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What to Know About Kava Addiction

by | Last updated Oct 2, 2020 at 4:04PM | Published on Aug 20, 2015 | Eating Disorders

Kava Addiction

With the influx of kava bars and the controversy surrounding this mysterious drink, kava has become a frequent topic in recovery circles. As more people wonder about natural and herb supplements for various ailments, kava is becoming very popular. But, is it addictive? Some people are talking about kava addiction and the dangers with it. 

What is Kava?

While kava root is part of the Western Pacific and Pacific Islands traditions, where it grows naturally, it’s only a recent addition to the American drug scene. People use kava root to brew tea, which people drink for its sedative properties. In a more traditional form, people chew the kava roots. In modern research, kava is could have the “potential for addiction” due to the mild, calm and euphoria it produces, as well as its effects on the nervous system.

Kava root

Why Do People Use Kava?

To avoid opioids, prescription painkillers, and alcohol to treat chronic ailments, people are looking at herbal remedies and other supplements to relax. Because of this, more and more people are turning to herbal remedies like kava. People use kava to treat anxiety disorders in most cases.

However, as with most supplements, there’s little evidence to understand their effects. So far, researchers believe kava can help with symptoms of anxiety by increasing GABA neurotransmitters. 

However, studies suggest that kava works similarly to addictive popular anti-anxiety medications, such as Valium. With this connection, wouldn’t people worry if kava is addictive?

How Do People Take Kava?

Kava is available in various forms. Native people will chew the roots or turn the roots into a pulp and add water. Some people brew kava and take it as a tea. Nowadays, kava powder is available in supplement stores as pressed capsules. 

  • Chewing kava root
  • Using micronized kava or kava powder to add in drinks
  • Drinking cava concentrate by diluting it with water

The Effects of Kavalactones

Kavalactones are the active ingredient in kava plants. While research is limited, people believe they help the limbic system. This is the system responsible for anxiety and fear. When kavalactones bind with brain receptors, they potentially could reduce anxiety. 

Each kava plant has different percentages of kavalactones. These are the ones that determine which type of kava plant is the strongest, or which might yield specific effects. Researchers label this as chemotype or the difference in percentages of kavalactones. 

Understanding the Effects of Kava

Most people believe that kava will make them feel high. While people experience a similar buzz to alcohol, it won’t be a “high” like most drugs. The effects of kava are different for each person, and it depends on the amount they ingest. 

The kavalactones might produce a tingling or numb sensation in the lips and tongue for a few minutes. Most people will feel warm and tingly as their muscles relax. Because kava is an anti-anxiety remedy, people feel overall calmer, more relaxed, and a bit euphoric. However, this doesn’t mean kava makes you high. 

Is Kava Addiction Real?

As with many herbal remedies and supplements, the side effects and risks of kava vary tremendously. So far, the most significant potential threat is the higher risk of producing liver toxicity and liver problems.

In the US, the FDA has warnings about people with liver disease or liver problems to stay away from medicines like kava. There are some instances of liver damage or failure due to kava use. This is why kava is a banned supplement in various countries. 

Kava is known for stimulating dopamine receptors in the brain. This is the same side effect linked to addictive drugs like opioids, cocaine, heroin, and more. Long-term kava users can develop a tolerance and continue to increase their kava dose to reap the same effects. 

While kava can be safe to use for the average person, those with addictive behaviors can easily find themselves struggling with kava addiction. Any substance that produces even mild effects has the potential for abuse. Some people might even experience withdrawal symptoms when they abruptly stop taking kava.

Is Kava Even Legal?

In the United States, kava is legal and sold as a dietary supplement. Kava is often marketed to help people relax and sleep better. However, in 2002, the FDA released a warning about the safety and effectiveness of kava products.

The FDA mentioned that kava could adversely affect the liver and pointed to reports from other countries citing hepatitis, cirrhosis, and liver failure from kava use. So far, only Germany, France, Canada, Switzerland, and the UK have regulations towards kava.

Is Kava Safe?

Unfortunately, there’s little evidence to suggest that kava is entirely safe. While there are reports of liver damage and failure, these reports are also limited. Because kava is a not controlled supplement, there’s not enough research available to understand the reach. 

People often combine kava with alcohol and other drugs to enhance their effects. These combinations can be potentially fatal and lead to overdose and other health concerns. Drinking alcohol with kava can slow down the nervous system and lead to fatal effects.

Not to mention, for people in recovery, kava can become the getaway to relapse. People struggling with substance use disorders will often let their addictive behavior take over and might abuse kava and other substances. 

At Lighthouse Recovery Institute, we stay away from introducing potentially dangerous substances that can lead to relapse. We believe in reinforcing relapse prevention skills and lifestyle and wellness alternatives to help those in recovery successfully manage their addiction. If you or someone you know is struggling with drug abuse, please contact us today. Our goal is to help you find the right path towards addiction recovery. 

Lighthouse Editorial Team

Lighthouse Editorial Team

Our editorial team includes content experts that contribute to Lighthouse Recovery Institute’s blog. Editors and medical experts review our blogs for accuracy and relevance. We consistently monitor the latest research from SAMHSA and NIDA to provide you with the most comprehensive addiction-related content.
Medical Disclaimer:

Lighthouse Recovery Institute aims to improve the quality of life for anyone struggling with substance use or mental health disorder. We provide fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options, and their outcomes. The material we publish is researched, cited, edited, and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide in our posts is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. It should never be used in place of the advice of your physician or another qualified healthcare provider.

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