- LOW DOSES: At lower doses, Kava can be a sleep aid. It can also help induce dreams as it makes one far more open to a dream state with its relaxing properties. I don’t get much of the inhibition-lowering aspects of Kava at lower doses, but I do get the sleepiness, relaxation, and some of the pain reduction effects. Especially for lower back pain, Kava can be extremely effective for me.
- MIDDLE DOSES: at double the recommended dose, I could really see Kava starting to shine. The sleepiness waned, and a more profound sense of relaxation ensued. The pain-relieving properties were definitely there, but I got giddy, sociable, and wanted to immediately call up friends to share this experience. Also, and I don’t think it’s because it was reducing inhibitions, it was definitely making my creative process awaken, and move front and center. I wanted to make something, draw or paint something, or pick up my guitar and make some music. It was a very subtle, but exciting sensation.
- LARGE DOES: When I worked with Kava over an evening, where I would take 4-6 “shells” of Kava, that’s when things get really interesting. With Kava bars becoming more and more popular, it’s not uncommon to have a night of Kava drinking, much like people enjoy a night of drinking alcohol. This, for me, is where Kava reaches its peak effects. I feel a sense of peace with the world. All of my aches and pains recede way into the distance. I no longer feel sleepy at all, but feel excited, social, and feel like “emotionally sharing” in a way that alcohol tends to do for people. I didn’t have any inkling of visions, but 4-6 shells of Kava over the course of a few hours is an entirely pleasant experience for me, whether I’m at home focused on making art of music, or out in a social setting with friends.
- HIGH DOSES: If I don’t feel a “spiritual” side of a plant, I don’t take it in large doses. When I was first deciding whether or not to bring Kratom into the country, I went through the same process as I did with Kava; I started small, and worked my way up to a very large dose. That became very coldly psychedelic [DO I HAE AN ARTICLE ON THIS?], without any spiritual aspect of it whatsoever. It was devoid; I had very “cold” visions of cement and viaducts and icy cold water. It was not pleasant, and I decided never to venture there again. So, for these kinds of explorations, I always have someone qualified to sit with me, as I began my journey into a high dose of Kava. What happened to me was difficult to describe, even years later when I try to find ways to share the experience. Imagine being really excited and really relaxed at the same time. I felt energized, but not in a caffeine kind of way, simultaneously to feeling very relaxed. I felt great anticipation, but couldn’t say why or for what.. It was not entirely unpleasant, and I felt a very spiritual side of this sacred plant, but any visual effects weren’t anything like the ayahuasca I had worked with in the Peruvian Amazon. When I’d close my eyes, my thoughts became very visual, very colorful, but not with any added intensity. I thought that if I spent a lot of time working with this plant at higher doses, I would likely be able to “sift through” all of these mental images and hone in on something specific, but I was uncomfortable enough that I simply put it aside and moved on to other aspects of Kava. I may yet revisit this side of Kava, but I was hoping to find some research somewhere, that spoke of using Kava in higher doses as a Teacher Plant for ritualistic purposes.
Despite writing only referenced articles that are typically unemotional by nature, I find great joy in discovering and writing about studies that have to do with Kava. And, this one is a particularly interesting one to me because it claims to be the very first study that has conclusive evidence that Kava is an effective treatment for Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). The study is was published in the Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology; a reputable peer-reviewed journal. According to the study, despite Kava having shown it’s capability to reduce anxiety, there has been no placebo-controlled trial assessing the effectiveness of Kava in the treatment of generalized anxiety disorder.
Kava (piper methysticum) is a plant-based medicine, which has been previously shown to reduce anxiety.
In short, the study revealed this:
Short-term administration of kava significantly reduced participants’ anxiety on the HAMA (Hamilton Anxiety Rating Scale) with a large effect size.
Conducted at the University of Melbourne, researchers also found that Kava may be effective as an alternative to pharmaceutical products for the thousands of Australians who struggle with Generalized Anxiety Disorders (GAD). The lead researcher; Dr. Jerome Sarris stated that existing medications to help treat this complex disorder are few, and that “because of this, more treatment options are required.” Benzodiazepines and selective serotonin repute inhibitors (SSRI’s) are at the top of the treatment option list, followed by pregabalin and hydroxyzine.
He went on to say that “Plant-based medicines may provide a potential pharmacotherapeutic option, as evidenced by a recent positive, double-blind, Randomized Controlled sTudy (RCT) using Chamomile for GAD.” For someone not a complete stranger to anxiety issues, and who is as passionate about Kava as I am, this is extremely exciting news.
Another interesting point is the type of Kava that was used for this study. In 2007, the World Health Organization published a study the size of a book called “Assessment of the Risk of Hepatotoxicity With Kava Products”. In their summary (point 11), they stated that they could find absolutely no connection between liver damage and water-based extractions of Kava. Because of this finding, it’s not surprising that this study used an “aqueous extract of kava (120/240mg) of kavalactones per day, depending on the response.” This was from peeled rootstock of a noble variety, likely from Vanuatu. The daily amount that the FDA recommends is 290mg, so they were well within the daily limits established by multiple agencies.
