Marijuana is a suspicious lover, the kind that checks your text messages, reads your e-mails, and drags you on Maury in order to prove that those kids are in fact his and not the mailman's. The truth is, the kind bud is one paranoid bitch.
Other intoxicants aren't any better. Alcohol is a slobbering, knuckle-dragging thug that punches first and apologizes later. Cocaine is a lean-and-hungry chatty Cassius that's constantly planning to steal your wallet, your Visa Platinum, and your pimped-out Ford Escalade. LSD is a trustacean, a dirty trust-fund baby with a bad case of the crabs and an uncontrollable urge to twirl around like a dim-witted dervish. Ecstasy is a touchy-feely therapist who hangs up inspirational posters and ends every group session with a big ole hug. And meth is a toothless redneck with cigarette burns on his wife beater, a 14-year-old girlfriend addicted to Pez and painkillers, and a dog that pisses on the rug and shits on the couch.
Kava is none of those things, or so we hear. The Pacific Island root-based drink is a chilled-out, Buddha-bellied beach bum who likes nothing more than to sit by the sea, talk with his friends, and strum away on the ukulele. It's also legal. In fact, you can order kava, a root grown in the volcanic soul of the Hawaiian Islands and other South Pacific locales, on the internet. Based out of the Big Island of Hawaii, KonaKavaFarm.com is a good place to start.
For hundreds of years, Pacific Islanders have enjoyed kava as a relaxing and socially-inducing drink. After harvesting, the kava root is dried, ground up, and mixed with water to make a tea of sorts. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, kava relieves stress, anxiety, and tension, while WebMD says it produces an effect similar to valium. The site also notes that "kava does not interfere with mental sharpness."
For those of you who are uncomfortable making your own kava tea, you can head up to Asheville, to the Vanuatu Kava Bar and try this tropical island fave yourself. But there's a downside to kava. It tastes like ass. "If there is a nasty thing you do have to face down for the pleasure of it, it's the taste," says Andrew Procyk, managing parter of Vanuatu. "It tastes like something of a combination between dirt and tree bark."
And because it tastes rather vile, a glass of kava is quickly consumed like a shot of whiskey. At Vanuatu, they serve it with a slice of pineapple to cleanse the palate. "It has a novocain effect," Procyk says of drinking kava tea. "So when you do a shot of it, your mouth will go numb for a few seconds, your lips, your throat."
Procyk says that kava is "relaxing and euphoric." He adds, "Some people describe it as having the better effects of alcohol without the clouded head or hangover."
In 2002, the FDA issued a consumer advisory about the possible liver damage associated with some dietary supplements containing kava. However, a 2009 study by the University of Queensland in Australia found kava to be safe and effective at reducing anxiety. That said, it is recommended that those with liver disease should not drink kava tea. It should also not be used alongside alcohol.