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Journal article

This review provides a comprehensive synthesis of key information on the use of kava among Aboriginal people in Australia. The review begins by summarising how kava is used traditionally, its immediate effects, and its chemistry. This is followed by a summary of the research into the effects of kava on health. The paper will then review the use of kava in Australia; the history of its introduction to Aboriginal people and the impacts of kava on the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal Australians. This discussion is focussed on the use of kava in Arnhem Land (Northern Territory) communities because concerns regarding the prevalence and effects of kava use are limited to this geographic region. The review critically discusses the regulation of kava in Australia, including the impacts these regulations have had on Aboriginal communities. The paper reviews strategies to reduce kava related harms and concludes by discussing possible future directions for research and action for minimising further harm.

This review provides an overview of kava use among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia, with a particular focus on Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory.
It provides general information on kava in Australia and information on its effects on health.
Detailed information is provided on:

  • prevalence of kava use
  • kava use among Aboriginal Australians
  • kava use in Arnhem Land
  • impacts of kava experienced by Arnhem Land communities
  • regulation of kava in Australia
  • strategies to address kava-related harm.

Key Findings:

  • While a lack of research data has been identified, the best evidence to date suggests that at low and moderate levels of use kava presents a low risk for harm.
  •  However when used in higher amounts (>400 gm per week) it places those who use at risk of  harmful effects such as kava dermopathy, low body mass, and elevated liver enzymes. In addition kava use is associated with poor general health, lowered immune functioning, the potential for cardiac problems and risk of seizures. 
  • Social effects of note include reduce participation in family, community and cultural life and cash drains on families and whole of communities.
  • Kava use occurs in a complex dynamic of social issues and polydrug use that may exacerbate its impacts but also make it hard to separate the specific role that kava plays in health and wellbeing.


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