Also, for those who are interested in the “numbers” of kavalactones, the analysis of the kavalactones in the material administered during the study, revealed it was a 2-4-5 lineup. This means that dihydrokavain was most prevalent at 15.5mg or 26%, followed by kavain at 12.5mg or 21%, with dihydromethysticin at 11mg or 18%.
What About Liver Damage?
Although the study didn’t focus on liver damage, because of the still-lingering concerns over debunked reports that kava may cause liver damage, data was gathered. A researcher did clarify that the study was quite small, and only over a 3-week period, so any long-term inference of hepatotoxicity or the lack thereof required further study. At a clinical level, though, cases in which kava hepatotoxicity have been gathered, actual kava hepatotoxicity is an “extremely rare occurrence with probable causation only linked in a few cases.”
Let me put this into perspective for a moment: In a Washington Post article entitled “Prescription Drugs’ Toll Among Deadliest“, the article opens with this shocker:
More than 2 million Americans become seriously ill every year because of toxic reactions to correctly prescribed medicines taken properly, and 106,000 die from those reactions, a new study concludes. That surprisingly high number [possibly] makes drug side effects the fourth most common cause of death in this country.
So, despite 3,000 years of safe use throughout Oceania, despite Kava never conclusively being linked with liver failure, and despite the World Health Organization unequivocally stating that there is no connection between liver damage and water-based extractions of Kava, the stigma of the debunked German study often remains. But the researchers stated that a plant-based medicine with this stellar of a safety record that is also effective in fighting anxiety to demands more research.
Regardless, liver function tests at the start of week 2, and at the end of week 7 revealed no significant differences on any enzyme. To detail further: The difference between the kava group and the placebo group were “statistically nonsignificant.”
More Study Details
The study found that kava was well tolerated. The only side effect noted by participants were a few reports of headaches. But these headaches were determined not to be related to the kava itself. Also, despite the short-term period the study was conducted within, there was no withdrawal symptoms or kava habits formed during the study.
Also, some women reported an increase in libido. Although kava has been used as an aphrodisiac throughout Oceania for millennia, it would be impossible to directly link kava with this increase in libido. Researchers cautioned that a reduction in anxiety could easily be responsible for an increase in libido. A researcher noted; “Future research confirming the genetic romantic relationship to therapeutic response, and any libido-improving results from Kava is currently required.”
Coulter D. Assessment of the risk of hepatotoxicity with kava products. WHO appointed committee 2007.
Sarris, Jerome, Con Stough, Chad A. Bousman, Zahra T. Wahid, Greg Murray, Rolf Teschke, Karen M. Savage, Ashley Dowell, Chee Ng, and Isaac Schweitzer. “Kava in the Treatment of Generalized Anxiety Disorder.” Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology 33.5 (2013): 643-48. Web.
Sarris J., Kavanagh D., Byrne G., et al. The Kava Anxiety Depression Spectrum Study (KADSS): a randomized, placebo-controlled, cross-over trial using an aqueous extract of Piper methysticum. Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2009; 205(3); 399-407.
Teschke R, Genthner A., Wolff A. Kava hepatotoxicity: comparison of aqueous, ethanolic, acetonic kava extracts and kava-herbs mixtures. J Ethnopharmacol, 2009; 123(3); 378-384.
Aloha and Happy New Year from the Kava Guru! As we head into the first month of 2015, I thought this might be an excellent time to highlight some interesting “firsts” in the kava world. A recent news piece I’d like to share with you covered the visit of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Fiji—the first Indian PM to visit Fiji in over 30 years. And how did Fiji locals greet Mr. Modi after so much time? With a kava ceremony, of course!
The Fiji Islands are home to an ethnically diverse population of about 827,000 people. That includes about 37% percent Indo-Fijians, people of primary Indian or mixed Indian and Fijian descent. Kava is consumed across cultures in Fiji: among Fiji’s native iTaukei people, Indo-Fijians, and other ethnic minorities. Despite its large Indian population, until Modi’s visit it had been 33 years since then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi paid a diplomatic visit to Fiji in the 1980’s. Narendra Modi visited Fiji as part of a diplomatic tour that also included stopovers in Myanmar and Australia.
According to reports, Modi was welcomed in Suva by indigenous iTaukei men in traditional grass skirts, who danced and sang, then honored him with a kava ceremony. He apparently had been advised by his aides in the proper way to drink kava, and did not hesitate when the bilo was offered him. Modi downed it in one gulp, to the accompaniment of much hand clapping by the men of Sorokoba village who had administered the ceremony. Refusing kava is seen as an insult in Fiji (and, I can tell you, in other South Pacific societies as well), so Modi’s smooth performance was diplomatically shrewd and sets a good example for other heads of state. Chinese president Xi Jinping, visiting two days after Modi, was also honored with a kava ceremony by the men of Nakorotubu village. The story offered no word on how he fared.
However, in an aside the article mentioned that Modi performed better than Prince Charles of Wales on his diplomatic visit to the village of Viseisei in 2005. The Prince did not refuse a small sip of kava but reportedly grimaced at its admittedly pungent taste. Though his aides were suitably circumspect as to whether Prince Charles experienced any effects from the brew, they did say he was visibly relaxed on the flight home!
