Is Kava Considered a Drug?

Is Kava Considered a Drug?

February 08, 2024

estimated read time - 11 min

Kava has a rich history in the Pacific Islands, where it was traditionally used for sacred ceremonies and as a traditional medicine. Nowadays, more and more people are turning to kava for its relaxing and calming effects, which has made it even more popular.

However, there's some debate going on about whether kava should be classified as a drug or a dietary supplement.

What is a Drug?

Capsules and Tablets

Capsules and Tablets

The word "drug" often comes with an air of negativity in our social landscape. Many millenials to baby boomers still remember the negative connotations seared into the ever-present frying-egg-drug commercials of the 90's. But we must remember that drugs also include pharmaceutical drugs (which is arguable in their safety), as well as common substances most westerners use on a daily basis. Such as caffeine or alcohol. In general, a drug is a substance that can serve various purposes such as diagnosing, preventing, treating, or alleviating symptoms of a disease or health condition. Additionally, drugs have the potential to alter the functions of the brain and body, leading to changes in mood, perception, and behavior. Some drugs can even enhance the production of specific neurotransmitters in the brain, while others can inhibit their release.

Types of Drugs

  • Stimulants are psychoactive substances that increase activity in the central nervous system, leading to heightened alertness, attention, and energy levels. They boost the levels of neurotransmitters like dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin, which regulate mood, attention, and motivation. Stimulants such as cocaine, amphetamines, and caffeine have medical applications, but can also be abused, potentially leading to harmful effects on an individual's health and well-being.
  • Depressants, on the other hand, decrease central nervous system activity, resulting in relaxation, sedation, and reduced anxiety. They increase activity in the neurotransmitter channels, mainly GABA, which inhibits specific brain signals and decreases nervous system activity. This slowdown in brain activity produces calming effects on the body. Examples of depressants include alcohol, benzodiazepines, and barbiturates.
  • Hallucinogens are substances that can alter an individual's perception, thoughts, and emotions, leading to hallucinations and distorted reality. They produce effects that vary depending on the substance, dose, and an individual's tolerance, potentially causing feelings of euphoria, terror, or both (yes it's possible). Examples of hallucinogens include LSD, psilocybin mushrooms, and Mescaline. These substances are generally considered illegal due to their high potential for abuse and psychological dependence, although some users report positive effects such as increased creativity, spirituality, and recovering abilities from substance abuse.
  • Opioids are a class of drugs that connect to specific receptors in the brain and body, reducing pain perception and producing a sense of pleasure, relaxation, and euphoria. While effective for relieving acute or chronic pain, opioids are highly addictive and may lead to overdose and other negative consequences. They include both illegal drugs such as morphine or heroin, and legal prescription drugs such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, and fentanyl.
  • Cannabis is technically in the hallucinogen category but is so widely used it should be a category on it's own. It's a flower bud or plant-derived substance containing over a hundred chemical compounds called cannabinoids. The two main cannabinoids are THC, which produces a "high" affecting mental state, and CBD, which is non-psychoactive and has potential calming medicinal uses. Cannabis has been used recreationally and medicinally for thousands of years, and is typically consumed orally, smoked, or vaporized. The effects of cannabis vary depending on dose, consumption method, body weight, and tolerance, potentially leading to relaxation, altered perception of time, increased appetite, and dry mouth, among other effects.
  • Prescription drugs are medications available only with a doctor's prescription, used to treat medical conditions such as pain, anxiety, and depression. They are regulated by the government and strictly monitored for sale and distribution. Prescription drugs are designed to be used under a healthcare professional's supervision to track the patient's development and adjust the dosage as necessary. They must undergo rigorous testing, including clinical trials, to ensure safety and efficacy, and should always be taken according to a physician's instructions to avoid potential side effects and interactions with other medications.
  • Over-the-counter drugs (OTC) are medications that can be purchased without a prescription and are commonly used to treat minor illnesses and symptoms such as pain, allergies, colds, and flu. They are still regulated by the FDA and must meet safety and efficacy standards. It is essential to read and follow the label's instructions to ensure effectiveness and avoid possible side effects.
  • Performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) are substances that athletes, bodybuilders, and others use to improve physical strength, performance, and endurance. They may also help in building muscle, reducing body fat, or improving recovery time between workouts. Some PEDs are legal and require a healthcare professional's prescription, while others are illegal and obtained unlawfully. Using PEDs for non-medical purposes is illegal and prohibited by most sports organizations as cheating, resulting in penalties for athletes(8).

