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Kava Side Effects & Adverse Reactions (List)

Kava (Piper methysticum) is an herb that is commonly cultivated in island nations such as the Republic of Vanuatu, Fiji, Micronesia, and the Samoan islands.  Historically, it has been utilized as a form of alternative medicine for hundreds (if not, thousands) of years.  The herb is regarded as sacred by indigenous tribes and often consumed in the form of kava tea during ceremonies and/or rituals.

Upon administration of kava, users often report anxiolytic, sedative, and hypnotic effects – these effects are elicited by a specific class of biochemical compounds known as “kavalactones.”  It is the combination of around 15 distinct kavalactones that alter neurophysiological function.  Kavalactones are psychoactive and known to modulate: GABA, norepinephrine, cannabinoid receptors, voltage-gated sodium/calcium channels, and monoamine oxidase-B.

With such widespread effects elicited upon neurochemistry via kavalactones, it is no wonder that many individuals find kava therapeutically effective as an herbal intervention for anxiety disorders, insomnia, stress, as well as to enhance sleep quality.  However, it is also necessary to understand that some individuals are unable to tolerate side effects from kava.  For this reason, it is important that prospective users be cognizant of kava’s side effect profile.

Kava Side Effects & Adverse Reactions (List)

Included below is a list of side effects and adverse reactions associated with kava.  Understand that most users are unlikely to experience every single side effect listed below.  Number of side effects, as well as their respective severities will be subject to significant individual variation.  That said, the most common side effects reported in kava trials (as compared to a placebo) were skin reactions such as rashes and/or yellowing.

Allergic reactions: If you’re using kava and develop a skin rash, swollen face, or feel itchy – you may be allergic to kava as a supplement or the particular brand that you’re using.  In some cases, the allergic reaction as provoked by kava may manifest as a widespread skin rash throughout your face, abdomen, scalp, and torso.  In other cases, a small rash may develop and appear concentrated in a certain area of the body.

Chances are good that if you developed these allergy-like symptoms after using kava, they’re likely a direct result of the kava.  Fortunately, the literature suggests that kava-induced allergic reactions are completely reversible.  As long as you discontinue kava, the allergic reaction will eventually subside.  That said, it may be of benefit to consult a medical professional to rule out other causes and/or treat the reaction in a timely manner.

Appetite loss: Many people notice that when they first start taking kava, their appetite drops.  Don’t be surprised if you find it difficult to eat a full meal after taking kava – even if you were hungry prior to taking it.  In part, this appetite loss may be related to changes in neurochemistry, neurochemical turnover in specific neural regions, and/or regional activation.

Particularly, inhibition of monoamine oxidase-B along with norepinephrine reuptake inhibition (NRI), as well as negligible dopaminergic effects – could reduce appetite.  Kava can alter activity in the hypothalamus, which is known to mediate hunger.  In most cases, appetite normalizes as an individual continues using kava.

Brain fog: Due to the array of neurochemical effects exerted by kava, some users may experience significant brain fog or inability to think clearly.  It may feel as if your head is cloudy or you’re stuck in a dissociative, dream-like state.  The brain fog is likely a result of decreased CNS activation via kava’s ability to modulate GABAergic neurotransmission; many people experience foggy thinking when they ingest a relaxant.

In addition to GABA-induced CNS downregulation, kava also appears to modify brain waves similarly to Valium (diazepam) a potent benzodiazepine.  This neuroelectrical modification, along with the totality of changes in neurotransmission/neural activation – may provoke foggy thinking.  Additionally, certain kavalactones within kava may increase oxidative stress (as evidenced by cell studies), which in turn could interfere with clarity of thought.

Cognitive deficits: There are studies suggesting that kava administration may enhance certain cognitive processes and that various kavalactones may have “nootropic” properties.  Other studies note that kava neither bolsters nor compromises cognitive function.  Although some users report a “calm focus” while taking kava, others may experience deficits in cognitive performance.

In some cases, cognitive deficits may be a result of oxidative stress from kavalactones or changes in neuroelectrical activity.  However, cognitive performance is known to decline when CNS activation plummets below a certain threshold.  Therefore, individuals taking high-doses of kava are most likely to experience impaired cognitive function such as: poorer critical thinking and problem solving, disorganized thoughts, inability to maintain attention, etc.

