Kava, once used more ceremonially, is now becoming more popular in Western societies due to its positive psychoactive qualities. A growing portion of these new western users seek kava for its possible substitute for alcohol and benzodiazepine class drugs. It is noted by Sarris et al.,  that differences in effects observed in research may relate to differences in preparations, quantity, and potency of the kava consumed. In small doses kava has been shown to possess a refreshing, calming, and anxiolytic effect. Larger quantities have been seen to produce stronger euphoria, tremors, and loss of fine motor control of the limbs and body. Extremely large doses can bring about an intoxication state known as ataxia, or slurred speech, stumbling, falling, and incoordination.
Therapeutic kavalactone dosages have been shown to hover in the range of 180-300mg per day. These dosages were not found to have a negative effect on motor skills required for driving. Recreational doses, however, can be considerably higher. This can range to up to 2 grams of kavalactones .
Four cases were evaluated between 2011 and 2018 where drivers were stopped, or further questioned, by Law Enforcement Officers due to signs of impairment when driving. All four subjects admitted to having consumed kava prior to being pulled over. All four provided urine samples at the time of arrest which were tested, and they all returned negative for other intoxicants except for alcohol in case 4.
The first subject in 2011 had run a stop sign which caused the officer to pull them over. The case says the subject was mumbling, was exhibiting very slow movements, had difficulty with manual dexterity, watery bloodshot eyes, and extremely droopy eyelids. Quite amusingly, the officer did remark the subject was polite and cooperative with him. He tested at 0.000 when tested for alcohol impairment.
The second subject in 2012 was stopped during a vehicle safety check point. The subject was detained due to gross signs of intoxication, and suspicion of an open alcohol container. The subject admitted to the officer that they had drunk a bottle of kava. The officer remarks that the subject was cooperative, but slow to answer and was slurring their speech. Again, the officer remarked on the persons bloodshot, watery eyes and droopy eyelids. The subject admitted to drinking “a little bit of beer”, however their blood alcohol content (BAC) was found at 0.000.
Case number 3 in 2017 involves a 48-year-old male. Officers stopped them for driving erratically “all over the road”. He admitted to drinking an “unknown” amount of kava. The offer remarked again about the subjects’ cooperative “laid-back” attitude with slow speech. Bloodshot watery eyes and droopy eyelids were also noted. The subject was given a BAC test and came back with 0.000 indicating no alcohol consumption.
In the last case in April of 2018 an officer stopped a 50-year-old male in response to a call about a vehicle driving down the center of the road. The subject admitted to drinking 2 cans of beer and having about 24 ounces of kava prior to his stop. The officer remarked that the subject seemed slow and sluggish, but was cooperative. Eyes were bloodshot. This instance the subject’s BAC came back at .0018 indicating use of both alcohol and kava at the time. All four of these subjects were arrested .
We should keep in mind that although kava is not a controlled substance, the consumption of kava at large doses may hinder our ability to operate a vehicle safely. If you have to question yourself before you grab your keys, call a cab or a ride share. It’s just not worth it. Don’t end up as a subject in a study like this one. Obviously, these instances are rare, but as kava picks up steam it could become a more pertinent issue. Stay safe, kava lovers.
 Wainiqolo I, Kool B, Nosa V, Ameratunga S. Is driving under the influence of kava associated with motor vehicle crashes? A systematic review of the epidemiological literature. Aust N Z J Public Health. 2015 Oct;39(5):495-9. doi: 10.1111/1753-6405.12435. Epub 2015 Sep 3. PMID: 26337520.
 Sarris J, LaPorte E, Schweitzer I. Kava: A comprehensive review of efficacy, safety, and psychopharmacology. Aust N Z J Psychiatry. 2011;45:27-35.
 Berry J, Gilbert A, Grodnitzky J. Cases of Kava Impairment in Iowa Drivers. J Forensic Sci. 2019 Nov;64(6):1943-1949. doi: 10.1111/1556-4029.14130. Epub 2019 Jul 15. PMID: 31305953.
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