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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
  • loss of muscle control
  • mild 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, weight loss, mood swings, apathy, 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.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: June 2021

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Kava - Alcohol and Drug Foundation

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Kava - Better Health Channel

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