Depression: While the kavalactones within kava are capable of improving a user’s mood, sometimes they may cause depression.  If you notice that your cheerful, positive outlook on life transitioned to a gloomy, negative outlook after taking kava – it’s likely more than a coincidence.  It could be a result of the particular kavalactones within the brand that you consumed, related to the dosage taken, or may have been generated from the increased oxidative stress.

However, any agent that reduces CNS activation has potential to induce depressive emotions and/or low mood.  Those that have a history of major depression should be especially aware of this potential side effect – as it could exacerbate underlying symptoms or trigger a depressive relapse.  It should be noted that emotional depression is a relatively rare side effect from kava – most individuals simply notice a calm/pleasant feeling without a noticeable shift in mood.

Disorientation: High-dose kava users may feel disoriented and/or confused after supplementation.  If you notice disorientation after taking kava, it’s probably a sign that you either: ingested too high of a dose and/or that the kava interacted with another supplement/drug that you administered.  The disorientation may be accompanied by a loss of balance, coordination impairment, and a reduction in psychomotor vigilance.

In some cases, the disorientation may not be perceived as an unpleasant side effect, rather a change of consciousness to a more relaxed state.  If you feel disoriented each time you take kava, perhaps a restructuring of your dosing schedule may prove beneficial.  For example, if you take kava prior to bed, the ensuing disorientation may be viewed as a unique transition from wakefulness to sleep.

Dizziness: A side effect that is reported by users of nearly every supplement and/or drug is dizziness.  Feeling dizzy after taking kava may be related to changes in specific neurotransmitter concentrations, but may also result from holistic neurophysiological alterations induced by kava.  For example, some individuals may become dizzy due to the fact that their CNS is underactive, which in turn causes vasodilation – and possibly hypotension.

In most cases, the dizziness will not be severe and should be manageable.  However, just to be on the safe side, it would be smart to consult a medical professional to assess your blood pressure – especially if you also feel lightheaded.  If the dizziness following kava administration is a result of hypotension (low blood pressure), discontinuation will be advised.

Drowsiness: Kava is capable of making some individuals extremely drowsy.  The degree to which you become drowsy following kava administration is likely reflective upon the dosage that you take.  Individuals that take extremely high dosages are more likely to experience intense drowsiness, whereas those taking lower doses may only feel mildly drowsy.

This drowsiness is not usually problematic, and may actually be perceived as beneficial if the intent of a kava user is to induce sleep.  That said, since kava is associated with drowsiness, users should abstain from operating motor vehicles and/or heavy machinery.  A simple reduction of the kava dosage and/or augmentation with a stimulatory agent may prove effective for reducing drowsiness.

Facial puffiness: In rare cases, kava may cause your face to appear puffy and/or swollen.  This puffing of the face is often a sign that you are allergic to kava.  Despite the fact that your face may swell up or look puffy, evidence suggests that it is not permanent; your face will revert back to normal size upon kava discontinuation.

To be sure that facial swelling isn’t caused by another condition and/or substance that you’re taking, it is best to seek immediate medical attention if you experience this side effect.   Obviously if the facial puffiness goes hand-in-hand with other symptoms of an allergic reaction such as a skin rash, redness, etc. – it’s probably from the kava.  It is possible that modest or negligible swelling may occur among a small percentage of low-dose users.

Fatigue: Kava is known to downregulate activation of the CNS, so it’s no surprise that some individuals feel fatigued and/or a reduction in overall energy while taking it.  If you feel excessively fatigued from kava, the simplest solution is to decrease your dosage and/or stop using it.  As soon as you stop taking kava, the fatigue will likely subside.

However, if you’re deriving some sort of therapeutic effect from kava, but the fatigue is problematic – you may want to test out concomitant stimulatory agents (e.g. caffeine).  Assuming a low-dose/potency stimulatory agent is ingested along with kava, it may minimize fatigue without compromising kava’s therapeutic benefit.  Prior to adding a stimulatory agent though, contraindications should be thoroughly evaluated.

Headaches: A side effect associated with a myriad of supplements, including kava, is that of headaches.  However, just because headaches occur frequently after ingestion of many supplements, does not mean that the underlying cause is always the same.  If you feel a headache after taking kava, it’s likely a result of vasodilation induced via CNS downregulation (stemming from GABAergic modulation).