Drugs Regulation

These regulations classify drugs, establish prescription requirements, and control substances based on abuse potential. Stringent standards for manufacturing and clinical trials ensure drug quality and safety. Marketing practices are also regulated to maintain transparency. Import and export controls aim to prevent illegal trafficking. Violations may lead to fines, imprisonment, or other legal consequences.

Understanding Kava

Man Drinking Coffee

Man Drinking Coffee

The primary active ingredients in kava are kavalactones, compounds that interact with the brain's GABA-A receptors. These interactions induce sedative and anxiolytic effects, promoting relaxation and reducing anxiety. Kava's mechanism is attributed to its ability to enhance GABAergic activity, regulating sleep and contributing to its potential as a natural sleep aid. Additionally, kavalactones may offer analgesic properties, providing relief from pain and muscle tension.

Effects of Kava

Kava induces a range of effects. It promotes relaxation, reduces anxiety, and can create a mild euphoria often referred to as a "kava buzz." Beyond its calming properties, kava is recognized for its potential as a natural sleep aid, potentially improving sleep quality.

Does Kava Get You High

The term "kava high" refers to the relaxed and euphoric state some individuals experience after consuming kava. Its active compounds, like kavalactones, interact with neurotransmitters, inducing a calming effect that alleviates anxiety and promotes relaxation. However, it's crucial to note that kava doesn't produce a traditional "high" akin to intoxication from substances like alcohol or drugs.

Does Kava Give You a Buzz

Yes, kava may provide a mild euphoric sensation often referred to as a "kava buzz." The active compounds, kavalactones, interact with the brain's GABA receptors, inducing relaxation and a sense of well-being. This subtle euphoria is distinct from the intense highs associated with other substances. Kava is traditionally consumed for its calming effects, making it a popular choice for those seeking relaxation without the side effects of more potent alternatives.

How Much Kava Does It Take to Feel Euphoric

Determining the amount of kava required to feel euphoric varies among individuals due to tolerance and sensitivity differences. Generally, kava's euphoric effects are mild and associated with relaxation rather than intense euphoria. Starting with moderate doses of kavalactones (around 100-300mg) and gradually adjusting intake might induce a sense of calm and mild euphoria in some individuals.

How Much Kava to Get Krunk

It is essential to engage in kava consumption with responsibility. Although kava promotes relaxation, it does not generally result in a "krunk" or intoxicated state akin to alcohol. The effects can differ depending on the quantity consumed and individual tolerance. Nonetheless, actively seeking a "krunk" sensation requires copius amounts of kava and is not recommended.

Classification of Kava

Different Capsules

Different Capsules of Drugs

Is Kava Considered a Drug?

Kava's classification varies from country to country and it can be marketed as a dietary supplement or regulated as a drug. The debate on whether kava should be classified as a drug revolves around its potential for abuse and dependence. Reports suggest that kava users do not experience withdrawal symptoms upon discontinuation and do not necessarily become addicted in the classical form of addiction.

Kava COULD be classified as a drug due to several reasons.

  • kavalactones: kava's active compounds, called kavalactones, have psychoactive effects that interact with neurotransmitters in the brain. This can result in calming and mood-enhancing effects that resemble drug-like effects. Kavalactones may also have mind-altering effects on the central nervous system, further classifying it as a drug.

  • patentable technology: kava has the potential for patentable technology, especially if the actives are isolated. This provides pharmaceutical conglomerates a very attractive opportunity to ban the supplement market and monopolize the prescription market with purified actives from kava.

  • regulatory status: several countries, including Australia, regulate kava as a drug, with some even banning or restricting its use due to supposed safety concerns such as liver toxicity and potential drug interactions.

But surprise surprise, it is not considered to be a drug.

Legal Status of Kava

In the US, kava is classified as a dietary supplement and is not a controlled substance, but is subject to FDA regulations. The FDA has issued advisories regarding the potential health risks associated with kava, and has been closely monitoring reports of side effects since 2002(11). Some states in the US also have their own regulations over kava, such as requiring warning labels on products and prohibiting driving under the influence of kava.

