Kava is a drug made from the roots of a type of pepper plant (called Piper methysticum) that grows in the Pacific Islands [36943]. The roots of the pepper plant are ground up or crushed and added to water and then drunk. The kava drink is traditionally used for cultural events in the Pacific Islands and drunk as part of a ceremony. Kava was introduced to the Aboriginal people in northern Australia as an alternative to alcohol in the 1980s.

The chemicals contained in kava, called kava lactones, are absorbed in the stomach and travel in the bloodstream to the brain [4969]. The kava lactones have a painkilling, numbing effect which also relaxes the muscles, much like alcohol. The strength of the kava drink can vary greatly depending on the variety of plant used and how it is prepared [31403].

Some people who use kava regularly over a long period of time may experience health issues such as:

  • scaly skin rash
  • sore red eyes
  • loss of body fat (losing weight)
  • increased risk of infections.

Kava use affects liver function and there is a possibility that long term or high use of kava can lead to liver damage [31403][35590][36943]. However the evidence for kava being toxic to the liver is unclear. Using kava with other kinds of medicines, such as prescription drugs, or alcohol may lead to an increased risk of liver damage because it can change the way the liver processes these substances.

Kava has a complex regulatory history [36943]. It is not grown or produced in Australia, but can be imported as a food under a permit system.

When travelling to Australia, people over the age of 18 years are allowed to bring up to 4kg of kava in their accompanied luggage [34711]. Restrictions in the Northern Territory mean that kava cannot be brought into this jurisdiction.


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Ngurlu Jukurrpa (Native Seed Dreaming) by Linny Nampijinpa Frank

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