Kava is known to decrease activation of the sympathetic nervous system and increase a user’s sense of physical and psychological relaxation.  However, this can result in dilation of blood vessels to such an extent that an individual develops a headache.  To decrease the amount of vasodilation (and possibly total number of headaches), decreasing your kava dosage may be of benefit.

Hearing loss: It isn’t clear as to whether kava causes ototoxicity or is damaging to the ears, but some users have reported partial hearing loss as a side effect.  A majority of individuals that reported hearing loss from kava were long-term, high-dose users.  Since they were long-term users, it is unclear as to whether the kava itself was the cause of the hearing loss – or simply hearing loss occurred and was mistakenly attributed to the kava.

It is important to consider that hearing loss could occur as a direct result of kava.  Additionally, it could also occur as an indirect cause of kava.  Kava and other CNS depressants reduce sensitivity to loud noise, perhaps leading some users to turn up the volume on electronic devices – to a louder level than usual.  Over time, the cumulative effect of the louder volume could result in hearing loss with kava being an indirect, rather than a direct cause.

Itching: Individuals that are allergic to kava may feel itchy and/or notice that their skin becomes flaky, scaly, or dry.  If you have the urge to constantly claw your skin after taking kava, it may be a sign that your body is generating histamine as an allergic response.  Among those that experience severe itching while taking kava, discontinuation should stop the itching within a couple of days – as well as any rash that accompanies it.

Some individuals have reported other symptoms that occur along with itchiness including: a puffy face, swollen body parts, a rash, or discoloration of the skin.  Consult a medical professional, or more specifically a dermatologist, to rule out any other causes for itchiness.  In addition to discontinuation of kava, administration of a safe antihistamine may help if the effect lingers for longer than a day after cessation.

Liver damage: It is widely debated as to whether kava is capable of causing liver damage.  Some evidence suggests that hepatotoxicity as a result of kava occurs among 1 of 60+ million users.  In many cases, liver damage from kava is related to co-administration of another substance such as a pharmaceutical and/or supplement that interacts via pharmacokinetics; specifically, CYP450 isoenzyme pathways.

Upon interaction with another substance, researchers speculate that glutathione levels may be reduced and cyclooxygenase enzyme activity may be inhibited, thereby allowing oxidative damage to ensue.  Other research notes that kava-induced hepatotoxicity may be related to poor quality control, which in turn allowed all parts of the plant (including leaves and stems) into various powders – rather than solely the roots.  That said, kava administration appears to change levels of hepatic enzymes, indicating a propensity to cause liver damage.

Loss of balance: At very high-doses, users may have a difficult time maintaining balance, coordination, and fine motor skills.  This loss of balance is related to a downregulation of CNS activity as is common among users of CNS depressants.  If you are unable to maintain sufficient balance while taking kava, it could be a sign of an interaction effect or that you ingested a higher dosage than your body is capable of adequately handling.

Balance issues may not be a big deal if they are minor and you don’t need to operate a motor vehicle or machinery, however, they could be hazardous to some people.  In particular, elderly individuals using kava should be monitored for balance problems – as a decrease in balance could result in dangerous “falls.”  At standard and/or low doses of kava – users shouldn’t have difficulty maintaining proper balance.

Nausea: Some individuals report feeling nauseous while taking kava, but it is rarely severe enough as to provoke vomiting.  Researchers speculate that the side effect of nausea is most common among users of specific kava formulations such as: dihydromethysticin and wichmannii.  Since these are each banned from exportation and aren’t found in most supplements, nausea is generally considered an uncommon side effect.

It is thought that nausea is most likely to occur among high-dose users and/or those who ingest kava on an empty stomach.  To decrease the likelihood of nausea as a side effect of kava supplements, it is recommended to purchase from a reputable supplier, take a low dose, and only ingest kava after a full meal.  Eating food prior to administration of kava may improve absorption and decrease gastrointestinal irritation.

Numbness: A common side effect of kava, particularly kava tea, is numbness of certain bodily regions.  Many individuals note that following kava ingestion, they experience numbness: of the mouth, gums, throat, face, stomach, and/or extremities.  Numbness is most common among those ingesting higher-than-average dosages and/or kava with a high percentage of the kavalactone “kavain.”