Perhaps Modi’s courtesy is even more to be appreciated considering the way the article described kava, as a “narcotic” that can fuddle brainwaves and cause “fuzzyheadedness”. Of course, anyone reasonably knowledgeable about kava knows it is not actually a narcotic; nor does kava impair reaction time, judgment, or cognition as it performs its wonderful relaxing ministrations.
The taste of kava also received less than complementary words: one source described it as similar to a “cocktail of dirty washing water garnished with old socks”. With that kind of primer, I’m a little amazed Modi decided to stop by Fiji at all! However, I and the Fijian kava community are certainly glad he did. Let’s hope the Indian PM’s visit signals a renewed era of diplomatic relations between Fiji and India once again!
“Narendra Modi Gulps an Intoxicating Drink Politely”. NDTV Food. Last modified December 8th, 2014. http://cooks.ndtv.com/article/show/narendra-modi-gulps-an-intoxicating-drink-politely-631651.
“When Modi Quaffed a Drink to India-Fiji Friendship”. 5 Dariya News. Last modified December 6th, 2014. http://www.5dariyanews.com/news/60697-When-Modi-quaffed-a-drink-to-India-Fiji-friendship.
“For India-Fiji Friendship, PM Modi Downed a Drink Prince Charles Had Balked At”. NDTV.com. Last modified December 6th, 2014. http://www.ndtv.com/article/india/for-india-fiji-friendship-pm-modi-downed-a-drink-prince-charles-had-balked-at-630849.
Aloha, kava lovers, Kava Guru here! As you all know, I will always champion making kava freely available to all who wish to access her many benefits to health and happiness. However, a recent news article made me ponder just how important it is to establish firm cultural guidelines governing the use of kava kava, just as have been set down in the South Pacific for countless millennia. Although the story I am about to relate pertains to the state of kava in Australia, I believe it has many lessons for how we view kava and its uses in the West.
A recent Radio Australia program highlighted remarks by Australia’s Minister of Indigenous Affairs, Nigel Scullion, about the use of kava in Australia’s remote northern Arnhem Land. Scullion stated there is currently a problem with illegal diversion of large amounts of kava into Arnhem Land—as much as 35 tons of powdered kava root—specifically targeted to the market of some 3000 regular kava users in the region. The amounts of kava being smuggled (his words) into Australia far exceed the legal limit of two kilos of dried kava root that visitors are allowed to bring through customs in their luggage. This small amount, suitable for personal use, is allowed under Australia’s laws so that Pacific Islanders entering the country can still pursue their traditions involving kava while in Australia.
However, Scullion also attributed the kava smuggling to South Pacific visitors (specifically Tongans), whom he believes are the main group responsible for diverting commercial amounts of kava into Arnhem Land for illicit sale. Scullion promised a “crackdown” by Australian authorities on large-scale diversions of kava intended for sale in Arnhem Land. There was also a recent motion to ban kava in Arnhem Land in response to this issue.
Watching the story unfold from the United States, all this uproar around kava in Australia struck me as faintly absurd. Why would Australia protest the increasing availability of a beneficial herb like kava into Arnhem Land when the Australian government already approved kava’s sale there in the early 1980s? However, appended to the news story was an interview with Alan Clough, a researcher with the Australian Institute of Tropical Medicine in Queensland, who made the valuable point that indigenous people in Arnhem Land are using kava much differently than populations in the South Pacific. While Tonga, Vanuatu and other South Pacific countries have centuries of cultural regulations and protocols governing the way kava can be used, these regulations don’t exist in Arnhem Land; Clough said there is more potential for people to overuse kava out of boredom, or as a way to escape from the reality of low employment opportunities and lack of other activities in Arnhem Land.
He noted that since the indigenous people of Arnhem Land have only been exposed to kava for about thirty years, there is greater potential for its abuse because it lacks a cultural context. Relatedly, indigenous peoples exposed to alcohol after European contact often experienced higher rates of alcoholism and damage to their social structures (in addition to the more direct damage European colonists did to the indigenous cultures they encountered). Of course, when used in the doses common to the South Pacific or in Western medicine, kava does not carry the health risks of alcohol. Yet Clough stated that kava does begin to have health effects when taken frequently at heavy doses, which is often how it’s used by regular kava users in Arnhem Land. Clough suggested that kava begins to manifest negative health effects at doses of about 350 grams of dried root power per week. These effects include reddened eyes; elevated blood platelet count; kava dermatopathy (a reversible kava-induced skin rash); shortness of breath; and changes in the levels of the liver enzyme gamma-glutamyl-transferase (GGT), although these changes did not indicate liver inflammation in the people he examined (Clough 2003). Clough also mentioned the possibility of malnutrition due to kava becoming the staple item of heavy users’ diet.
Equally troubling, other studies discovered that Arnhem Land residents often used kava in combination with alcohol. Experiments with mice have shown that administering kava and alcohol in combination may potentiate greater hypnotic and toxic effects than either substance taken alone (D’Abbs 1997). Additionally, while kava by itself has been proven experimentally not to impair cognitive function, kava and alcohol combined do have a deleterious effect on both subjective and measured cognitive performance in humans (D’Abbs 1997, 9). Ironically, kava was originally introduced to Arnhem Land in the 1980s as a alternative to alcohol, whose high usage rates were causing negative health and social outcomes in the community. Both frequent drinking and petrol sniffing were two risky behaviors engaged in by people in these communities who faced a real or perceived lack of options.
