For thousands of years, residents of the South Pacific have enjoyed the calming qualities of kava root beverages. But the appeal of the drink—known for its relaxing psychoactive qualities—is no longer confined to the Pacific. From trendy kava bars in New York City to kava root capsules sold in organic grocery stores in Australia, the kava craze is taking the world by storm.
In recent years, society’s increased focus on personal health has led to more people outside of the Pacific Islands trying all-natural products, like kava, for daily use in their lives. Kava’s reputation as a natural and non-addictive alternative to substances like alcohol and nicotine makes it particularly alluring. But as kava has become more common around the world, naturally questions surrounding kava safety have emerged. Because kava is traditionally consumed in large quantities over several hours, some people have voiced concerns and questions about the relationship between drinking kava and driving. Does kava impact an automobile driver’s safety?
At Kalm with Kava, we want everyone to enjoy the relaxing vibes kava offers while staying informed and safe. In this post, we’ll address concerns regarding drinking kava and driving and provide information on the latest studies investigating the issue.
What is Kava Root?
Kava is a small shrub grown in the Pacific Islands, mainly Fiji, Hawaii, Tonga, and Vanuatu. Its botanical name—Piper Methysticum—means “intoxicating pepper” and was given by Johann Forster who voyaged to the South Pacific in the 1770s. There is a long history and tradition of islanders using kava plants, notably in beverage form, 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 Mind and 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 the majority of active ingredients coming from just six. The kavalactones work similarly to a central nervous system depressant, impacting neurotransmitter receptors in the brain and slowing communications between your brain and body. 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 helps relax muscles, relieve stress, aid with sleep, and elevate mood. Many people report experiencing euphoria, likening its effects to those of alcohol or benzodiazepines but without the addictive nature or next-day hangover.
Drinking Kava and Driving: Is it Safe?
Until recently, kava’s impact on driving was largely uncharted territory. But new information has emerged that is sparking conversations and research on the topic.
In the past few years, police in several Pacific nations reported having stopped an increased number of drivers who appeared mildly intoxicated, although they showed negative breath screening tests. Police were left suspecting kava drinking as the culprit.
These concerns over potential driver impairment because of kava use prompted an in-depth study to try and bring light and truth to the matter. The 2022 study led by Dr ‘Apo’ Aporosa, a research fellow at the University of Waikato in New Zealand, evaluated the impact of traditional kava use on cognition and its implications for driver fitness. The study evaluated six different neurological functions in the brain during and after drinking kava: focus, accuracy, temporal order judgment, timing perception, plasticity, and fatigue. Testing involved 20 participants drinking 3.6 liters of kava over six hours and assessing their neurological function compared to 20 non-kava drinking participants.
The study ultimately found that drinking large amounts of kava before driving had a negative impact on temporal order judgment, which is linked to how a person sequences events in their head, such as checking for hazards when driving up to intersections. The other neurological functions were seemingly unaffected. Dr. Aporosa concluded that kava, when consumed in naturalistic settings over many hours, has “unique but subtle effects.” These effects, while vastly different from alcohol, cannabis, and other euphorics and hallucinogens, are enough to warrant an advisory against drinking kava and driving.
There is still a need to better understand kava’s cognitive effects and how it is metabolized on the breath and in the body. Acquiring more knowledge on the subject will also add significantly to understanding kava’s effects for future road policing and evidentiary purposes in court.
Kava is one of the best alcohol alternatives around and can even do a better job at helping boost your mood at the end of the day before you head out for some socializing. Drinking kava has the positive effects of alcohol without its downsides.
Like alcohol, kava relaxes the mind and body, making you feel lightweight and like all the stresses of the day are starting to fall away. Also, similar to alcohol, kava can help relax you, reduce your inhibitions, and make you feel more social.
While kava and alcohol do have several similarities, they differ significantly. Unlike alcohol, kava doesn’t make you more aggressive, experience brain fog, or have a hangover. Also, kava does not metabolize on the breath in a similar manner to alcohol. So if someone was pulled over for suspected impaired driving, the breathalyzer test will not register any kava consumed.
Can You Be Arrested for Drinking Kava and Driving?
When most people hear about someone getting arrested and charged with “driving under the influence” they assume the person was consuming alcohol or some illegal substance. But can kava drinking also lead to DUIs?
Kava bars are rapidly becoming a new trend with over 180 locations across the U.S. That means that more people are consuming kava recreationally and then getting in vehicles to drive home at the end of the night. Many people refer to kava bars as “sober bars,” but depending on who you ask, that can be a bit of a misnomer. While kava is a legal substance in the U.S. and officially classified by the FDA as an herbal and dietary supplement, it still produces a sedative effect on the drinker, which can be profound for some, making them numb and slowing down reaction times. This poses a potential safety risk when someone contemplates driving after drinking kava.
Just because kava is legal doesn’t mean you can do whatever you want while under its effects. In many U.S. states and elsewhere there are laws covering driving under the influence of anything that might affect the brain, muscles, or central nervous system and could prevent the driver from safely operating a motor vehicle. That’s why anything from alcohol and over-the-counter medications to kava could cause enough impairment to pose a safety risk to drivers and others on the road and lead to you being arrested. And remember, police often use their judgment when arresting someone for a DUI, even in the absence of hard evidence. If you are driving erratically and get pulled over, the cops will probably assume you are under the influence and could charge you with reckless driving or a DUI regardless of any evidentiary support.
Staying Safe While Drinking Kava
There are many benefits to be enjoyed from integrating kava into your all-natural repertoire of supplements. That said, there are still important safety tips for drinking kava responsibly to ensure you enjoy all those benefits while maintaining a healthy relationship with it and staying safe after consuming it.
- Don’t Drink Kava and Drive — As mentioned earlier, kava has sedative effects and was shown in Dr. Aporosa’s study to cause some minimal impairment in the driver’s abilities.
- Plan Ahead for a Designated Driver — No different than when you go out on the town with friends to drink alcohol, you want to make sure and designate one sober person to safely drive everyone home at the end of the night.
- 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 can 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.
- 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.
Relax. Unwind. Be Safe: Don’t Drink Kava and Drive
Today, kava consumption has spread well beyond the confines of the Pacific Islands and is garnering a whole new demographic of admirers. When consumed responsibly and in moderation, kava can be a powerful tool in optimizing and enhancing your life. But as found in Dr. Aporosa’s research, kava does have the potential to impact a driver’s aptitude. Therefore, drinking kava and driving is not recommended.
But don’t worry, there are still plenty of ways to safely relax and unwind with kava while staying safe. To help get you started, browse our shop of premium kava products today that can help you relax, unwind, and hone the #kalm in your life. And don’t hesitate to contact our Kalm with Kava for additional kava safety tips!
*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.
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.