The kavain kavalactones is a well-known anesthetic, which is thought to numb upon contact.  In fact, some people use the kavain intentionally to numb their mouth such as in the event of a toothache – this numbness takes away the pain.  If you ingested kavalactones with a high percentage of kavain, experiencing some sort of numbness is likely.  For many kava users, the numbness makes it difficult to eat and/or reduces appetite.

Restlessness: A fairly uncommon, counterintuitive side effect of kava is restlessness.  A small percentage of users note that after ingesting kava, they feel restless and unable to sit still.  This restlessness may stem from the fact that they ingested too low of a kava dose to provide adequate CNS depression for sedation; most kava users report feeling calm – and the opposite of restlessness.

It is also necessary to consider that there may be a dose-response curve in that certain kava dosages may be more likely to induce restlessness as a side effect.  Additionally, percentage of specific kavalactones within kava may predict whether someone is likely to experience restlessness – high quantities of certain kavalactones may be associated with greater likelihood of restlessness.  If you become restless after taking kava, you may want to consider adjusting your dosage and/or ruling out interactions (with other drugs/supplements).

Shortness of breath: A small percentage of kava users note that they experience shortness of breath as a side effect, leaving users to feel as if they’re gasping for air or aren’t getting adequate oxygen.  Shortness of breath is considered a rare side effect, and typically only occurs among high-dose users.  Keep in mind that shortness of breath may be a sign of another medical condition and/or contraindication with another medication/supplement; seek immediate medical attention if you’re experiencing this side effect.

Some individuals taking kava may experience a shortness of breath resulting from the numbness experienced within the mouth and/or throat.  This numbness may lead to anxiety, and the increased anxiety may in itself cause shortness of breath.  In other cases, shortness of breath could be a sign that you’re simply allergic to kava; discontinuation may correct your abnormal breathing.

Skin rash or yellowing:  A well-documented side effect of kava is referred to as “kava dermopathy.”  In cases of kava dermopathy, the skin appears extremely scaly, dry, flaky – and possibly yellowish.  Researchers speculate that kava dermopathy is caused by kava’s interference with homeostatic metabolism of cholesterol – leading some users to look as if they’re turning yellow and/or growing fish scales.

Those that develop kava dermopathy are generally high-dose, chronic users.  Some individuals may develop a red, itchy rash in various areas of the bod – which is a sign of an allergic reaction to kava, not kava dermopathy.  Understand that these skin reactions are very common, but should always be assessed by a medical professional to rule out more serious problems.

Fortunately, all skin rashes induced by kava tend to reverse upon discontinuation.  In other words, within a day or two of quitting kava supplements, your skin appearance should normalize.  To avoid a severe skin reaction and/or yellowing of the skin, it is best to use kava intermittently at minimal doses.

Sweating: Another side effect that a very small percentage (less than 2%) of individuals experience while taking kava is an increase in sweating.  Sweating more than usual after taking kava is considered extremely rare, but may be disconcerting – especially if you’re sweating heavily throughout the day and/or soaking your clothing.  It could also be that sweating from kava is a sign of an allergic reaction.  In most cases, kava administration decreases sweating, especially if the sweating was caused by anxiety and/or stress.

Tremors: For a majority of individuals kava is thought to reduce the likelihood of experiencing tremors, likely via its modulation of GABA.  However, in a small percentage of users, kava may actually induce or cause tremors.  Experiencing tremors as a result of kava may be a sign that you’ve ingested too much and/or that it is interacting with another co-ingested drug/supplement.  Those that experience severe tremors after taking kava should discuss this side effect with a medical professional.

Note: The list of aforestated kava side effects is a compilation of possible side effects that may occur while supplementing with kava.  If you have any questions about a particular side effect, be sure to consult a medical professional.

Variables that influence Kava side effects

Whenever contemplating the severity and number of side effects that you’re likely to experience while taking kava, it is necessary to consider variables that are understood to influence side effects.  Variables known to influence side effect occurrence and intensity include: dosage, co-ingested substances, term of administration, kavalactone content, and hepatic metabolism.  Additionally, interindividual variables such as a user’s baseline: arousal, neural activation, neurochemistry, genetics, etc. – may predict reactions to kava supplementation.

