Tripping on Kava, the 3,000 Year Old Fijian Psychoactive Drug

Beyond the palm-lined beaches of Fiji, visitors engage in a psychologically significant Kava ceremony, where they sit in a circle, exchange stories and sip the elixir.

Jaxx Ziegler
By Jaxx Ziegler
5 Min Read
Tripping on Kava, the 3,000 Year Old Fijian Psychoactive Drug
Image: Wikimedia Commons

Many Australians are familiar with the beautiful island of Fiji; typically known for its palm-lined beaches and coral reefs with crystal-clear lagoons. However, many are not familiar with the endearing cultural practices exclusive to the “Melanesia” region, dating back over 3,000 years. 

With its rich history of primitive practice and methods, Fijians, along with their brother and sister islanders have been using Kava, a psychoactive beverage derived from the pulverised root of the Yaqona plant, for centuries. The name “Kava” is a word derived from Tongan and Marquesan languages, meaning “bitter.” 

Fiji Kava is considered a highly valuable cultural, spiritual and indigenous gateway to the past. The Kava ceremony is psychologically significant, as the mutual act of sitting in a circle, exchanging “Talanoa” (conversation), and sharing the ancient elixir, creates an invisible bond between the visitors and participants. 

Kava was first spread by the Austronesian Lapita culture after the east contacted the rest of Polynesia hundreds of years ago. Eventually being formally introduced to Vanuatu, New Guinea and Tonga, with Fiji and the Solomon islands adopting the psychoactive plant soon after. 

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Fiji Kava effects

With its active ingredients, scientifically known as “kavalactones” (a class of lactone compounds), the Fiji Kava plant itself is very chemically unique. It holds a total of 18 kavalactones; six of which, including kavain, dihydrokavain, methysticin, dihydromethysticin, yangonin, and desmethoxyyangonin, are responsible for 96% of the plant’s pharmacological activity. 

These kavalactones act on receptors in the central nervous system and cause an anaesthetic effect, slowing the response time in muscles, limbs and the brain.

Commonly referred to as “Nature’s Xanax,” Fiji Kava has been scientifically proven to assist with anxiety and stress disorders. But is anecdotally reported to help relieve physical pain, prevent seizures, and relax muscles – similar to CBD.

Chase Brendal – the owner of the Lacuna Kava Bar in Phoenix, Arizona, said in a 2019 interview with The List: “Some people come into my bar on their lunch breaks so they can calm themselves down from their stressful jobs.”  Brendal added, “The best part about Kava is, there’s no hangover.”

Fiji Kava ban lifted in Australia

Kava was previously listed as a controlled substance under the Prohibited Imports Act, only ever being commercially available for medical and scientific research. However, this ban was recently lifted in Australia, for standardising Fiji Kava export and production. Now allowing commercial imports directly from Kava farms in Fiji to various states in Australia and the United States.

Aleveo Basaga, a Fijian Kava farmer, has farmed the Fiji Kava plant for decades and exports his crop to the United States. Basaga believes a bigger commercial and international market of Kava would provide Fijians with more money to lift the living standard for his entire community. 

In a recent interview with ABC Australia, Basaga told reporter Emily Clark: “In Australia, and America, if they like Kava, it’s good for them and for us too.”

Basaga encourages Australians and travellers from all over the globe to experience the Hypnotic and sedative effects the highly valued plant has to offer. He expects the international importation of Fiji Kava will offer the Fijian economy a broad range of financial opportunities and securities.

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Psychoactive plant rituals

Although western society may use these psychoactive substances as a mere escape, or recreationally – perhaps even a trend; many centuries ago and still today, they are used by native tribes in ritualistic, spiritual and religious practices. Take Dimethyltryptamine (DMT), or Ayahuasca derived from the Acacia tree for example; having been used in South American cultures since pre-columbian times.

Allamanda Pina, a Solomon Islander born Australian, said that the Fiji Kava plant is “very much considered a sacred and ritualistic substance,” and not only is it valued for its traditional significance; it is perhaps more enjoyed because of its euphoric and harmonic nature.

We are constantly being reminded of the cultural benefits of harmony and togetherness experienced through the use of psychoactive plants. They are one of the few things in existence that hold the potential to bring people together, in a way western culture has never seen before.

Jaxx Ziegler
Posted by Jaxx Ziegler Investigative Journalist
Jaxx Ziegler is an Australian-based freelance journalist for CONTX Media, focusing on deep topics like big tech censorship, mass surveillance, history and the psychedelic mind.
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