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The health and social effects of drinking water-based infusions of kava: A review of the evidence


Lucie Rychetnik BSc(Hons), GDip, MPH, PhD, Senior Research Fellow, Christine Michelle Madronio DipHSci, BAppSci, MPH, Research Officer. Dr Lucie Rychetnik, School of Public Health, The University of Sydney, Medical Foundation Building K25, Sydney, NSW 2006, Australia. Tel: +61 2 9036 3449; Fax: +61 2 9036 3455; E-mail:


Issues. To review the evidence on the health and social effects of drinking kava; a water-based infusion of the roots of the kava plant. Approach. Included all empirical studies of the effects of kava published 1987–2008 reporting health and social outcomes. Evidence appraised on study design (level of evidence) and standard epidemiological criteria for causality. Key Findings. Causality indicated: scaly skin rash, weight loss, raised Gamma Glutamyl Transpeptidase liver enzyme levels, nausea, loss of appetite or indigestion; Association indicated but causality unclear: red sore eyes, impotence or loss of sexual drive, self-reported poor health, raised cholesterol, and loss of time and money, low motivation and ‘slow/lazy’ days following use, reduced alcohol consumption and related violence; Association hypothesised: fits or seizures, Melioidosis, Ischaemic Heart Disease, protective effects for cancer; No association indicated: cognitive performance; No association suggested: cognitive impairment, liver toxicity or permanent liver damage, other pneumonia; No association hypothesised: hallucinations. Implications. The health and social implications of chronic kava drinking can be significant for individuals and communities, although most effects of even heavy consumption appear to be reversible when consumption is stopped. Conclusion. An Australia-wide ban on commercial importation of kava has been in place since mid-2007, but there is no published literature to date on the impact of the ban. [Rychetnik L, Madronio CM. The health and social effects of drinking water-based infusions of kava: A review of the evidence. Drug Alcohol Rev 2011;30;74–83]