  1. Kava dosage (High vs. Low)

The dosage of kava that you ingest is known to have the biggest impact in determining whether you’re likely to experience side effects.  Evidence documents a dose-dependent increase in adverse effects induced by kava extracts.  Those that take extremely low doses of kava may not notice any major (or unwanted) side effects; this is supported by research comparing low-dose kava to a placebo – noting no differences in side effects when compared.

This is because when taken at a low dose, the body has an easier time absorbing, metabolizing, and eliminating kava.  Additionally, low dosages of kava don’t alter a user’s homeostatic neurophysiology to the same extent as a high dose.  In other words, neurotransmitters such as GABA aren’t modulated as significant as they would be at a high dose – making the kava more tolerable.

High dose kava users should expect a greater neurophysiological adjustment induced by the supplement, and as a result, more overall side effects.  Those taking high dosages of kava will also need to metabolize a greater amount of kavalactones, as well as eliminate them from systemic circulation.  At high dosages, this metabolism may be less efficient – especially among those with particular isoenzyme polymorphisms (e.g. CYP2D6), which in turn causes side effects.

  1. Co-ingested substances

Perhaps an even more prominent influencer of side effects than dosage is concurrent usage of drugs and/or supplements.  Kava is understood to interact with may other substances including: alcohol, anticonvulsants, antipsychotics, benzodiazepines, CNS depressants, diuretics, and levodopa.  Additionally, any drugs that are hepatically metabolized by CYP450 isoenzymes may interact with kava – thereby causing contraindications.

If you’re taking any other substance along with kava, it is necessary to consider that the substance may potentiate kava’s pharmacodynamics and/or alter its pharmacokinetics.  Potentiation of neurotransmitter adjustments and/or CNS suppression may lead to severe side effects, some of which may be fatal.  Additionally, pharmacokinetic interactions with other medications may lead to poorer metabolism of kavalactones (or the other medication) – and trigger severe adverse effects.

In some cases, a co-ingested substance could offset certain side effects such as drowsiness.  As an example, consider someone who ingests kava, then drinks a large cup of coffee.  In this case, the two substances don’t interact via pharmacokinetics or pharmacodynamics – yet the stimulatory boost derived from the caffeine (within the coffee) may offset the kava-induced drowsiness.

  1. Frequency of administration

Research suggests that chronic kava users are more likely to experience side effects than intermittent users.  In other words, the more frequently you consume kava, the more likely you are to experience side effects.  Some of this may be due to the fact that frequent users may ingest a greater overall amount of kava throughout the day than an infrequent and/or intermittent user.

On the other hand, it could be that a user’s neurophysiology continues to change with repeated kava administration.  An infrequent user may experience a slight change in neurophysiology, but after a break of a few days, their neurophysiology shifts back to a homeostatic baseline.  If a person is using kava several times per day, daily, for a year straight – it is likely that his/her neurophysiology may have never adjusted itself back to baseline; leading to more side effects.

Furthermore, it should be considered that highly frequent kava administration leads to tolerance over time.  Those that may have started out with just small dosages of 300 mg may have increased their dosages to 1000 mg to compensate for the tolerance.  As a result of these dosage increases, side effects are more likely to occur (as was already discussed above).  Individuals using kava intermittently may stay at the same low dosage (because they never develop tolerance) and never experience severe side effects.

  1. Kava formulation (Kavalactone content)

While many kava formulations may be similar, not all kava can be considered equal.  The psychoactive compounds within kava, known as kavalactones, are thought to be responsible for the majority of its side effects.  Researchers know that kava contains upwards of 15 active kavalactones, as well as other biochemical compounds such as: chalcones, flavokavin A, flavokavin B, and flavokavin C.

That said, not all kava formulations contain the exact same percentage of kavalactones. A total of 6 kavalactones account for nearly the majority of kava’s psychoactive effect, including: desmethoxyyangonin, dihydrokavain, dihydromethysticin, kavain, methysticin, and yangonin.  One particular kava supplement may contain more of a particular kavalactone than another, increasing propensity of kavalactone-specific side effects.

For example, the kavalactone known as “kavain” is a topical anesthetic and muscle relaxant.  Individuals with kava that contains mostly kavain will feel relaxed, and likely experience some numbness.  On the other hand, a kava supplement that contains a large percentage of desmethoxyyangonin may lead users may feel a mildly pleasurable mood boost due to the fact that it increases dopamine.

