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Kava and driving

Kava drinking has been a central traditional practice of Pacific Island people for more than 2,000 years. As Pacific people have migrated, they have taken their kava-culture with them, which has, in turn, influenced kava use among non-Pacific people. 

Many kava drinkers continue to reflect traditional patterns of use, including consuming kava at volumes that can be as high as 30 times the pharmacologically recommended daily dose. Increased kava use has also corresponded with increased reports by the police in Pacific nations, New Zealand, Australia and the United States of suspected kava ‘intoxicated’ drivers. 

That concern prompted three major studies, funded by the New Zealand Health Research Council's Pacific division, and led by Dr Apo Aporosa at Te Huataki Waiora School of Health in association with the​ School of Psychology's Traffic and Road Safety Research Group


Research summary (at Sept. 2021): Kava at traditional consumption volumes is not shown to impact focus, accuracy, timing perception, plasticity or fatigue, although has a significant negative impact on temporal order judgement (TOJ). TOJ is associated with Executive Function “including decision making, behavioural control, and information processing” and sequencing. The findings of this study are both unique and new and suggests kava at traditionally consumed volumes compromises driver safety, impairment that manifests vastly differently to alcohol, cannabis and hallucinogens. While this study will go some way toward assisting Police and NZESR in understanding kava’s effects on driver safety following high consumption, large knowledge gap’s remain concerning kava’s impacts on cognition. These gaps will remain  until more is know about “the neurophysiological mechanisms associated with kavalactone metabolism”. Brochures, translated into the dominant Pacific kava-using languages, have been produced to highlight the dangers of kava drink-driving.


Research reports, publications and resources, such as the 3-fold color kava drink-driving safety brochures, presented in selected Pacific languages, are available under for downloading. Hard copies of the brochures have been distributed in the community.  


The brochures suggest further reading for those wanting more information. That information can be found by clicking on the following themes:

​       study 1 (technical report 2018)

       study 1 (published research)

       study 2 (published feasibility study)

       study 3 (technical report 2021)

       study 3 (published research - under review @ Sept 2021)

       kava drink driving safety brochure (English language)

       kava drink driving safety brochure (Bislama language)

       kava drink driving safety brochure (Fijian language)

       kava drink driving safety brochure (Tongan language)

       kava drink driving safety brochure (Samoan language)

Media reports etc. related to this research can be found under the Publications / Teaching tab. Scroll down to 'Other Forms of Dissemination (popular press etc)'



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