Kava is a traditional herb that has been used for centuries in Pacific Island cultures as a relaxant and stress reliever. However, with its increasing popularity worldwide, more people are wondering – is it possible to overdose on kava?
The short answer is yes, but kava overdose is exceedingly rare. While safe in moderation, excessive use of kava does carry some risks that are important to understand.
What Causes Kava Overdose?
Kava contains active compounds called kavalactones that provide calming effects by interacting with the brain’s GABA receptors. This is similar to how anti-anxiety medications work.
An overdose occurs when someone consumes more kavalactones than their body can handle. This can happen by:
- Taking too many kava supplements at once
- Drinking too much concentrated kava tea or extract
- Combining kava with other substances like alcohol
Consuming high doses of kavalactones essentially overloads the GABA receptors, causing the tranquilizing effects to become extreme and dangerous.
Signs and Symptoms of Kava Overdose
The signs of a kava overdose can include:
- Excessive drowsiness or loss of consciousness
- Impaired coordination and balance
- Slurred speech
- Breathing issues
- Nausea and vomiting
- Yellowing of the skin (jaundice)
In severe cases, kava overdose can also cause heart rhythm abnormalities, seizures, coma, and even death. Seek emergency medical care if any of these symptoms occur after taking high doses of kava.
Dangers of Long-Term Kava Overuse
While acute kava overdose is not common, long-term overuse does carry significant risks:
Liver toxicity: The kavalactones in kava can damage liver cells, leading to hepatitis-like symptoms. This is more likely with high doses taken regularly over months or years.
Skin reactions: Some kava users develop rashes, scaling, yellowing skin, and other dermatologic issues from chronic heavy use.
Malnutrition: Excess kava use can suppress appetite and nutrients aren’t properly absorbed, leading to vitamin deficiencies over time.
Addiction and withdrawal: Frequent use of high kava doses can cause dependence, making it difficult to stop without experiencing anxiety, restless legs, insomnia, and other withdrawal effects.
How to Use Kava Safely
When used responsibly, kava can be an effective herbal remedy for anxiety, insomnia, and muscle tension. Here are some tips for safe use:
- Follow dosage guidelines – Don’t exceed 250mg kavalactones per day, or what is recommended on your specific kava product.
- Avoid combining with other substances – Don’t mix kava with alcohol, medications, or illicit drugs due to dangerous interactions.
- Choose quality preparations – Purchase kava from reputable companies to ensure you get pure, uncontaminated products.
- Avoid daily use – Take regular breaks from kava to prevent dependence and side effects. Limit use to 1-3 times per week maximum.
- Watch for side effects – Discontinue kava if you experience signs of liver issues like jaundice or dermatologic problems.
- Consult your doctor – Speak to your healthcare provider before taking kava, especially if you have liver problems or take any medications.
While kava overdose is rare, it can occur if excessive doses are consumed. Practicing moderation, choosing quality products, and being aware of potential side effects will allow you to use kava in the safest, most responsible manner.