Yangonin, another kavalactone, acts upon the CB1 receptor as an agonist – which may provoke feelings of restlessness and/or anxiety. Due to the fact that different kavalactones exert distinct neurophysiological effects, it is important to consider that varying percentages of kavalactones could contribute to specific side effects.  Furthermore, don’t assume that all kava supplements are created equal.

Some kava manufacturers have higher quality standards than others.  When consuming kava, you want only the therapeutic kavalactones and should avoid consuming the leaves and stems – which are known to increase side effects.  Also consider that if kava formulations are sold as part of a “blend” – the additional ingredients may provoke side effects and/or allergies.

  1. Hepatic Metabolism (CYP450)

Upon ingestion of kava, it is subject to hepatic metabolism via CYP450 (cytochrome P450) enzymes.  In particular, the CYP2D6 isoenzyme is thought to play a significant role in facilitating the breakdown of kavalactones via hydroxylation of the aromatic ring, as well as demethylation.  Since CYP2D6 is considered highly polymorphic, certain individuals may be more prone to side effects following kava administration due to poorer metabolism of kavalactones.

If you are known as a CYP2D6 metabolizer, the kavalactones may not undergo adequate hepatic metabolism, leading to elevated kavalactone concentrations circulating throughout your body.  As a result of these elevated, unmetabolized kavalactones – CYP2D6 poor metabolizers may be more prone to side effects such as stomach aches, dizziness, and headaches.  It is also understood that individuals who are CYP2D6 poor metabolizers are at greater risk for hepatotoxicity.

Individuals considered CYP2D6 intermediate metabolizers may experience less side effects than poor metabolizers, but should experience more side effects than CYP2D6 extensive metabolizers.  Individuals classified as CYP2D6 ultrarapid metabolizers may experience side effects due to the extremely fast jolt of kavalactone metabolites from quick metabolism.  If you aren’t aware of your CYP2D6 status, you could consider a testing service such as GeneSight.

Kava Kava: Do the benefits outweigh the side effects?

If you’ve been supplementing with kava, it is necessary to assess whether the benefits outweigh the side effects.  After all, it doesn’t make sense to continue using a supplement if you’re experiencing debilitating side effects and deriving minimal therapeutic benefit.  A subset of kava users may experience nothing but therapeutic and/or psychological benefits without any side effects.

When taken at standard dosages by extensive CYP2D6 metabolizers (most of the population), kava side effects are unlikely to be problematic.  Assuming you are having no tolerability issues with kava, and enjoy how it makes you feel, continued usage is likely warranted.  A separate subset of kava users may experience a dystopian scenario: no perceived benefits and many unwanted side effects.

If you’re not getting any benefit from kava and/or hate the side effects it causes, it could be that your hepatic isoenzyme function and/or neurochemistry are simply a poor fit for kava.  In this hypothetical dystopian scenario, it makes logical sense to discontinue kava supplementation as soon as possible.  However, most kava users are likely to experience a blending of favorable effects with a few unwanted side effects.

Understand that it will be up to you to track the culmination of unique benefits and side effects that you experience from kava, and decide whether continued usage (even on an “as needed basis”) is justified.  It may be helpful to document your kava experience using a daily journal and/or with self-quantification measures – this will help you gauge whether kava provided sustained benefit over an extended duration.  Should you need some advice on whether to continue using kava, consult a medical professional.

Possible ways to reduce Kava side effects

If you’ve supplemented with kava and have derived therapeutic benefit, but dislike the side effects – you may want to consider side effect mitigation strategies.  Examples of strategies that may prove helpful for reducing kava side effects include: dosage reduction, altering kava supplements, co-supplementation, administration with food, avoidance of other drugs/supplements, and/or continued usage.  Prior to implementing any of these mitigation strategies, discuss the safety and alleged efficacy with a medical doctor.

