A Fictional Foe of Kava Kava

Kava Leaves in the Jungle 211X300

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.