Ireland is a long way away from the balmy shores of the South Pacific where kava originated; you may wonder why we’re bothering to talk about Ireland and kava in the same breath. However, for people living on the Emerald Isle who are looking for a natural and effective route to tension relief, finding out what kinds of kava kava Ireland has available, or if it’s even legal there at all, is more than an idle quest. That’s why we decided to take a closer look at the brief history of kava kava in Ireland, including currently accepted rulings on its health benefits, safety status, and legality.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Ireland followed the trend of many European countries by offering kava as an over-the-counter herbal supplement, mostly in tablet and tincture form. Widely marketed as a natural remedy for general anxiety and depressive conditions (for which it’s been successfully used in the United States), kava supplements grew in popularity over the early 2000s. The increase in the use of kava kava Ireland experienced was likely linked to the decision on the part of the Irish Medicines Board to make St. John’s wort a prescription-only herbal supplement. St. John’s wort had been a popular herbal supplement in Ireland to treat mild to moderate depression, and the IMB’s decision angered many people who had been relying on St. John’s wort as an alternative remedy for depression. Also, as a result, the sales of kava soared.
Although there had been no cases of adverse reactions to kava were ever reported in Ireland, in 2002 the IMB pulled kava from Irish supplement and health food stores. This was in reaction to a study in Germany examining 30 cases of liver damage in which the victims had been using a kava supplement. However, subsequent research began to call into question the veracity of the German toxicity reports: not only did the results come from a very small study sample (some 30 people out of probably millions who safely used kava), in many cases the subjects had combined kava with alcohol and prescription medications that affect the liver. Furthermore, later studies have discovered that some European kava importers may have included stems and leaves in their preparations, both of which have been shown to contain alkaloids toxic to the liver. Still, many European countries including Ireland have maintained a ban on the sale of kava in health food stores in the interest of public safety.
Commenting on the ban, the Irish Health Trade Association said that in its opinion a distinction should be made between synthetic and highly concentrated preparations of kavalactones, such as those on offer by European supplement companies, and traditional kava preparations. It noted that in the latter case, native islanders have been consuming kava in comparatively larger doses with a long record of safety. However, the IHTA still reluctantly complied with the ban on kava in Ireland.
In the past couple of years, there has been renewed interest in the use of kava kava to treat anxiety, as new studies in both Europe and the U.S. point to kava kava’s effectiveness in mitigating the symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). People living in Ireland who want to give kava a try as an anxiety treatment, an alternative to alcohol, or even just as a relaxing beverage will be encouraged to hear that even with the IMB’s ban on the sale of kava there are still options for acquiring this effective calming herb if you live in Ireland. As of 2010, there are no laws in Ireland that ban individuals from importing either the fresh or dried kava plant or a kava preparation for their own personal use. The IMB’S ban only covers the sale of kava or a kavalactone-containing preparation by a health food store or vendor operating out of Ireland. So for any of you Irish interested in the effects and medicinal uses of kava, it is still perfectly possible to order kava from an online vendor and have it shipped to your address; it just might cost you a bit more in shipping and handling.
No matter where you source your kava from, it’s always important to do your research and find a reputable vendor that uses only the root in their products, and never the stems or leaves. For potency, it’s best to order the whole dried root if possible, rather than a kava pill or tincture. If you follow these guidelines, you will be able to find a kava product that meets your needs. Even if you live in Ireland, a country famous for its pubs, with the right research you can enjoy this alcohol alternative and calming herb in a safe and satisfying way.