  1. Dosage reduction: Not everyone will be able to tolerate standard or high dosages of kava. For this reason, you may want to reduce your dosage to a very small amount and assess whether side effects improve. Gradually make adjustments until you’ve found the minimal effective dose – the lowest quantity of kava that provides benefit; this will decrease likelihood and/or severity of side effects.
  2. Divided dosing: Some individuals may benefit from taking kava in multiple small dosages. In particular, if you are a CYP2D6 ultrarapid metabolizer, your liver is able to breakdown kava rapidly, providing a sudden jolt of kavalactones all-at-once. To decrease side effects stemming from the kavalactone jolt, you may want to take tiny, separate dosages of the kava over a longer period of time – rather than taking a single large dose once per day.
  3. Switch kava supplements: It is necessary to understand that not all kava supplements are created equal. You may want to switch to a different brand and/or formulation of kava if one is causing side effects. Certain kava supplements may be of poorer quality than others and/or have a specific percentage of kavalactones that your body is unable to tolerate.  It may be worth testing another brand to determine whether side effects subside.
  4. Avoid other substances: Many kava users report side effects without failing to consider that these side effects may have resulted from an interaction. If you’re experiencing notable side effects from kava, but were taking another drug or supplement along with it – an interaction effect may have resulted. To determine whether kava is the real culprit for your side effects, you may want to eliminate all other unnecessary drugs/supplements from your regimen.  Some individuals may find that upon removal of another drug/supplement from their stack – the side effects from kava subside.
  5. Co-supplementation: Sometimes it may be beneficial to augment kava with another supplement to reduce likelihood of certain side effects. For example, if you want to take kava during the daytime, but hate that it makes you feel drowsy, you could consider adding caffeine to the mix. Caffeine should offset the drowsiness, cognitive deficits, and/or some of the brain fog caused by the kava.  Prior to taking any drug or supplement along with kava, safety should be verified with a medical expert.
  6. Take with food: A simple “quick fix” solution that sometimes reduces kava side effects is to take it with food. Rather than taking kava on an empty stomach, only take it while eating and/or after eating a big meal. Ingestion of kava following a large meal should slow its absorption slightly and minimize likelihood of gastrointestinal distress, stomach aches, etc.  Although it hasn’t been researched, consider that certain types of foods (e.g. fats, proteins, carbs) consumed before kava intake – may affect its absorption differently.
  7. Continue using: If you’ve only been taking kava for a few days and are experiencing side effects, it may be that your body hasn’t adapted to its presence. Just like users of a drug often report side effects in the first week or two of its administration, similar responses may occur among those taking kava. In some cases, continued usage results in neurophysiological adaptation to kava and decreases the intensity of side effects.

Have you experienced Kava side effects?

If you’ve taken kava, share a comment mentioning whether you’ve experienced any side effects.  Among those that have experienced side effects, mention what they were, as well as their severity (on a scale of 1 to 10).  To help others get a better understanding of your situation, include some details such as: your kava dosage, brand of kava you take, whether you use any other drugs/supplements, and how long you’ve been taking kava.

You may also want to note if you have any CYP2D6 polymorphisms that may affect the speed by which you metabolize kava, and discuss whether you’ve noticed an increase in certain side effects as a result.  Understand that among most kava users, debilitating and/or severe side effects are uncommon.  That said, a small percentage of kava users will experience undesirable side effects (e.g. allergic skin reactions) and necessitate discontinuation.

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2 thoughts on “Kava Side Effects & Adverse Reactions (List)”

  1. I just ran into the itchiness side effect of kava. What an unpleasant experience. Most of my body had a hive-like rash develop and itchiness is unbearable – I just wanted to rip my skin off! I have taken kava kava previously, but only two tablets at bedtime.

    Today I read where kava kava can also work as a pain-blocker at higher dosages so I decided to give it a try (I suffer from fibromyalgia and 4 severely compressed disks in my lower back). BAD IDEA!!

    I took 5 tablets over a space of a couple of hours and then the itching started, and got worse, and got worse… Beware and be careful. I wouldn’t wish this itch on anyone, not even my worst enemy

  2. Excellent article and lots of great info. I’ve used powdered Kava root mixing it myself with a blender for the past 3 weeks. It has helped me immensely pretty much going “cold turkey” off of Phenibut (a Benzo) which down regulates GABA-b receptors which cause addiction and nasty withdrawal symptoms that purportedly worse than going off of alcohol and opiates.

    I know it’s worse than stopping alcohol consumption but have never done the opiates route. I did acquire a low level rash on my upper and lower chest, sides of abdomen and surprisingly on my arms just below the biceps. I’m far enough from the phenibut withdrawal that I ceased Kava administration which got me through the rough spots but, like you had mentioned, it could be my body adjusting to it. Thanks for the great article!


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