Arnhem Land’s rocky history suggests to me that simply taking away kava is not a solution to the region’s problems. In fact, this could lead to more problems as residents turn to much worse alternatives such as alcohol. Dr. Clough’s comments on the situation got me thinking—what if, instead of just banning kava, Australia turned the focus toward educating people about the best practices for using kava? What if they could create a stable cultural context around kava, just as there has been for dozens of generations in the South Pacific? My guru instincts suggest that creating such a context of safe and positive uses for kava could only improve the situation in Arnhem Land!
Another key leg of the effort to improve things in Arnhem Land would be development—putting some effort and dollars into creating infrastructure and opportunities for employment and prosperity that don’t currently exist in the region. Sitting around drinking kava (or anything) all day is likely more a result of apathy, of feeling like they have no future and nothing better to do, than of the availability of kava. One suggestion for economic improvement that got me especially excited was a proposal made by community leaders for the development of a “yolgnu”, or indigenous, kava trade: basically, instead of their only source of kava being controlled from the outside (by legal or illicit channels), Arnhem Land communities would take control of the import, sale and distribution of kava with the approval of the Australian government. A control board assembled of appointees from each kava-using community could regularly convene to negotiate on matters of trade and see that the profits from the wholesaling of kava go back to the communities of Arnhem Land.
Readers, I don’t know about you, but my excitement is palpable at this idea. What a wonderful proposal to put the control of kava back into the hands of Arnhemlanders! I sincerely hope that this proposal gains traction so that the people of Arnhem Land can enjoy all the benefits of kava within a well-defined cultural context that puts their future in their own hands again!
Clough, A.R., C.B. Burns, and N. Mununggurr. 2000. “Kava in Arnhem Land: a review of consumption and its social correlates.” Drug and Alcohol Review 19: 319-28.
Clough A.R., R.S. Bailie, B. Currie. “Liver function test abnormalities in users of aqueous kava extracts”. Journal of Toxicology. 2003. 41(6):821-9.)
D’Abbs, Peter and Chris Burn. September 1997. “Draft report on inquiry into the issue of kava regulation”. Sessional Committee on the Use and Abuse of Alcohol by the Community. http://www.nt.gov.au/lant/parliamentary-business/committees/kava.pdf.
Hill, Bruce. “Pacific Islanders accused of Australian black market kava trade”. Radio Australia. Last modified November 25th, 2014. http://www.radioaustralia.net.au/international/radio/program/pacific-beat/pacific-islanders-accused-of-australian-black-market-kava-trade/1393031.
Aloha, kava lovers! I am excited to bring news of three kava-centric business ventures that just launched in Fiji that are dedicated to expanding the market for Fijian kava worldwide! Fiji’s reputation for high-quality kava precedes it among the kava-loving community, where many find it to have a smoother, less biting flavor than Vanuatu kava while sacrificing none of kava’s pleasurable properties. However, surprising though it may be, few Fijian kava sellers have found a way to peddle their products directly to the international market, outside the few tourists who come upon Fiji’s local kava scene. Strict bans on kava, notably in the EU and Australia, have carved a divot into the profits local Fijians could have been making from kava, and have subjected many South Pacific countries to undue economic hardship from the early 2000s up to as recently as this year.
Luckily, those dark days seem to be receding ever faster behind us, dear readers! One of the omens of better days ahead for the kava market in Fiji is the recent announcement of three new Fijian business ventures centered around the production, branding, and international export of homegrown Fijian kava! Woohoo!
The first bit of news I want to share with you concerns a new Fiji company called South Pacific Elixirs Limited. Operating out of the region of Ovalau with a $130,000 grant from the Fijian government, South Pacific Elixirs will soon start producing a kava supplement beverage made from locally grown kava root. Officials hope that export of this new product will boost the economy of Ovalau, a highland region that relies on kava farming for a big portion of its GDP. Although the drink processing facility is currently located in Australia, the owners soon hope to establish a processing facility in Fiji. They cited this project as an opportunity to educate kava farmers about best growing and harvesting practices, and also to identity kava strains that are appropriate for export.
The beverage, called Taki Mai from a Fijian phrase meaning “serve me now”, combines an extract of pure freeze-dried kava root reconstituted with filtered water and either pineapple, mango, or guava juice. According to the site, its kava has a smooth, almost milky taste that blends well with water and lacks the bitter elements of, say, Vanuatu kavas. Furthermore, when you buy Taki Mai drinks, you’re getting a single-origin kava beverage: unlike many other bottled kava drinks, which are made from a blend of different kava strains, here you know you’re getting a pure Fijian kava straight from the small highland farmers of Ovalau, who directly profit from your purchase. Even cooler is that South Pacific Elixirs has partnered with the University of the South Pacific in Suva, Fiji, to develop standardized cold-water extraction and total kavalactone testing methods for their kava supplements. As their FAQ section states, “the aim was to create a kava beverage that used traditional, authentic ways to deliver a consistent and predictable relaxation effect with every serving.” That makes me want to go out and order some right now!
