklyn to the Bay, extracts and capsules are on the shelves of Whole Foods and Target, and everyone from your sister to your barista is raving about kava’s chill-inducing status.
But we all know to think twice, even with products derived from nature. The big question is, is kava safe?
Yes—but a kava drink might not be the right product for some people. Let’s jump into kava’s benefits, the risks it may have for some individuals, and how you can use it prudently to reap its advantages.
What is Kava Kava?
Kava kava, which is often shortened to kava, is an herbal tonic made from the roots of the Piper methysticum plant—a South Pacific shrub that’s in the pepper family. It’s believed to have originated in Melanesia, a group of islands that includes:[3,4]
- Papua New Guinea
- Solomon Islands
Kava is deemed a canoe crop—meaning ancient voyagers carried it across the ocean aboard their vessels. As one of the most culturally important plants in Pacific island nations, it’s been used for centuries in social celebrations and religious ceremonies, just as it’s been used for medicinal purposes across both Europe and the Pacific.
A Brief History of Kava’s Impact in the U.S.
Roughly twenty years ago, kava made a huge splash in the United States (outside of Hawaii, that is, where it’s been used for hundreds of years) as a healthy alternative to alcohol.
Since then, kava bars have carved out a niche for themselves as alcohol-free social hotspots while kava capsules, tinctures, and teas have grown in prominence at both health food markets and big box retailers.
Today, kava is expected to continue expanding in popularity, with some predictions suggesting it’ll hit the $3.41 billion mark in market value in the next several years.
What are the Benefits of Kava?
You may be wondering, is kava healthy? It definitely has a variety of benefits. Kava’s rise outside of the South Pacific and in places like the U.S., Australia, and New Zealand is thanks to the rhizome’s influence on the central nervous system and a few key neurotransmitters, like GABA and dopamine. In turn, the earthy-flavored tonic may:
- Soothe feelings of discomfort
- Boost confidence in social settings
- Relax the mind and body
- Ease angst
This laidback, more socially comfortable feeling is often likened to the effects of alcohol. With kava, however, you may maintain mental clarity and be able to skip the hangover that might arrive when you overdo it on Moscow Mules.
And others still use kava for its slight but extant analgesic, anti-inflammatory, and potentially neuroprotective effects.[10,11]
Is Kava Safe?: 5 Considerations
The World Health Organization (WHO) asserts that pure kava presents only minimal health risks.
That said, the question “is kava-kava safe” should actually be “is kava-kava safe for me?” The answer to which depends entirely on your biochemistry and what’s going on with your health and wellness in general.
Before popping kava capsules into your online cart or agreeing to meet up with your colleagues at your local kava bar, you ought to obtain your physician’s express approval. In the meantime, answer these key questions to determine if kava capsules and drinks might be right for you and your current situation.
#1 Do you take antidepressants?
Kava may elevate your mood and put you in a better frame of mind. But it also has a mellowing effect that may be dangerous when it’s paired with MAOIs, SSRIs, and drugs that work towards sedating the central nervous system. These include but aren’t limited to:
- Benzos, like Xanax and Valium
This isn’t to say that anyone who uses antidepressants can’t also use kava. But you must first receive a seal of approval from your prescribing healthcare professional before trying kava.
#2 Do you take any other medications?
Other medications may interact with kava as well, including drugs used to treat Parkinson’s disease, diuretics, anticonvulsants, drugs that affect the liver, and Phenothiazine medications—or medications used to treat psychological conditions such as schizophrenia. Also, be sure to let your doctor know if you’re taking any other supplements.
#3 Are you planning on drinking?
It’s widely encouraged to pick your potion before heading out on the town, chilling out with your pals on your patio, or just unwinding after a long day: Alcohol should not be mixed with kava, and vice versa.
The potential effects of doing so are two-fold:
- Alcohol may exacerbate kava’s relaxing effects and lead to increased impairment
- Mixing alcohol with kava might increase your risk of liver toxicity
Many advocates of kava feel that there’s no need to drink when they’re sipping an alcohol-free kava libation, as kava may enhance feelings of well-being and render both parties and puzzles—jigsaw, that is—more enjoyable.
#4 Are you planning on driving?
There’s mixed evidence on whether kava may slow your reflexes. As of now, it’s technically legal to drive after cheering your buddies over a kava cocktail or taking a kava capsule, but the better question is: should you drive?
Everyone has a different reaction to all herbal extracts; some people can’t tolerate lemon balm, passion flower, or Valerian root, for example. Kava use might cause drowsiness in some individuals, or slow your reaction time.
Your best bet? Take public transit or order a Lyft—especially if it is your first few encounters with kava.
#5 Are you pregnant or breastfeeding?
