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Can You Get Addicted to Kava: Let’s Look at the Facts

March 13, 2023

Male enjoying a cup of Kava while on computer

In recent years, a heightened—and understandable—focus on one’s health and the environment has led to more people seeking out all-natural products for routine use. From makeup and skincare products to beverages, the inclination towards natural products is a trending shift in consumerism. But in the South Pacific, native islanders have relied on natural products right outside their door for centuries. One of their most recognized products is kava.

Kava is sought after and praised for its natural way to relax the mind and body. Made from the ground roots of the kava plant, kava is brewed into tea and consumed for medicinal, social, relaxational, and ceremonial purposes. However, due to the lack of education on kava outside of the South Pacific, this all-natural product can seem controversial. People wonder if it is a healthy, natural alcohol alternative or another addictive substance. This begs the question: can you get addicted to kava?

At Kalm with Kava, we craft our kava root drinks with the goal of helping people find the #kalm they crave in life without fear of the side effects often tied to other substances. Before making any assumptions about the nature and safety of kava, let’s first look at the facts surrounding this plant and clarify what exactly kava does to the body.

What is Kava?

Kava, also known as Piper Methysticum, is a small shrub grown in the Pacific Islands, mainly Fiji, Hawaii, Tonga, and Vanuatu. There is a long history and tradition of islanders using kava plants for social rituals, religious ceremonies, and medicinal purposes. When the root and stump of kava are ground down, made into a drink, and consumed, the effects of kava’s active ingredients—kavalactones— help promote psychological and physiological relaxation.

How Does Kava Affect the Body?

Concentrated in kava’s rootstock and roots, kavalactones are the active ingredient responsible for kava’s calming qualities. There are thought to be 18 different kavalactones, with a large majority of active ingredients coming from just six. When drinking kava, the kavalactones interact with the body’s limbic system of the brain, notably the amygdala. The amygdala helps regulate emotions, emotional behavior, and motivation.

The kavalactones work similarly to a central nervous system depressant, impacting neurotransmitter receptors in the brain. Higher doses of kava can increase dopamine levels, creating a pleasurable sensation. Dopamine, known as the hormone that makes you feel good, carries messages between the nerve cells in the brain and the rest of the body.

A cup of kava has a psychoactive, sedating effect that is noticeable immediately when the lips and mouth go numb. Primarily, kava can relax muscles, relieve stress, and elevate mood. Many people report experiencing euphoria, likening its effects to those of alcohol or benzodiazepines. However, while kava impacts the brain, it typically does not negatively affect cognitive functioning as alcohol does. Most users say they remain clear-headed but calm after drinking kava in small doses.

Is Kava Addictive?

Newcomers to kava often pose questions concerning the safety of kava and ask whether your can get addicted to kava. There can be a presumption in the West that kava is the South Pacific’s equivalent of alcohol or coffee. Such commonly taken substances tend to have an addictive component to them. But there is an important difference between them and kava: kava, when consumed correctly and responsibly, is very safe. In the United States and many other countries, kava is legal and officially classified by the FDA as an herbal and dietary supplement, not as an addictive substance.

From a clinical standpoint, the pharmacology of kava is very different from other addictive substances. Kava works primarily by altering the activity of gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA, which is the primary inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain. GABA is the same neurotransmitter system that alcohol and benzodiazepine medications (such as Xanax and Valium) affect, which gives those compounds their relaxing properties. However, unlike alcohol or benzos, Kava also affects the norepinephrine and dopamine neurotransmitter systems and, therefore, does not have the same negative cognitive effects as those drugs do. You get all the relaxation without a hangover or other withdrawal symptoms.

Unlike other substances, you will also not build up a tolerance to kava and its effects. Most addictive substances like alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine have a tolerance level associated with them. That means that after using them for a period of time, your body ends up requiring more and more of the substance in order to generate the same effects. For example, when a person drinks alcohol, in the beginning, they may get drunk on two beers. Over time, however, they will need to increase the number of beers they drink to get drunk. However, kava is excluded from this group.