Next we have David Gilmour—the entrepeneur who founded the Fiji Water company and also runs the Wakaya Club and Spa—jumping on the kava business bandwagon with a new locally grown Fiji kava he plans to export to the world market. Gilmour is already the proprietor of organic pink ginger and turmeric farmed from the Wakaya highlands; this new kava product looks set to be the third in his trifecta of organic Wakaya Origins herbal supplements, and will be locally sourced from several regions of Fiji and processed at Wakaya to remove stems, leaves, and root peel. Wakaya Origins kava supplements were originally sold only in Fijian cities, but are slated to be available on the world market this month.
Finally, a brief piece from the Fiji Times Online caught my eye with news that kava growers in the region of Kadavu, Fiji, are making plans in concert with the Kadavu Provincial Council to brand and sell Kadavu kava abroad! According to Provincial Council Chairman Ratu Seci, kava (yaquona in Fijian) is a prime source of GDP in Kadavu, along with taro. Though he did not name names, the chairman also mentioned that a few international kava vendors are in the habit of labeling their kava “Kadavu kava” when it is not actually from Kadavu. Tsk tsk! Then, I suppose that goes to show just what a reputation Kadavu kava has in Fiji, and that reputation is soon to expand to the global stage once Kadavu starts exporting its excellent kava. I wish good luck to all three Fijian kava business ventures, and look forward to sampling their kava in the near future!
“Kava Supplement Boosts Local Economy”. Fiji Times Online. http://www.fijitimes.com/story.aspx?id=275729.
Valemei, Ropate. “New Kava Product”. Fiji Times Online. http://www.fijitimes.com/story.aspx?id=277824.
Naleba, Mere. “Council to Concentrate on Product Branding”. Fiji Times Online. http://www.fijitimes.com/story.aspx?id=284711.
Is the freedom of a kava-drinking lifestyle working its way into political circles? Perhaps! Former First Minister Rhodri Morgan has recently had an encounter with his first kava bar and he seems to have thoroughly enjoyed it and recommends that all should try kava.
Morgan served as MP of Cardiff West since 1987 and has since become AM for the same constituency. He later became the leader of Welsh Labor, as well as the First Minister in 2000 – having held that position until 2009. Morgan is now a columnist for the Western Mail where he writes about his life, politics, and everything in between – even kava!
He was visiting Austin, Texas during October to visit plants involved in the shale boom industries and developments as well as the Department of Aging and Disability – these seem to be uncorrelated adventures, perhaps just interest based? Either way, he states that there is a shale gas and oil boom that has several graduates in the industry set up for good jobs when they’re out of school. And another seemingly unrelated positive for Austin is that it doesn’t have the “Welsh Problem” according to Morgan, meaning that the state doesn’t have an overly high populous of elderly folk. The connection? Maybe Austin is the place to go for young ambitious students? I’m not too sure to be honest.
But, one other positive for Austin — and youth in Austin – is its kava-loving culture! As Morgan mentions, there is a kava bar in Austin that likes to keep tradition rich, complete with “Kavaristas” and all! The only kava bar that I know of in Austin is SquareRüt Kava bar, a kava bar that has culturally active owners who just opened up a second location in Austin. Unless there’s another bar that I’m unaware of, then I am fairly certain SquareRüt is the kava-loving business that Morgan is referring to. We’re certainly glad to see that they’re doing so well and successfully spreading the joy of kava!
While there seems to be a bit of misinformation regarding kava within Morgan’s article – he nonetheless sheds a positive light on the kava-drinking community of Austin, Texas. He recommends that his readers “go for the kava!” and “pretend you’re celebrating a wedding in Fiji!” Reportedly that’s just exactly how he went about his kava-drinking experience and it seems to have been a worthy experience.
The misinformation lays within one brief statement he makes at the beginning of his article, stating that a kava bar experience could only happen in Texas – and yet kava bars can be found all over the United States and in other parts of the world too! So, don’t you worry Morgan and Morgan’s readers – the love of kava is to be found in many states, not just Texas. However, he does mention that there will be a kava bar opening in St. David’s Centre in the middle of Cardiff, so perhaps he didn’t mean the statement about “only in Austin” all that literally – but either way, I just wanted to clear up that point and make sure all are well aware that kava can be had far and wide.
Oy! I certainly hope Mr. Morgan is correct about the kava bar opening in Cardiff – another kava bar in the UK is certainly a move in the right direction. I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled for the official media launch and will let you, my dear readers, know just as soon as I know if and when this fun rumor is true! Let the joy of kava continue to spread and the bars continue to multiply!
Morgan, Rhodri. Wales Online, Oct 31, 2014: http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/news-opinion/rhodri-morgan-the-shale-boom-8030557
Although kava has been consumed by South Pacific islanders for centuries upon centuries, there have been some misguided attempts to reduce kava consumption. As a sad result there have been occasional dips in the amount of kava that is being consumed within the South Pacific and abroad.
We’re now on to a more pleasing time within kava history – Fijian reports are in and it’s official, kava consumption is on the rise in Fiji!!
With what could perhaps be considered one of the more tragic points within kava history (the series of bans resulting from the BfArM’s inconclusive studies regarding kava and liver toxicity), there was a severe decline in the consumption of kava worldwide. Unfortunately, this too had negative results in the South Pacific – as the global market for kava decreased, so did the kava-growing plantations on the islands, and with that many jobs were lost as well.
