Understanding Kava

Kava, also called Kava-Kava, is an herbal substance made from the root of Piper methysticum, native to the western Pacific Islands, where native islanders have used it for centuries in religious ceremonies and as a medicinal treatment. Though other ingestion methods exist, it is most often consumed as a beverage.

Kava use has increased in popularity mainly for its psychoactive properties. It is legally available in the US as a dietary supplement and is often sold as a sleep aid and muscle relaxant. People also take Kava as a treatment for conditions such as anxiety, chronic stress, and insomnia.

Despite the substance’s legal status, there are concerns about the safety and effectiveness of Kava.

Uses Of Kava

People use Kava to combat various ailments, like:

  • Anxiety
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle tension
  • Depression
  • Insomnia

The debate on whether Kava use is beneficial is ongoing, and more research is needed on its medical uses and effects.

How Is Kava Consumed?

Several forms of Kava exist for consumption, including:

  • Powder form, in which someone mixes it with tea or a favorite drink.
  • Liquid tincture that they can mix in a drink or use an eye dropper to deliver it directly under the tongue for absorption.
  • Capsules or dietary supplements that are taken orally.

Kava retailers offer many options, including edibles, pre-made drink mixes, blender mixes, and concentrated liquids. Anyone preferring the traditional Kava drink method must know the proper steps, which require grinding the root, straining it through a muslin cloth, and steeping it in water.

Kava Effects And Abuse

The effects a person feels depend on how much Kava they consume and the recommended dose, which will vary. For example, traditional doses range from 750 to 8,000 milligrams, while the US typically recommends between 60 and 250 milligrams.

Most retail products instruct users to start with the smallest dose, evaluate their experience, and increase doses slowly if desired. Unfortunately, some users consume higher doses, thinking they will achieve greater results in a shorter period. This is rarely the case, and ignoring the safe-use recommendations is a sign of misuse.

Whatever the dose, the general effects of Kava include:

  • Calming, relaxing feelings
  • Euphoria
  • Stress reduction
  • Sociability
  • Drowsiness

However, the sedative-like effects may lead to adverse effects like:

  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Gastrointestinal discomfort

Because it can cause intoxication, no one should operate a motorized vehicle or equipment while experiencing Kava effects.

Long-Term Dangers

There are multiple long-term safety concerns regarding Kava use, including liver failure and cirrhosis of the liver. Liver damage due to regular Kava consumption occurs, with early symptoms of liver damage, including jaundice, fatigue, and dark urine.

Kava may cause liver damage because it metabolizes with the help of liver enzymes. The same enzymes are responsible for metabolizing many drugs. Kava can tie up these enzymes so they cannot metabolize the other medicines, allowing them to accumulate and damage the liver.

Kava may also metabolize into substances that directly damage liver cells. Some researchers believe that liver toxicity comes from a combination of Kava and alcohol. A final theory suggests inflammation and depletion of important substances in the liver are to blame for toxicity. Individuals with liver disease or taking drugs that can affect the liver should avoid taking Kava without consulting a physician.

There are many long-term health effects from regular and chronic use. Long-term toxicity includes:

  • Liver damage
  • Irritation of the stomach
  • Kidney injury
  • Shortness of breath
  • Hallucinations
  • Dermopathy
  • Medication interactions
  • Accidents and injuries due to intoxication

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How Does Kava Affect People?

Kavalactones are the primary chemical components of Kava that produce its effects. There are numerous Kavalactones, but only six contribute to the effects, including Kavain, dihydroKavain, methysticin, dihydromethysticin, yangonin, and desmethoxyyangonin.

The amount of Kava a person consumes to feel its effects varies due to many factors, such as

  • Weight
  • Gender
  • Eating food before use
  • Tolerance
  • Preparation methods
  • Quality of product
  • Added ingredients

The strength of the Kava will vary depending on the person making it and their manufacturing process. Kava originates in multiple regions, each with its own methods of preparing the products. They differ regarding cultivation, extraction solvents, and which parts of the plant they use to make products. Leaves, stems, and roots may produce different effects.

Kava As An Alcohol Alternative

One reason for Kava’s popularity is that it is sometimes used as an alternative to alcohol. People who want to cut back on alcohol consumption or quit altogether are turning to substitutes like Kava for its similar effects.

Some people combine the two or mix stimulants and other illicit substances to achieve greater effects, but choices like this can lead to damage to the liver and other long-term health consequences.

Substituting Kava for alcohol to achieve mood-altering effects may be a sign of a bigger problem.

Are You Addicted?

Eleven criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5) are guidelines for determining if someone has an addiction.

The criteria are as follows:

  • Consuming more of the substance than intended or for longer periods
  • Having cravings or urges for the substance
  • Consuming the substance even though doing so causes relationship problems
  • Spending time seeking, using, or recovering from misuse
  • Using substances even though it worsens physical or psychological health
  • Being unable to fulfill duties at work, home, or school due to substance use
  • Putting yourself in risky situations to consume the substance
  • Unsuccessful attempts to cut back or quit
  • Avoiding activities and events to consume the substances
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms
  • Developing tolerance

Mild addiction is possible if two to three of the eleven criteria are met. Moderate addiction means a person meets four to five criteria, and severe addiction applies to those meeting six or more criteria.

Think You May Need Help?

The more you know about Kava and its effects, the easier it will be to determine if you or a loved one is misusing it.

If you think you may have an addiction to Kava, contact a treatment provider today to explore your treatment options.