Kava Addiction and Abuse

Obtaining and using Kava without a doctor’s prescription is considered to be abuse – as is consuming more than the prescribed dose. This is very dangerous, as the drug has an intoxicating effect on the user, potentially placing them in grave danger – especially as driving or operating factory machines under the influence of Kava will often result in fatal accidents. However, it’s this same effect that makes Kava attractive to some people, while its relaxing properties make it a saving grace for those experiencing anxiety and insomnia.

However, regular use will subsequently lead to the onset of abuse and addiction, which can in turn result in serious consequences, such as liver complications, skin rashes, swelling face, respiratory problems and so on. This is why you should treat any case of Kava abuse seriously (whether involving friends or relatives) by getting them to seek help immediately.

Kava: All You Need to Know

Kava is a shrub of the pepper family, known as Piper Methysticum. It has been used for centuries as a ceremonial and social ingredient for its relaxing and soothing properties, especially by the people of Fiji. It grows in the Pacific Islands into a very tall shrub, but when making the Kava substance that people ingest, only the roots are used.

When the tea that derives from it is drank, this creates a relaxing sensation. It also leaves the person feeling intoxicated, with a buzzing feeling similar to that induced by alcohol. However, it is usually preferred over alcohol, as the user will still be able to form clear thoughts.

Previously, people used Kava for a wide range of health issues, like headache, arthritis, anxiety, insomnia, muscle tension, rheumatism, skin diseases, and so on. Today, it is commonly used to reduce anxiety and insomnia, as well as for its recreational purposes. Also, many people use Kava to help them quit their addiction to more serious drugs.

Presently, Kava is no longer only available as a tea. However, there are Kava tablets, capsules and beverages that make it easier to consume and encourage its use.

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Therapeutic Uses for Kava

  • Treating anxiety: Kava affects the brain in a way that wards off any fears and apprehensions the user might be experiencing. This is the major reason why people self-medicate on Kava. It dissipates all the tension caused (whether by work, marital issues, academics etc.), while it is a source of relief for those who suffer from anxiety disorder.
  • For urinary problems: The anti-pathogenic and anti-spasmodic properties present in Kava allows it to treat most genito-urinary problems like urine retention, prostatitis, vaginal leucorrhea, nocturnal urination and a host of venereal diseases.

Other therapeutic benefits of Kava include the treatment of:

  • Depression
  • Insomnia
  • Headache
  • Asthma
  • Worms/Parasites
  • Obesity
  • Skin diseases
  • Rheumatism

The Chemical Components of Kava

Kavalactones are the active ingredients in the Kava plant, with a percentage of 15. Other substances include water, which makes up 12% when the shrub is dry and 80% when fresh. It contains small amount of protein, sugar, dietary fibre and about 48% starch.

The Kavalactons present in a Kava root include yangonin, demethoxyyangonin, Kavain, dihydromethysticin, dihydroKavain and methysticin. These are the ingredients that produce the effects that Kava is renowned for.

Kratom and Kava: What’s the Difference?

It’s quite common to confuse Kratom and Kava, as they look much alike in appearance and even in name. However, it’s important that one knows the differences, since these are significant.

  • Kratom is from the coffee family, while Kava derives from the pepper family.
  • Kratom is highly addictive, whereas Kava is not. Although one can develop a psychological addiction for Kava, this results in impulsive use only – and is not borne of a physical dependency, as would be the case with Kratom.
  • Kava produces a calming effect that can mitigate anxiety, depression and insomnia. However, Kratom acts as a stimulant when taken in small amounts, but at a higher dose, induces undesirable effects like sedation, paranoia, itching, nausea, lethargy and constipation.
  • Kratom contains alkaloids, which means they interact with the opioid system in the body and alter how it responds to pain. Kava contains Kavalactones that interact with the limbic system (which regulate emotions).
  • Kratom grows in the South East Asia, while Kava grows in the Pacific Islands.

Types of Kava

Years of cultivation has brought about many strains of the Kava plant. The main type usually depends on the demands and the market for it. There are many ways of classifying Kava; here, we will classify the different strains, according to their source locations.

  1. Memo Memo: this type of Kava is very common and is referred to as ‘Party Kava’. It induces a feeling of euphoria and energy in the user, thereby encouraging behaviour like dancing, chatting excessively and laughing.
  2. Fu’u: this is a smoothly ground Kava, which gives off an almond flavour. It has a bitter taste, but encourages humour and conversation.
  3. Tongan White: this has a light coffee appearance when brewed and can be thicker than most other Kava strains. It has a very relaxing effect and is recommended for new users.
  4. Mahakea: this is found in the Hawaiian Islands and enjoyed for its relaxing and analgesic properties.

Other types of Kava include the Mo’i, Isa and Fijian Kavas.

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The Legality of Kava

Kava is illegal in the UK. However, this is not due to its addictive properties. The UK government banned Kava following concerns that it leads to liver poisoning.

Many people find this unfair, as the plant has always been used for cultural purposes for many years.

Kava Abuse and Addiction: Signs, Effects and Symptoms

Drug abuse is something that can accelerate rapidly and happens to people from all walks of life. Even experimentation can lead to abuse and addiction. In the case of Kava, there is no physical addiction by which your brain will be changed to depend on this substance to function. However, psychological addiction is a concern and there are other health complications that can arise from prolonged Kava use.

