DA: Kava Tea May Impair Driving

ByABC News
January 2, 2001, 11:19 AM

H O N O L U L U, Jan. 2 -- There are no waiters or waitresses at Hale Noa,a quiet cafe northeast of Waikiki where an elixir known as awa isthe only brew served.

Owner Keoni Verity makes patrons belly up to the bar for bowlsof the earthy-tasting South Pacific drink. That way, he can see iftheyre still walking straight after their third, fourth or fifthrefill.

If they sit at a table and order many drinks without evergetting up, they sometimes dont realize how the awa is affectingthem, Verity said.

Prosecutors Worried About Kavas EffectsThe herbal root, also called kava outside Hawaii, is billed as anatural treatment for anxiety and insomnia. But some prosecutorsthink it may be too relaxing theyre concerned about peopledriving after drinking it.

I have no concern at all if people are sitting in a bar or acafe and consuming kava to their hearts content as long as theydont place other people at risk by getting behind the wheel of acar, said Jim Fox, the district attorney in Californias SanMateo County.

There, Foxs office prosecuted a man accused of drinking 23 cupsof kava tea before driving, then weaving onto a highway shoulder.In December, a judge threw out the DUI case, citing lack ofevidence about the teas effects.

A similar case against a kava tea drinker from San Bruno endedin a mistrial in October after the jury deadlocked.

Natural Muscle RelaxantKava tea has long been used in South Pacific cultural andreligious ceremonies. Known as a natural alternative to musclerelaxants and anti-anxiety medicine, its lately been growing inpopularity along with other herbal supplements. And in Hawaii, awause is seen as part of a movement to revive native Hawaiiantraditions.

Kava has varying degrees of potency, and the tea is the biggestconcern. Kava tea is generally much more sedating than pills, Foxsaid. And Verity said a cup of kava tea at his bar is about fourtimes more potent than a typical store-bought kava tea bag.