Kava has a reverse tolerance effect. When someone first starts drinking kava, it can take several uses before they even feel its effects. The beneficial effects of a drink of kava can be felt even more when less is drunk on subsequent occasions. This is because of the distinctive way that kava affects the brain and the way your body adapts to drinking kava.

Kava is generally considered to be non-addictive; however like anything, it can be habit-forming. Since kava produces euphoria, users can feel attached to the way it makes them feel. Drinking kava responsibly is key to ensuring you maintain a healthy relationship with it.

How to Drink Kava Wisely and Responsibly

There are many beneficial effects to consuming kava as an herbal supplement. That said, there are still important safety tips regarding how to drink kava responsibly to ensure you enjoy all the benefits kava has to offer while ensuring you maintain a healthy relationship with it.

  • Do Not Mix Kava with Other Medications
    If you are on prescription medications, avoid drinking kava until you consult with your physician. Kava can enhance the effects of some prescription medications, such as benzodiazepines and barbiturates.
  • Do Not Drink or Mix Kava and Alcohol Together
    Kava and alcohol have a lot of overlap in the effects they produce on the body, and will, therefore, compound each other’s effects. They both can cause you to feel relaxed, reduce inhibitions, make you feel more comfortable around others, and even help you sleep. This can be dangerous because while you may know your limits with alcohol and kava on their own, when combined you could still end up with a much stronger effect from both than you expected.
  • Drink Noble Kava Only
    Noble kava has been safely consumed traditionally in the South Pacific for hundreds of years. That’s why at Kalm with Kava we only sell lab-tested, high-quality, fresh Noble kava products, including medium grind kava root, micronized kava, kava concentrate, and kava mints. Our kava products are sourced directly from trusted, knowledgeable, and responsible farmers in the South Pacific.
  • Understand Reverse Tolerance
    Reverse tolerance involves a gradual increase in the effects of kava the more you use it. Reverse tolerance isn’t dangerous but may give you more of an effect than you want or expect at the time. It’s important to take smaller than normal doses for the first couple of times when using kava just in case you’re one of those affected.
  • Avoid Driving
    Kava can help you sleep better at night, make you feel euphoric, boost your mood, and ease muscle tension. These are all great benefits; however, they are not good if you get behind the wheel. Being overly sedated or sleepy and choosing to drive a vehicle is simply dangerous. Do not drink kava and drive.

Drink Kava Root and Rest Easy

Kava is, perhaps, one of the greatest not-so-hidden secrets behind the famously laid-back Pacific Island’s lifestyle. It can be an incredibly useful tool for optimizing your life when used consciously and with moderation. We hope this overview of kava root puts your fears concerning kava addiction and safety at ease.

In a world of lab-grown and highly processed foods and products, it is worth adding kava to your go-to list of natural supplements to improve your health and well-being. Shop Kalm with Kava’s premium kava products today and rest easy knowing you’ve found an all-natural method to relax the island way. After all, if the South Pacific has been enjoying kava safely for centuries, it certainly seems we would do well to follow in their #dontworrybehappy mantra.

*Please note that this post is not meant to be a comprehensive review of the total safety of kava. Research is increasing every day on how kava affects individuals. Human physiology varies greatly. If you are concerned about introducing kava to your lifestyle, as with any new herbal supplement, it is always advisable to consult with your primary physician.

Important Note:
The information above has not been evaluated by the Federal Drug Administration agency. The information on this page and our products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Before starting a dietary supplement, it’s always wise to check with a medical doctor. It is especially important for people who are: pregnant or breastfeeding, chronically ill, elderly, under 18, taking prescription or over-the-counter medicines. None of the information is intended to be an enticement to purchase and may not be construed as medical advice or instruction. Herbal products contain phytochemicals that are not ordinarily found in typical food sources and may produce physiologic effects. Indiscriminate use of any herbal product is not recommended except under the direction of trained health care professionals. In addition, there may be drug interactions that may produce reactions or interfere with the efficacy of prescription medication.

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