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Kava

Kava or Piper methysticum is an ancient crop of the western Pacific. The word kava is used to refer both to the plant and the beverage produced from its roots. Kava is consumed throughout the Pacific Ocean including Polynesia, Micronesia and Australia. Kava is sedating and is primarily consumed to relax without disrupting mental clarity.

Kava's active ingredients are called kavalactones which are psychoactive. In some parts of the Western World, kava extract is marketed as herbal medicine against stress, insomnia, and anxiety though safety concerns have been raised over liver toxicity largely due to the use of stems and leaves by supplement makers, as opposed to solely the root of the plant as dictated by traditional uses.

Traditionally it is prepared by either chewing, grinding or pounding the roots of the kava plant. The product is then added to cold water and consumed as quickly as possible.

The extract is an emulsion of kavalactone droplets in starch. The taste is slightly pungent, while the distinctive aroma depends on whether it was prepared from dry or fresh plant, and on the variety. The colour is grey to tan to opaque greenish. Kava prepared as described above is much more potent than processed kava. Chewing produces the strongest effect because it produces the finest particles. Fresh, undried kava produces a stronger beverage than dry kava. The active ingredients of kava, such as Kavalactone, are ruined at 140 degrees F (60 C). Most tea steeps at 180 degrees F (82.22 C) for at least a couple minutes which will reduce the potency of the kava.

A kava pill usually has anywhere from 60 mg to 150 mg of kavalactones. By comparison the typical bowl of traditionally prepared kava beverage has around 250 mg of kavalactones.

Effects of kavalactones include mild sedation, a slight numbing of the gums and mouth, and vivid dreams. Kava has been reported to improve cognitive performance and promote a cheerful mood. Heavy, long-term kava use does not cause any reduction of ability in saccade and cognitive tests but is associated with elevated liver enzymes.

Kava has a potential for addiction, as it produces mild euphoria and relaxation in the user Heavy kava use can lead to general ill health including shortness of breath, dry scaly skin, liver damage, malnutrition and changes to red and white blood cells and platelets. Long-term consumption of large amounts of kava can lead to toxic effects such as ataxia and ascending paralysis without loss of consciousness.

A moderately potent kava drink causes effects within 2030 minutes that last for about two and a half hours, but can be felt for up to eight hours. Because of this, it is recommended to space out servings about fifteen minutes apart. Some report longer term effects up to two days after ingestion, including a feeling of mental clarity, patience, and an ease of acceptance. The effects of kava are most often compared to alcohol, or a large dose of diazepam.

Kava is used for medicinal, religious, political, cultural and social purposes throughout the Pacific. These cultures have a great respect for the plant and place a high importance on it.


 
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