And it wasn’t too long ago that the Fijian government had attempted to ban kava drinking on certain days within some of its very own villages! As Commissioner Eastern Natani Riki explained, kava was being blamed for some of the social and economic development issues within iTaukei island populations.
However, bright and better days are upon us! It seems as though that ban never went through and the councils involved seem to have come to their good senses and realized that kava is actually very beneficial and helps the people to cope with their social and economic struggles. After all, without so many kava farms many of the iTaukei people would be left unemployed and a huge market for trade capital would be diminished.
The Fiji Times Online has just published an article outlining official statistics with regard to kava consumption in Fiji and it is my hope that these statistics reflect the global kava-drinking market as well.
However, due to a few conflicting points it is unclear how recent these particular statistics are. The article reports, 1. a rise in kava consumption from 1993-2004, 2. that the survey is conducted every ten years, and 3. that the survey was launched just this last Friday – none of these points seem to coincide. If these statistics are conducted every 10 years, then how come the years listed are already ten years past? What I think is meant, is that the last survey of 1993-2004 indicated an uprise of kava drinking and that the survey launched on Friday also reported positive feedback.
Either way, here are some quick and beautiful statistics as reported in the survey conducted by the Health Ministries’ National Food and Nutrition Centre:
- The male drinking population is up by just about 10% and the female drinking population is up by just over 15%. Woo hoo! Although kava is traditionally only consumed by men – those traditional standards seem to be dissipating, allowing more and more women to share in the joys of kava on the islands.
- About 70% of the Fijian population drinks kava at least two times a week.
- A whopping 90% of Fiji adolescents reportedly drink kava at least twice a week. This could suggest just how much of a healthy opportunity kava could provide as an alternative to drinking alcohol in the United States and elsewhere that alcohol consumption is heavy amongst adolescents. All the more reason to keep those kava bars coming!
With the nearly global legal status of kava, I would wager a bet that there has been a fairly stark increase in kava-drinking populations all around the world and that the love of the South Pacific is well on its way to becoming a global icon of bliss and well being.
Cheers to kava and prospering joy!
Sauvakacolo, Siteri. “Kava on the Up”. The Fiji Times Online: http://www.fijitimes.com/story.aspx?id=283640.
Aloha, kava lovers, Kava Guru here! Over the past couple weeks, kava has been appearing in the news in a rather uncomfortable way: two recently published news articles drew attention to the possibility that kava may cause rashes, especially in combination with other herbal supplements or with medications . This condition is called “kava dermopathy”, and while uncomfortable and unsightly it is also completely reversible by ceasing use of kava for a time. Kava dermopathy is much more likely to occur with long-term use of kava at higher doses, such as those typically consumed socially in the South Pacific. These amounts of kava are far above the therapeutic doses used in the West, and the majority of kava users will never have to worry about kava dermopathy at all.
Why mention kava dermopathy since it’s so rare? Well, the story behind these recent articles piqued my interest: the reports center around a man who experienced a rash characteristic of kava dermopathy after he started taking a kava supplement to help him quit smoking . This in itself I found interesting! While kava supplements have not been marketed as smoking cessation aids, research has been done on kava’s potential to help soothe nicotine cravings due to kava’s calming and stress-relieving properties . The recent reports also indicated that the man had only been using kava for three weeks, and not at the higher doses that would put him at risk of developing kava dermopathy. On top of that, he stopped using kava when the rash first appeared—which reversed the condition—only to have the rash reappear as soon as he resumed using kava!
So what’s going on here? As it turns out, when the man went to his doctor after the second rash appeared, he revealed in his patient interview that he had been taking citalopram (Celexa), an anti-anxiety medication, concurrently with the kava supplement. In a bit of medical detective work, the doctors hypothesized that since kava kava is metabolized by the same enzyme pathway as citalopram, it likely interacted with the medication, causing an adverse reaction in the man’s sebaceous (oil-producing) skin glands . A second article also noted that the man had a history of high cholesterol , a fact that my guru wisdom found especially telling—one of the hypothesized causes of kava dermopathy is that kavalactones, when taken at high doses over long periods of time, may interfere with the body’s ability to metabolize cholesterol. It’s quite possible that besides the kava supplement-medication combination, this man may have been predisposed to developing kava dermopathy as well.
To me, the takeaway from this story is that it’s very important to tell your doctor or holistic healthcare practitioner all the medications, herbal supplements, and other kinds of supplements or vitamins (such as fish oils) you are taking. Informing your doctor is especially important when you’re considering adding a new supplement such as kava kava to your daily regimen; your doctor can help you navigate the pros and cons of many supplements and how they might interact with what you’re already taking. Supplements can be a great way to boost your health and enjoy a better quality of life. Being honest about your medical history, as well as other medications and supplements you’re taking, can help ensure that you enjoy the greatest benefit while minimizing the risks. And you wouldn’t want to miss out on all the great benefits kava has to offer!
1. Gilette, Hope. “Skin Rash? Stop Taking That Kava Supplement!” Saludify. October 3rd, 2014. http://voxxi.com/2014/10/03/kava-kava-skin-rash?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+voxxi+VOXXI.
2.Steiner Laboratories. “Kava As an Anti-Craving Agent. Preliminary Studies.” Pacific Health Dialogue.
