Citation: omega. "Allergic Reaction: An Experience with Kava (exp106515)". Erowid.org. Mar 29, 2017. erowid.org/exp/106515
I'm a fairly anxious person and had heard about Kava's properties as a natural calmative. I don't take any prescription drugs for anxiety, but I'm always in search of natural remedies (I already use exercise, meditation, and other natural means of anxiety management). I did a fair amount of research before trying Kava out and found universally neutral-to-positive experience reports; it seemed very much in the 'can't hurt; might help' camp. As far as other substance interactions, I'm an occasional drinker and pot smoker, though I was always very conscientious about not mixing Kava with booze as I'd heard there could be unpleasant interactions. Kava and pot, on the other hand, complemented each other nicely.
I bought 16 oz of Kava powdered root and started using it in very small doses. For preparation/extraction, I would add 2.5-3 oz of powder to a cup of warm water, a can of coconut milk, and enough honey and other spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, clove) to make it palatable, then blend for 5 minutes or so and strain/squeeze through a nylon stocking. The resulting beverage was the approximate consistency of milk, but a dirty color. Most mornings, I would splash about half a cup of kava-infused coconut milk into my usual cup of tea. I would sometimes (maybe twice a week) wind down in the evening with the same amount in another cup of tea.
Over the next three weeks or so, I noticed a distinct improvement in my mood. I'm naturally prone to catastrophic thinking and an overwhelming urge to control everything; without slowing down my mental processes at all, kava gave me a reassuring sort of 'everything's going to be fine' boost that I found very uplifting as I started my day. The word I used most often was 'chipper,' like if you just happen to wake up well-rested, in a good mood, and feeling confident that you can handle whatever your day throws at you. I definitely also noticed a cumulative effect (the 'reverse tolerance' that I read about as I researched it); it seems like the substance built up to critical mass in my system before it started working.
Unfortunately, something else happened once I tipped that critical mass balance. At the end of an otherwise ordinary day, about 3-4 weeks into my normal kava regimen, I noticed a few itchy red bumps on my face, neck, and chest. Within a couple of days, it had bloomed into a severe case of hives all over my face and abdomen. It started to spread down my arms and legs as well, but I saw my doctor and quickly got on high doses of oral steroids and antihistamines, which stopped the rash from spreading further. Still, I was miserable for a couple of weeks, and completely unable to leave the house for one. My face also swelled dramatically, although I fortunately never experienced any difficulty breathing or swallowing.
I hadn't run across any reports of a rash in the research I'd done prior to using Kava, but once I started searching 'Kava and hives,' the reports came out. It doesn't seem to be a common reaction, but it does happen to a significant minority. There's a more long-term skin condition called Kava Dermopathy that's associated with prolonged use, but given the way this came on and faded, I'm pretty sure it was just a straight allergy. I'm not allergic to anything else (the usual suspects - peanuts, shellfish, etc. don't do a thing to me) and don't have a sensitive system in general, but I guess everyone has their Kryptonite.
A lot of the reports I've read about allergic reactions have been from people who tried to find a way to push through it and keep using Kava; I can understand where the mental health benefits might be worth the trade-off, but I've decided to heed my body's message that this is simply not for me. The increased sense of calm and well-being was nice, but I'm still pretty much OK without it, and I don't want to risk a reaction like that ever again.
I had no idea this sort of thing happened until I started searching for it specifically, so I wanted to warn others out there. This allergy is not unheard-of, so be careful, and if you're a new Kava user, you might want to keep Benadryl on hand!
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