Kava Kava



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Kava Kava, known scientifically as Piper methysticum, is a plant from the South Pacific revered for its calming effects. It’s a bush with large leaves, valued particularly for its rhizome which contains active compounds called kavalactones. Traditionally consumed as a ceremonial beverage, research suggests kava may help with anxiety and possess neuroprotective properties. However, its traditional use does not include smoking, and there is no documented evidence supporting this consumption method.

Common name(s): Awa, kava, yaqona, sakau, and malok or malogu
Scientific name: Piper methysticum


Life Cycle


Known for its anxiolytic properties, cultural significance in the South Pacific, and potential liver toxicity risks.


It is native to the islands of the South Pacific.

Natural Habitat

The kava kava plant is typically found in cultivated fields within the South Pacific islands.


Kava requires partial shade, consistently moist soil, and well-drained conditions to thrive.

Traditional Usage

Kava holds a unique place in the cultural practices of South Pacific societies, where it’s not just a plant but a cornerstone of social interaction and ritual. Here are some of its traditional uses:

  • Social Ceremonies: It’s often prepared as a beverage for communal gatherings, fostering a sense of camaraderie.
  • Cultural Significance: Among the Māori, although their ‘kava’ varies from Piper methysticum and lacks psychoactive effects, it still plays a ceremonial role.
  • Calm and Wellbeing: Kava is traditionally sought for its calming effects, contributing to a peaceful state without impairing cognitive functions1 2.

It’s crucial to respect kava’s traditional roots, recognizing that its use as a smoked herb deviates from these longstanding practices.

Historical Usage

Centuries-old use in South Pacific ceremonies and social rituals due to its calming effects.

Common Usage

Currently used for its anxiolytic and relaxing effects, particularly in the treatment of anxiety.


The traditional use of kava is known to foster relaxation and promote a tranquil state of mind. Taken in normal amounts, kava is appreciated for its ability to soothe without dampening cognitive performance. This is primarily due to the presence of active elements known as kavalactones, which influence the brain’s neurotransmitters.

Here are some general effects that you might experience from consuming kava:

  • Relaxation: A deep sense of calm that can be felt throughout the body.
  • Sense of Well-being: Many users report feeling more content and at ease.
  • Mental clarity: Unlike some relaxants, kava is not usually associated with cognitive impairment.
  • Anxiety reduction: Studies have suggested that kava might aid in diminishing anxiety levels 3 4.

Despite its benefits, it’s important to be aware that excessive consumption of kava may pose risks, including potential liver toxicity, and it should be enjoyed responsibly 3 4. Always consult a healthcare provider for guidance on dosage and to ensure it’s suitable for your individual health needs. The legal status of kava varies globally, with it being lawful in many regions but subject to restrictions or bans in others due to health concerns 2.

While the traditional method involves preparing the drink from the raw root, there are also modern forms of kava consumption, such as kava supplements or instant kava mixes,

Effects when smoking

When considering the use of kava at home for its relaxing benefits, it’s crucial to understand the effects and safety details. Kava is traditionally consumed as a beverage, and its effects when smoked aren’t well-documented. Here’s what we know about kava’s impact on the body:

  • Relaxation: Kava is popular for its ability to promote a state of calm and relaxation without hindering cognitive abilities.
  • Sense of wellbeing: Users often report a sense of increased wellbeing after consuming kava traditionally.

It’s essential to highlight that the traditional method of kava consumption is via a drink made from the ground root mixed with water. While some may be curious about smoking kava, this is not a recommended practice, and knowledgeable sources do not offer insights into this method of use due to safety and health concerns1234.

Meeting your well-being and lifestyle goals includes understanding the potential risks involved with alternative consumption methods such as smoking. It’s advised to stay informed through reliable sources and consult healthcare providers when considering herbal remedies for personal use.

Flavor Profile

Bitter, earthy, and peppery flavor profile.

Edible Parts

Rhizome (underground root and stem)

Effects when Smoked

Effects of smoking are not well-documented and not recommended as traditional use involves consumption as a beverage.

User Experiences

Users typically report feelings of relaxation and reduced anxiety, with variations in individual experiences and potential side effects.

Medicinal Benefits

Kava may offer several medicinal benefits for those seeking natural remedies. Most notable are its anxiolytic properties, where it has the potential to help lower anxiety levels. In addition, the herb may possess:

  • Neuroprotective effects that could guard against neuronal damage.
  • Relaxing qualities that induce a sense of calm and well-being.
  • Non-impairing features, allowing for relaxation without cognitive disruption.

Always consult with a healthcare provider before using kava to ensure it aligns with your health needs and circumstances3 4.

History and Folklore

Traditionally cherished in South Pacific cultures, kava has been a staple in social and ceremonial settings for centuries. Indigenous communities, particularly in the islands, prized it for its calming properties and integrated it into their social rituals and communal gatherings. Its soothing effects were sought after during events to foster a sense of camaraderie and peace among participants[1].
As a beverage, it signified more than just a drink; it carried cultural significance, weaving into the fabric of society a rich tradition that continues to be observed today.

Piper methysticum plant leaves agriculture in Fiji. The roots of the plant are used to produce the Kava drink that consumed throughout the Pacific Ocean cultures of Polynesia for its sedating effects.

Side Effects and Contraindications

Side Effects of Kava Kava:

  • Drowsiness or sedation, especially when taken in larger doses.
  • Digestive upset and changes in appetite have been observed.
  • Skin conditions such as dermatitis may occur with prolonged use.
  • Some individuals report experiencing headaches or dizziness.


  • Not advised for those with liver problems due to potential liver toxicity3 4.
  • Should not be used with alcohol or other substances that affect the liver.
  • Pregnant or breastfeeding women should avoid kava kava.
  • Not recommended for people with Parkinson’s disease or depression3.

Legal Status

Legal Status of Kava

The legality of kava varies across different countries. In the United States, kava is legal and can be sold as a dietary supplement[2]. However, in Europe, some nations have imposed restrictions or even bans due to concerns over its potential liver toxicity. It’s important for consumers to check the most current regulations in their specific country before purchasing or consuming kava.


1. Kava – Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kava
2. Kava | NCCIH – National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/kava
3. Kava Kava: Benefits, Side Effects and Dosage – Healthline, https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/kava-kava
4. Kava: Benefits, Side Effects, Dosage, and Interactions – Verywell Mind, https://www.verywellmind.com/kava-kava-what-you-need-to-know-89703