Cases of Kava Impairment in Iowa Drivers

J Forensic Sci. 2019 Nov;64(6):1943-1949. doi: 10.1111/1556-4029.14130. Epub 2019 Jul 15.


Kava is an Oceanic plant in which the root is consumed as a beverage and is becoming increasingly popular. The effects of kava consumption may include sedation, euphoria, and impairment of motor coordination. This article demonstrates kava impairment through four cases of self-reported kava use supported with Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) evaluations of each subject. Subject's urines screened negative for common drugs of abuse by immunoassay analysis. Urine from cases 3 and 4 were analyzed by liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry, and gas chromatography-mass spectrometry, which yielded the presence of kavalactones. Subjects exhibited poor driving behavior and signs of intoxication. Indicators of impairment from multiple drug categories, central nervous system (CNS) depressants, CNS stimulants, and cannabis were observed, which may be consistent with the presence of multiple kavalactones and their diverse array of mechanisms of action. The consumption of kava can hinder one's ability to operate a vehicle safely.

Keywords: driving under the influence of drugs; drug recognition expert; forensic science; forensic toxicology; kava; kavalactones.

Publication types

  • Case Reports

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Chromatography, Liquid
  • Driving Under the Influence*
  • Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry
  • Humans
  • Kava / adverse effects*
  • Kava / chemistry
  • Male
  • Plant Roots / adverse effects
  • Pyrans / urine
  • Pyrones / urine
  • Substance Abuse Detection*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Tandem Mass Spectrometry
  • Young Adult


  • Pyrans
  • Pyrones
  • methysticin
  • yangonin