How Kava Addiction Develops

Though Kava is not technically addictive, it is habit-forming following prolonged use. This will result in your body feeling that it needs Kava whenever it is not being consumed. Developing a ‘Kava culture’ often leads to abuse and usually stems from uninformed use. For instance, someone suffering from anxiety, depression and insomnia will begin using Kava – but long after the condition has subsided, might continue using it. A Kava addiction is almost inescapable, as the body builds tolerance, which results in the user increasing their dosage up to the point of overdose.

How common is Kava Abuse?

Kava abuse is fairly common. The body grows tolerance and the user will be moved to increase their dosage of Kava in order to achieve the desired ‘high’. Mixing Kava with other substances like alcohol is even more common and is considered abuse, as the chemical interactions are usually deadly and are undertaken without a doctor’s prescription.

Therefore, it’s better to encourage friends and relatives who engage in these practices to seek help, so as not to become addicted to Kava.

Signs and Symptoms of Kava Addiction and Abuse

Kava has been used for centuries by various cultures as a ceremonial, social and medical ingredient. However, like most substances used mainly for recreational purposes, Kava not only shows signs and symptoms of abuse and addiction, but also grave health risks for the user. The UK has banned the use and importation of Kava (along with a few other countries) following these health concerns, which include liver problems.

Substantial intake of Kava is noticeable, as the user appears intoxicated and unusually chatty.  A certain level of euphoria will also be noticed, without any given reason. Though Kava is not addictive in the way Kratom is, psychological addiction can be formed after habitual usage.

Physical, Emotional and Social Effects of Kava Abuse

Kava consumption affects the body physically by inducing a buzzing sensation, similar to that of alcohol. It numbs the tongue (depending on the quantity consumed) and also causes the dilation of the pupils, sleepiness, nausea, feelings of wellbeing and loss of appetite.

It lifts the person’s emotions from anxiety to cheerfulness and helps them engage in conversation and humour. This helps boost the user’s interpersonal skills when they are under the influence of Kava.

Long-Term Kava Abuse Effects

Long-term effects of Kava abuse include:

  • Liver damage: this is the major long-term effect of Kava – for which it was banned in the UK
  • Kidney damage: it shares this effect with alcohol in the long-term
  • Prolonged Kava abuse lowers the immune system considerably
  • Loss of appetite and weight loss
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Personality shift
  • Lack of interest in social activities
  • Worsened psychological conditions
  • Alteration of the blood cells
  • Dermopathy
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Short-term Kava Abuse Effects

The short-term effects of Kava include:

  • Numbing of the tongue, mouth and throat
  • Reduced muscular movements
  • Sleepiness
  • Intoxication
  • Nausea
  • Reddened eyes

 Kava Directly Affects Your Brain

Kavalactones are the active ingredients in Kava. How they directly affect the brain has not yet been fully researched. However, it is assumed that the Kavalactones act on the limbic system in the brain (which controls fear and anxiety). Having interacted with these parts of the brain, they are able to substantially reduce anxiety and fear.

10 Must-Know Facts about Kava

  1. Kava comes from the pepper family, even though it doesn’t cause sneezing when ingested
  2. It helps in the relief of anxiety
  3. Kava has been used to reduce the mood swings that accompany menopause
  4. It can help reduce pain
  5. Can aid in the battle against cancer
  6. Kava has been associated with liver damage
  7. Prolonged use can damage the nervous system
  8. If your body fights off the Kavalactones active in Kava (instead of assimilating them), this can result in the exacerbation of depression
  9. Kava is not physically addictive like Kratom, but you can become psychologically addicted if you abuse it.
  10. It is risky to combine Kava with other substances

Countries where Kava is produced

Kava is produced by countries in the Pacific Islands, which include:

  • Fiji
  • Tonga
  • Vanuatu
  • Samoa
  • Papua New Guinea
  • Solomon Islands


Is Kava uses to treat anxiety?

Kava has been used to treat anxiety for centuries, as it has a calming effect on the brain and the body.

Is Kava Addictive?

Kava is not addictive. However, you run the risk of being psychologically addicted if the body feels compelled to use it after prolonged intake.

Kava Root: Do the Risks Outweigh the Benefits?

Kava has numerous health benefits. However, the downsides outweigh (and in most cases, defeat) those benefits.

What are the Effects of Drinking Kava?

On the plus side, Kava helps users to relax, which is how it is able to reduce anxiety and insomnia. However, it also has other effects on the body like the partial numbing of the tongue, mouth and throat. Furthermore, it also induces sleepiness as well as nausea and can intoxicate.

What Does Kava Have to Do With Addiction and Recovery?

Recovering addicts use Kava to replace the substances to which they are addicted. This is where total abstinence is not feasible or comes at great risk of withdrawal.

Why Do People Consume Kava?

People consume Kava for recreational purposes and for the treatment of anxiety, insomnia, depression, and for many other health benefits.

Does Kava Make You ‘High’?

Kava does not make you ‘high’ in the sense of an alcohol related ‘high’, but some people have reported experiencing hallucinations whilst under the influence. Also, it induces some level of euphoria that can be described as a kind of ‘high’.

Is Kava Legal?

Kava is illegal in the UK, owing to its link to liver damage and other health complications.

Why Do People In Recovery Drink Kava?

It is believed to help in the recovery from other addictions.

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