Kava Dangers

Kava is remarkably safe, but it may not necessarily be an altogether "free ride" as some might hope.  Kava potentiates alcohol, which means that if alcohol and kava are taken together, there can be unexpected effects. Kava can often make one alcoholic drink feel like three, so it's important to keep this vividly in mind.  Anyone with a preexisting liver condition or those at risk of developing one should consult a physician before using kava. Additionally, if you are currently using anti-anxiety drugs or antidepressants, you should consult a physician who is expert in the use of kava before use.

And this brings up a key point: We are not doctors and cannot under any circumstance offer medical advice on the use of kava.  However, as a rule to follow, pregnant and lactating women should avoid using kava. This is one example that can be applied to any questions regarding the dangers of kava.  We'd love to answer, but we simply can't.

Something we did find extremely interesting, though, is that if used in great excess (we're talking about consuming 8 ounces or more of kava every day for many weeks), it can cause what is known as kava-induced dermopathy.  This is a patchy scaling of the skin, and is called "kani kani" in Fiji. We've personally seen this on some kava drinkers who consumed extremely large amounts on a daily basis, but the condition appears to be harmless, and goes away when kava use is suspended. In some South Pacific societies where kava is traditionally consumed, kava dermopathy was actually considered a sign of prestige because it indicated the drinker had access to lots of kava!

Remember that the dangers of kava are more likely to occur in people who have taken higher than recommended doses and/or exceeded the recommended duration of use (3 months maximum). Used in excess, kava can cause mild stomach upset, sensitivity to light, drowsiness, and changes in coordination. An estimated 1% of first-time kava users may experience an allergic reaction in the form of light hives, and sometimes itchy skin or mucus membranes. These symptoms are generally mild and go away when kava use is stopped.

Finally, if for any reason you know a person has consumed kava in large quantities, it is recommended that they do not operate a car or heavy machinery at the same time. In June of 2000, a man was arrested on Highway 101 in San Mateo County, California after consuming 23 cups of kava (a feat in itself). That's a heck of a lot of kava. He was acquitted because jurors were not familiar with kava, but he was driving erratically enough for a police officer to notice.  In other words; always drink kava responsibly.

NOTE: Some excerpts taken from from "Psyche Delicacies" (2001) by Chris Kilham.