Clouds of smoke crawl into my nose mixing into a cocktail of vanilla flavored vape, ashy cigarettes, and herbal sweetness as I walked into Rooted Kava Bar located in the neighborhood of Hillcrest in San Diego county.
Hillcrest in known for their rainbow flags coating every gate and sidewalk on the main street. What is hidden around the corner of this colorful and vibrant strip is a dimly lit, smoke filled bar. Yet, this bar serves something other than alcohol.
It serves Kava.
Kava is a root found in the South Pacific that is dried, pounded into a powder, and mixed with water to form a drink. Its appearance is close to that of dirty lake wate,r and the taste is similar to eating a handful of dirt.
Yet, Kava is not made for the taste, it’s made for the effect.
When I first walked into the Rooted Kava Bar, I was greeted with a boisterous “Hello!” from my soon-to-be new friend, Jonathan.
Jonathan gave me the rundown about where Kava is from, what Kava is and what Kava is supposed to do to your central nervous system.
There is an active compound in Kava named Kavalactones, and it binds on to receptors in the brain that control fear and anxiety which gives the person drinking Kava a relaxed feeling.
Jonathan gave me a ladle scoop of Kava into a small bowl and told me that I need to just chug the liquid down because the bitterness will be less noticeable that way.
So we raised our bowls and cheered, “Bula!” which is a Fijian tradition when sharing Kava together.
The dirty water tasted exactly like Jonathan predicted: bitter and earthy.
As the liquid coursed over my tongue and down my throat, I immediately felt numbness in my tongue and a little bit in the back of my throat. There was also a sense of extreme relaxation.
But after about 20 minutes, it wore off.
Mikela Simpson, sophomore applied health science major went to a Kava Bar in Pacific Beach with a friend and had a similar experience.
“I felt a pretty immediate kind of body high that made me just feel really relaxed,” Simpson said in an text with a reporter from The Point. “It didn’t last long, but I only had a small sample shot.”
Simpson ended up looking more into Kava and where she could purchase some of her own to make. Yet, after only two days of drinking Kava, she started to feel sick.
“I had a headache for the next two days starting after I drank the Kava, so i think that my body didn’t react too well with it,” Simpson said in an text with a reporter from The Point.
Though there are elements to Kava that help with relaxation, there are also some not so good health effects that go along with Kava.
Brittany Johnson, registered dietitian nutritionist and assistant professor of nutrition and dietetics at PLNU, explained how since Kava is considered a supplement, it is not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
In addition to the lack of regulation, the FDA warns about liver failure depending on the potency of the tea as well as how often the person is drinking the Kava, explained Johnson.
“You can have really high levels of all of these active ingredients that are not good for your liver and then you’re drinking that, right?” Johnson said. “And then you could potentially end up in the hospital.”
While trends can blow up social media with propaganda about a healing supplement or a natural high found in a drink, Johnson says there is caution to take before trying them and research should be done as well.
“Before I recommend people to follow all of these trends, I say, ‘Wait until there is a good body of research that actually support that the benefits outweigh the risk.’” Johnson said.