NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — An exotic drink promises the ultimate in mind and body relaxation, and it has even been called an alcohol substitute that won’t give you a hangover.

But as CBS2’s Kristine Johnson reported Tuesday, experts say the kava craze may pose other dangerous health risks.

Kava is the drink of choice at Kavasutra on East 10th Street in the East Village. It contains no alcohol.

“What you’re getting from us is just water and the root, that’s it — all natural, made here every day,” said Kavasutra manager Chris Ludwig.

The root is native to the South Pacific and has been consumed for centuries. Today, it comes in powdered form and is brewed for shots — or shells, as they’re called.

Customers drink kava to enjoy the liquids’ potent properties.

Kavasutra is the first kava bar in New York, and Ludwig is a big proponent.

“It’s relieving your stress. It’s relieving your anxiety, so it makes you lighter to what’s going on,” Ludwig said. “At the same time, you’re getting a body relaxation from its muscle relaxing benefits.”

As for the taste, customer Drew Wolfson said: “The taste was OK. You know, it was bearable.”

A sweet piece of pineapple is served as a chaser to counter the gritty flavor. But no matter the taste, customers keep coming back for that kava buzz.

“It’s really physical,” said customer Melissa Lynch. “It’s just — you feel very relaxed. Sometimes you’ll feel a little heavy, but you’re never intoxicated.”

“A little bit of a happy, upbeat mood; clear,” added Wolfson.

But experts had warnings.

“It can relax muscles, and you’re going to feel both physiologically and mentally relaxed, but at what cost?” said clinical psychologist Dr. Harris Stratyner.

Stratyner agrees there is an enticing effect from consuming kava, but he said there may also be some dangerous health consequences

“What about what medications people are on?” he said. “What if you’re on a medication as simple as Tylenol?”

Compounds that affect the liver, including alcohol, have caused complications for kava drinkers, and experts said users should be cautious against excessive consumption.

“You shouldn’t have alcohol with it. That’s one thing we warn people about,” Ludwig said. “We let people know exactly what they’re getting into. We want to educate people as well as make it available for them to try.”

The kava high can last anywhere from 45 minutes to several hours. And of course, anyone who is taking any medications or has underlying medical conditions should consult a doctor before trying it.


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