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Kava time March 3, 2006

Posted by dr. gonzo in Science.

Oceania has always been a land of enchantment in my mind. My stumbling upon Jon Frumism just played right into that image.

I think it all goes back to the first time I heard about the mysterious statues on Easter Island, or maybe the annual Christmas Island crab migration. Something about the South Pacific just captures my imagination.

A big part of the Melanesian culture (which includes Vanuatu–think Jon Frum) is a psychoactive pepper plant called kava.

Kava has long held a place in the cultures of the South Pacific, it is well known as an herbal remedy and ceremonial substance. Islanders grind the plant into a brownish liquid with water and it is usually drank from a traditional bowl.

The author of the article I referenced the yesterday, in Smithsonian Magazine, writes of his experience with kava in Vanuatu in that piece. Its social significance in the culture has been displayed when it used to welcome prominent guests to some of the island nation. Among dignitaries said to have consumed kava on official visits, Pope John Paul II and Lady Byrd Johnson.

In recent years agencies within the U.S. government (mainly the CDC and the FDA) have raised concern about the safety of kava consumption. Studies have been produced linking kava to liver damage as well as studies which say the herbal remedy flat out does not work.

Australians seem to be particularly concerned. In the Northern Territory it is tightly regulated, much like alcohol, the above link claims some pretty negative and startling side effects of kava consumption. In fact, for a time in the 90s, kava importation was illegal in the NT.

In the United Kingdom a ban on importation was implemented, making the nation of Fiji none too happy. Fiji counters the claims made by the FDA and others, since 2002, that kava has been linked to liver toxicity and even death.

Kava can be found in herbal supplements, purchased as roots, or even grown. It is not illegal in the United States, although as I said, there are fairly stern health warnings regarding its consumption.

Medicinal benefits attributed to kava include pain relief, stress and anxiety relief and some have even claimed it effective in combating cancer cell growth. Alternatively, kava is said to produce a numbness of the mouth and tongue, euphoric sense of well-being, and relaxed muscles among other psychoactive effects.

Photos: Photo 1: A kava plant (Piper methysticum). (Credit: USIP-CAMI) Photo 2: A sign showing a “Kava licence area” at Yirrkala, in the Northern Territory of Australia. (Credit: Wikipedia)

Related Post: The cult of a man named Jon


1. yinn - March 3, 2006

I think it would be enlightening to compare liver damage stats associated with Kava use vs. alcohol use.

2. amc - March 6, 2006

indeed that certainly would be, i’ll look into it if i have time :)

Leave a Reply to amc Cancel reply

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