3. Boxe, Agata Blaszczak. “Popular Supplement Is Culprit in Itchy Rash”. Fox News. October 2nd, 2014. http://www.foxnews.com/health/2014/10/02/popular-supplement-is-culprit-in-itchy-rash/.
4. Castillo, Stephanie. “Mixing Kava With Other Meds Gave One Man an Itchy Rash; How to Eat Your Supplements and Medicate, Too”. Medical Daily. October 4th, 2014. http://www.medicaldaily.com/mixing-kava-other-meds-gave-one-man-itchy-rash-how-eat-your-supplements-and-medicate-too-306260.
A recent article in Hampton Roads titled “Over-the-Counter Sleep Aids May Impact Overall Health” shone some light on the drawbacks of many of the non-prescription sleep aids people in our overstressed, overworked society use to help them get to sleep at night . Besides the short-term risks of delayed awakening and daytime drowsiness—no small consideration if you have to get behind the wheel of a car every morning!—the article pointed up long-term risks of habitual sleep aid use, including worsening sleep apnea, increased risk of heart disease and even cancer.
As the Kava Guru, I could only say, “Really? And all while a totally natural herbal sleep aid has been used in the South Pacific for millennia with no issues?” While the article did mention briefly that some people use kava kava (Piper methysticum) as a sleep aid, as well as other popular calming herbs like valerian, lavender essential oil, and chamomile, it was quick to label these remedies as lacking in scientific evidence. And of course, it also repeated the long-discredited information that use of kava may be linked to liver damage, which anyone who has read the new studies defending kava’s superior safety record knows was based on studies that were flawed at best, sensational at worst. But uneven as it was, the article got me thinking: can kava help you sleep?
Dr. Michael Breus, a sleep specialist writing on WebMD, stated that kava kava has been used a sleep aid in the South Pacific for its sedating and calming qualities . However, at the time he was writing in 2011, there was much more uncertainty as to why some people experienced idiosyncratic reactions to kava kava, so he still recommended avoiding its use. However, as recently as last year, new evidence has emerged suggesting the culprit in the mid-2000s liver toxicity cases might be flavokavain B, a non-kavalactone compound found only in ignoble (or “Tudei”) kava strains that are now banned from export .
Diagnose Me, an online diagnosis website similar to WebMD, suggests that kava kava may encourage sleep by reducing the anxiety and stress that is a common cause of sleeplessness for many people . Makes sense to me! Everyday stress, especially the inability to settle one’s thoughts before bedtime, is a huge factor in sleeplessness. The less sleep you get, the harder it is to get a handle on projects and tasks the next day, the more stressed you become, and the harder it is to get to sleep…you see the pattern developing here? Kava could very well offer harried Westerners a giant “reset” button by helping them achieve a state of relaxed calm, making it that much easier to drift into restful sleep. Other studies have suggested that kava has mild analgesic and muscle relaxant properties , so it might reduce mild aches and pains that can interefere with rest and help the body unwind physically before bed.
The site also references a very intriguing study on kava’s effects on brainwaves that was done by Saletu et al in 1989 . The double-blind placebo-controlled study found that doses of synthetic kavain between 200 and 600 mg “enhances brain activity that favors restorative sleep… EEG [electroencephalogram] activity showed that kavain increased the alpha-1, theta, and delta waves that are associated with sleep while decreasing beta waves, which are a sign of wakefulness” . As if that wasn’t enough evidence, these effects also increased as the dose of kavain was increased, so that “600mg of kavain produced sedation comparable to 30mg of clobazapam”, a benzodiazepine drug used as a control.
Well readers, I think it’s pretty clear that kava kava does have some scientifically backed evidence of effectiveness as a herbal sleep aid, especially in cases where anxiety or stress is a root cause of sleeplessness. Other methods for getting to sleep naturally include limiting your intake of caffeine, alcohol and sugar (especially right before bed); reducing the amount of ambient light and noise in your bedroom; and developing other healthy sleep routines such as ceasing the use of electronics 2 hours before sleep and making sure to eat your last meal about 3 hours before sleep. One creative strategy even suggested eating foods high in magnesium (which is a natural sedative) before you go to sleep. Some magnesium-rich foods include dark leafy greens, cashews, almonds, legumes, whole grains, brewer’s yeast, and blackstrap molasses.
However, many health sites still identify mental stress as the number one cause of difficulty sleeping. Perhaps the best way to ensure you get a great night’s sleep is to combine the above strategies with a high-quality kava supplement to round out your healthy sleep toolkit!
1. Ferguson, Pat. ‘Over-the-counter Sleep Aids May Impact Overall Health, According to Study”. Hampton Roads. August 3rd, 2014. http://hamptonroads.com/2014/08/overthecounter-sleep-aids-may-impact-overall-health-according-study.
2. Breus, Michael J. “Kava For Sleep? Why It Continues to Be a Mystery”. Huffington Post. August 20th, 2011. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-michael-j-breus/kava-sleep_b_924318.html.
3. Teschke, Rolf. March 2011. “Special Report: Kava and the Risk of Liver Toxicity: Past, Current, and Future”. American Herbal Products Association Report 26 (3): 9-17.