If you’re pregnant, lactating, or planning on becoming pregnant, you should opt for Perrier or peppermint leaf tea: So far, we don’t have enough evidence on kava drinking and consumption to show that it’s safe for mamas and mamas-to-be.[18,19]
Is Kava Kava Safe? Additional Considerations
Naturally, this isn’t an exhaustive list of the things you ought to weigh before giving kava a whirl (and, again, we can’t overstate the importance of getting the A-okay from your healthcare provider). You might also need to hold off on kava or avoid it completely if you have:
- Liver disease
- Kidney disease
- A bleeding disorder
Also, save kava for another time if you have a surgery on your books: a kava product may amplify the effects of anesthesia.
How Can You Consume Kava Safely?
Got the green light from your healthcare provider? Excellent. But precautions should also be taken before you whip up a kava-infused tea or take a kava supplement.
Choose a Well-Regarded Manufacturer
You might not have much say on the kava you consume if you order a tea at a kava bar; kava, after all, is not deemed a controlled substance by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). But if you’re browsing kava supplements at a brick-and-mortar retailer or online, be sure to opt for a reputable brand whose products are:
- Rigorously tested by a third party
- Free of heavy metals and contaminants
- Sourced from kava harvested in the South Pacific and/or with ingredients from the U.S.
Why is this imperative?
Because there are 200-plus types of kava and different strains, and parts of the kava plant may have more intense effects than others. Specifically set out to find kava that’s derived from the root of Piper methysticum.
Mix Your Kava Cocktail with Care
If you’re using a kava tincture or kava extract and want to learn how to prepare kava libations at home, remember to avoid combining your kava-kava with vodka, whiskey, or the like. Instead, mix kava with:
- Coconut milk
- Fruit juice, preferably a tropical flavor
- Water (hot or cold)
Get yourself a kava bowl and try it out! You can also toss your kava into a smoothie to get an extra dose of health benefits. And when you’d prefer to enjoy a kava beverage without lifting your finger—except on your laptop or smartphone? Give Botanic Tonics’ feel free wellness tonic a try.
Adhere to the Recommended Dosage
Consume too much of anything—whether it’s sugar, alcohol, coffee, Vitamin C, or carrots—and you may not feel your best. But following the recommended dosage is especially important when it comes to dietary supplements. Experts across the board agree that a daily dosage of kavalactones—the primary bioactive compounds in kava—is equal to or less than 250 mg.
Botanic Tonics and Chill
Kava has limited health risks and may be more appealing to you if you’re taking a break from alcohol—or don’t drink at all.
If you’re eager to join the innumerable others who count kava as their go-to alternative to alcohol, Botanic Tonics is that reputable manufacturer you’ve been hoping to find, working hard to ensure the quality of our kava plant-based offerings.
Check out our feel free capsules and feel free wellness tonic to learn first-hand what all the buzz is about—and rest assured that we only deliver third party-tested, clean kava products.
1, The Guardian. The great kava boom: how Fiji’s beloved psychoactive brew is going global. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/feb/05/the-great-kava-boom-how-fijis-beloved-psychoactive-brew-is-going-global
2, Cleveland Clinic. When it comes to kava, ‘natural’ doesn’t mean safe. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/what-is-kava/
3, University of Hawaii at Manoa Library. Traditional Pacific Island crops: kava. https://guides.library.manoa.hawaii.edu/paccrops/kava
4, Encyclopedia Britannica. Melanesia. https://www.britannica.com/place/Melanesia
5, The University of Texas at El Paso. Kava.
6, Restaurant Clicks. The 16 most consumed beverages around the world.
7, Fortune Business Insights. Kava root extract market size.
8, UCLA Health. Ask the doctors-what are the risks and benefits of kava?
9,21, Healthline. Kava kava: benefits, side effects and dosage.https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/kava-kava#TOC_TITLE_HDR_5
10, Practical Pain Management. Can kava supplements kill your pain?
11, Neural Regeneration Research. Neuroprotective properties of kavalactones.
12, World Health Organization. Kava: a review of the safety of traditional and recreational beverage consumption.
13, Mental Health America. Kava.
14, Mount Sinai. Kava kava.
15, Drugs.com. Kava and alcohol/food interactions. https://www.drugs.com/food-interactions/kava.html
16, Law Offices of Kenneth A. Stover. Could drinking kava tea lead to a DUID charge?
17, Mayo Clinic. Herbal treatments for anxiety: is it effective? https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/generalized-anxiety-disorder/expert-answers/herbal-treatment-for-anxiety/faq-20057945
18, American Pregnancy Association. Herbal tea and pregnancy.
19, Science Direct. Kava. https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/biochemistry-genetics-and-molecular-biology/kava
20, Drug Enforcement Administration. Kava. https://www.deadiversion.usdoj.gov/drug_chem_info/kava.pdf