Is kava a drug or a supplement?

Picture of Kavahana

So what’s the story?

As kava has gained popularity, so has the question of its drug classification. This has caused a lot of confusion due to its effects on the body and the rumors that have spread about unfounded health risks.  So is kava a drug?

What is a drug?

By simplified definition, a drug is a substance that’s been officially approved for medical use, whether for diagnosing, curing, treating, or preventing diseases. It may affect and impact the body’s structure or functions and may be a part of a medicine but also may not be as in the case of recreational drugs such as magic mushrooms or LSD. 

What is a natural supplement?

Natural supplements, on the other hand are products like vitamins, minerals, herbs and other botanicals, amino acids found in the body or other substances used to supplement the body. This can be in the form of a concentrate, metabolite, or extract. 

What is a controlled substance?

A controlled substance is a drug or chemical that is strictly regulated by the government because of it’s high risk for misuse, addiction and other health concerns. There are 5 classifications ranging from schedule 1 (eg. heroin, ecstasy and peyote) to schedule 5 (eg. cough syrup with less than 300mg codeine). 

Where does Kava stand?

Technically, kava is classified as a dietary supplement in the United States. It is a naturally occurring plant that has different medicinal properties and comes in different forms such as powder or extracts. So when someone asks you “is kava a drug?” can confidently say “No, it is not.”  And while kava is not a controlled substance in the US, due the claims of liver toxicity many European countries do keep it regulated.

Some of the confusion comes from organizations stating kava is a drug when it is, in fact, an herbal supplement. This is great news both for consumers and for researchers who want to learn more about its medicinal properties.  Many people make the assumption it’s a drug because it can impact your mind and  body in similar ways to other drugs. 

The Bottom line

Kava is 100% legal in the United States and considered safe to drink. And as is the tradition with kava, use it with friends so you have a good experience all together. 

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Is kava a drug or a supplement?


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