4. “Treatment: Kava”. Diagnose Me. Accessed September 23rd, 2014. http://www.diagnose-me.com/treatment/kava.html.
5. Saletu, B., Grünberger, J., and Linzmayer, L. (1989). “EEG-brain mapping, psychometric and psychophysiological studies on central effects of kavain–A kava plant derivative”. Human Psychopharmacology 4: 169-190.
It is with a heavy heart that I am going to share an article posted in The Courier online regarding a recent “crackdown” on the import of kava into the UK.
For the most part articles about preventing the import of kava kava have slowed down, and this would be because there has been a very fortunate turn of events for kava recently and it is now essentially legal everywhere – and where bans do still exist, they are for the most part pretty ambiguous and aren’t clear as to what degree kava kava is actually banned. As far as my guru knowledge base is aware, Poland is the only place that unequivocally bans kava, whereas most other places that refer to kava in their laws are only concerned with some aspects of kava and more concerned with the regulation of it rather than banning it altogether.
The article is titled “Deadly Kava Kava Plants Seized in Import Crackdown” – a harshly invalidated title. There are numerous places where the author of this article has done an unjust job in reporting on the supposed crackdown, and since the article isn’t sourced it’s difficult to believe the details of this crackdown altogether. But, first I’ll highlight the “story”.
According to the article, “environmental health officers from Warwick District Council teamed up with the UK Border force and Parcelforce Worldwide to crackdown on imports of ‘Kava Kava’…”
The article goes on to say that 54 kilograms of our treasured kava kava was destroyed by officials and that a further 190 kilograms were seized and are presumably being held in official headquarters.
Councilor Michael Coker is reported to have stated that he is aware of the medicinal uses of kava kava, but that given its implications in causing liver toxicity, “it is prohibited for import and therefore Environmental Health Officers have a duty to act if the product is identified as being imported.”
While kava kava is not actually illegal in the UK and there is even a kava bar called “The Kava Pub” that is nestled away in the United Kingdom – there are nonetheless heavy regulations surrounding the import and use of kava kava. Kava kava is used medicinally in the UK and its use is for the most part regulated by the medical fields. As a result it seems as though the commercial import of kava kava is still a problematic area for kava, given the need to enforce tight UK regulation and medical standards.
However, it is my suspicion that this particular case doesn’t amount to anything more than that – a simple need to comply with the Environmental Health regulations surrounding kava kava, as Michael Coker explains.
The author of the article blew the story grossly out of proportion since there isn’t any case affirmatively connecting kava kava to liver failure, let alone death! The closest thing that comes to truth about any of it is that there were a series of reported cases purportedly indicating that kava kava causes liver toxicity — however, those cases have since been concretely proven to be insubstantial and probably based on poor experimental technique.
Furthermore, there seems to be some confusion within the article as to what kava kava is. The kava kava plant is formally named Piper methysticum, and is a member of the pepper plant family – Piperaceae. The direct English translation of Piper methysticum is “intoxicating pepper” and this term has become a bit of a pseudonym for kava kava. But, when people refer to kava kava they are generally talking about the wholesome and beneficial beverage that is made from the root of the Piper methysticum plant and sometimes ‘kava kava’ might be a reference to the plant as a whole. However, ‘kava kava’ is never – at least not to my knowledge – used to refer to a pepper.
This is where I think the author got a bit mixed up. In writing about the crackdown on a kava kava import, the author seems to have been under the impression that this was a crackdown on the import of a pepper. This confusion is easy to understand when you link the name of the plant to its pseudonym “intoxicating pepper”.
What’s more, the aerial (or aboveground) parts of the plant are not ever to be consumed because they are known to be poisonous – this is knowledge that the South Pacific islanders have been privy to for centuries! In fact it is only the root that is widely consumed, and the root is the only part used to prepare kava beverages. It is very likely then that the kava kava that was subject to this import crackdown was actually the plant itself (including the root) and that it was being imported for the commercial purposes of creating kava kava (the beverage).
Given that the aerial parts of the kava plant are indeed poisonous this is perhaps where the author mistook the information to mean that kava kava was the dangerous entity in question – but there is plenty of science, history and tradition to prove that this is not the case! Kava kava – when properly used – simply is not hazardous to your health and the grotesque claims in this article are likely based in a misconception of what kava kava is.
Additionally, the author seems to indicate that these bans and “crack downs” are still a prominent occurrence globally and again, that is simply not the case. In fact, more than ever kava kava is being accepted both for its relaxing recreational use and its beneficial medicinal properties – in particular kava kava has been receiving extra positive attention lately because of its anxiolytic benefit.
So, my fellow kava-loving friends – please be wary of the media and the “news” it portrays, as we all know the media has a funny way of turning “stories” into pure fictional entertainment. Unfortunately, I think that is essentially what the article posted in The Courier amounts to – a fictional spin on a story that in itself may or may not even be true. The peppers in the picture aren’t even from the kava kava plant, or the South Pacific – they’re chili peppers from Italy! Begone with such rubbish!
“Deadly Kava Kava Plants Seized in Import Crackdown”. The Courier – Leamington, September 16, 2014: http://www.leamingtoncourier.co.uk/news/local-news/deadly-kava-kava-plants-seized-in-import-crackdown-1-6302557.