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Kava (also known as 'kava kava' or Piper methysticum) is a drug made from the roots of a plant in the pepper family. It has traditionally been cultivated by Pacific Islanders for use as a social and ceremonial drink - either ground or chewed up and mixed with water or coconut milk.

Kava was introduced to some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in the north of Australia in the early 1980s as a substitute for alcohol

Kava can affect people differently. Initial effects commonly include:

  • feeling happy
  • sleepiness
  • numbness around the mouth.

If a larger amount of kava is consumed, effects may also include:

  • drowsiness
  • nausea
  • fever
  • bloodshot eyes or dilated pupils.

Long-term use of kava has been associated with a range of health problems including kidney and liver damage, loss of appetite, breathing difficulties and skin lesions.

There is no safe level of kava use. The effects of kava when mixed with other drugs and medicines can be especially unpredictable and dangerous.

Follow the links below to find trusted information about therapeutic and recreational use of kava.

Last reviewed: May 2018

Need more information?

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Top results

ADF - Drug Facts - Kava

Kava is a depressant drug, which means it slows down the messages travelling between the brain and the body. It's made from the root of the kava shrub.

Read more on Alcohol and Drug Foundation website

Kava - Better Health Channel

It is dangerous to take kava in combination with alcohol or other psychoactive drugs.

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Kava - Alcohol and Other Drugs Knowledge Centre

Read more on Australian Indigenous HealthInfoNet website

Kava - BluePages

Find out if kava is likely to help.

Read more on e-hub Web Services - Australian National University (ANU) website

Medicines and poisons

When medicines and poisons are used properly they can be of great help, for example in treating illness, controlling agricultural pests and making effective household cleaning products

Read more on WA Health website

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