In Canada, kava is classified as a natural health product and regulated under the Natural Health Products Regulations, but is not allowed to be sold due domestically. However, it can be sold if it is part of an approved product by Health Canada.

In Australia, kava is considered a depressant drug and its importing, distribution, and advertising are strictly controlled by the government. Companies can import kava products as long as they meet Australia's national food standard, but state and territory governments still have the final say on whether kava can be sold or bought in their respective territories(12).

Some countries, such as England, Germany, Switzerland, and others, have also classified kava as a drug due to its old claims of liver toxicity and negative interactions with other substances. Kava supplements are considered safe if taken in moderation, but long-term and heavy use of kava is still a topic of discussion. Some experts insist that kava should be regulated as a drug due to its potential for negative side effects and interactions with medications.

If you’re interested to know about the legality of kava in your country, check out our blog here.

Does kava Show Up on Drug Tests?

Technically, kava will not show up in drug tests unless somehow specifically checked, however there do not currently exist any drug tests we are currently aware of that test for kava. Majority of the drug tests are designed to detect illegal substances such as marijuana, cocaine, amphetamines, opioids, and benzodiazepines. Since kava is not illegal, it is not normally included in drug tests.

Kava vs. Drugs

Straining Kava Extract

Straining Kava Extract

Kava and drugs diverge significantly in their nature and effects. Kava, a plant native to the Pacific, is celebrated for its mild sedative and anxiolytic properties, offering relaxation without impairment. In contrast, the term "drugs" encompasses a broad spectrum of substances, each with unique impacts on the body and mind, often associated with intoxication and potential risks. While kava is a natural remedy known for its calming benefits, drugs vary widely, necessitating careful consideration of their specific properties and potential consequences before use.


In summary, the classification of kava varies across countries, with its status as either a dietary supplement or a drug contingent upon each nation's regulations and their assessment of potential health risks associated with the product. In the United States, kava is recognized as a dietary supplement, with both sellers and consumers encouraged to adhere to government-provided warnings and guidelines.

Concerns regarding the potential health risks, dependency, and abuse associated with kava have prompted certain countries, such as the United Kingdom, Greece, and various Western nations, to classify kava as a drug requiring a prescription. It is advisable to consume kava in moderation to mitigate possible side effects. If considering the use of kava, consulting with a health professional beforehand is recommended to ensure safety.

Please do remember we are not medically trained physicians and nothing in here should be substituted for medical advice.


  1. Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994
  3. NCCIH and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) November 2019
  4. Malfait, A. M., Gallily, R. , Sumariwalla, P. F., Malik, A. S., Andreakos E., Mechoulam, R., and Feldmann, M. The nonpsychoactive cannabis constituent cannabidiol is an oral anti-arthritic therapeutic in murine collagen-induced arthritis. August 1, 2000.
  5. NIDA. 2021, April 19. What are marijuana's effects?. Retrieved from on 2023, April 19
  6. Clarke, Pat. How FDA strives to ensure the safety of OTC products. FDA. 03/10/2016.
  7. Dandoy C, Gereige RS. Performance-enhancing drugs. Pediatr Rev. 2012 Jun;33(6):265-71; quiz 271-2. doi: 10.1542/pir.33-6-265. PMID: 22659257; PMCID: PMC4528343.
  8. Kathryn Henne, Benjamin Koh, Vanessa McDermott. Coherence of drug policy in sports: Illicit inclusions and illegal inconsistencies. Performance Enhancement & Health, Volume 2, Issue 2, 2013. Pages 48-55, ISSN 2211-2669.
  9. Dietary Supplements: What You Need to Know. National Institute of Health, Office of the Dietary Supplements. Updated: January 4, 2023.
  10. Kava (Other Names: Ava, Intoxicating Pepper, Kawa Kawa, Kew, Sakau, Tonga, Yangona). Drug Enforcement Administration Diversion Control Division Drug & Chemical Evaluation Section. September 2019.
  12. New kava regulations in Australia. Alcohol and Drug Foundation. April 27, 2022.


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