One of the greatest things about kava is that it relaxes you without impairing mental clarity. That’s not just a throwaway remark; it’s been shown in a study, which we will talk about below.
The fact that kava is not associated with mental ‘fogginess’ sets it apart from many of the better known substances people take for recreation.
Used in moderation, kava is ideal for a range of situations – not only socially as a replacement for drinking alcohol, but as an aid for performance anxiety for those suffering stage fright; for studying before exams; to aid with fear of flying; as a supplement for yoga and spa treatment enthusiasts; to help soothe aching muscles and bones after a heavy workout; as herbal medicine for a range of conditions; it may even help with your sex life.
These are just a few examples that I’ve covered in previous articles, but here I’d like to delve a little deeper into the science behind kava.
Australian study on kava and mental clarity
An Australian study on kava and mental clarity from 2002 found that even habitual kava use does not impair cognitive function.
Kava is well known in the north of Australia and is a popular supplement for members of the indigenous populations there. In fact, they are reportedly some of the heaviest kava users in the world, outside of the Pacific islands.
The study authors note that kava induces “muscle relaxation, anasthesia, and has anxiolytic properties” because of “alterations on neuronal excitation”.
Their study focused on over 100 current, ex, and non-kava users amongst these populations and concluded the following:
“We found no impairment in cognitive or saccade function in individuals who were currently heavy kava users (and had been for up to 18 years), nor was there any impairment in individuals who had been heavy kava users in the past but had abstained for longer than 6 months.”
The authors also note previous studies that have found that “small doses of kava can improve attentional function”, which is perhaps why it’s popular amongst students.
While the study focuses only on mental cognition, and of course does not conclusively prove that kava is safe, it is useful to have scientific evidence to back up some of the claims that Pacific islanders have been making for many years: in this case, that people can still think clearly and make good, informed decisions when using kava.
It is worth noting that, in Fiji, kava has been present at all important ceremonies and meetings for millennia; these are not just social gatherings but often in meetings where important decisions need to be made.
So you can enjoy your kava that it’s not harming your brain – in fact it may just be helping it!