By Robert J. Gregory


We hear a great deal about the drug problem, the illegal status of many drugs, and the devastation drugs create. Some naturally occurring drugs might be relatively harmless, indeed, even produce positive experiences. In fact, I feel one particular drug is far superior to the use of alcohol, which has been notorious for associations with automobile accidents, violence, and ill health. This drug comes from the South Pacific.

Some years ago, I had the opportunity to live on a South Pacific Island - in Melanesia - and specifically, the island of Tanna in what was the New Hebrides, now Vanuatu. The "big men" or leaders in the Nvhaal speaking region taught me about drinking kava - the drug taken from the roots of the Piper methysticum (Forst.) plant. They drank copious amounts, daily, in the evening under the spreading banyan trees dotting the island. The psychological effects were most fascinating. I found that my body, particularly the lower legs, became numb, so that I slowed down, ignored my physiological functioning, and with an "aha" sort of reaction, my mind became free and roamed wherever it wanted.

Long ago, Western visitors wrote about the irritation felt when and if kava drinkers are annoyed by bright or moving lights, noises, or sudden touches. They also wrote about how with silence, the intellect stays rational and oriented. That was the case for me. I was able to become quiet, think, and yet listen to my thoughts. I entered a dream state, but in another way, it was like looking into a mirror. Not like any other more familiar drug, kava creates an altered state of consciousness, which is subtle and mild. Notably, those using kava did not as a rule mix it with alcohol, and while violence was closely associated with consumption of alcohol, no such connection existed for kava.

The Tannese men, for no women used kava because of taboos, described kava as a way to get in touch with the supernatural. The spirits of the ancestors would listen, so that the act of drinking kava became almost like a prayer and a way to make resolutions on how best to live. Indeed, it seemed to me that the men used kava to think about their problems and how to solve them, and that their subconscious minds would go to work during this time to analyze issues.

As I have reflected over the experiences during a number of years, I think that the message of kava is that the induced dreamy state offers the consumer an opportunity to reflect on the events of the past and in particular the preceding day. If anything untoward has occurred, then the mind fixates on that event. If nothing in life is amiss, then the mind continues to wander, unchecked, in a rather pleasant, reflective mood. Consequently, one lives or tries to live a life that is peaceful, indeed, sacred. In that way, a person does not jeopardize the kava hour or hours in the evening. And, if something unpleasant does occur, a person has every reason to make amends, to square accounts and balance the social arrangements, so as to enjoy "the kava."

Available in some health food stores, kava is not illegal, but for those wishing to try it, they should be warned that the taste is not the most pleasant, and that the strength may vary quite a bit. Some recent research has noted harmful effects, particularly when enormous quantities are drunk. However, I would maintain that the harmful effects of alcohol, and tobacco, are far greater. Finally, it should be noted that a kava-based pharmaceutical product will soon be, or is already being, marketed.