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The therapeutic potential of traditional kava use spaces in the treatment of psychological trauma

The incidence of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is increasing. At-risk populations include military, first responders (police, fire and ambulance) and corrections officers, but the mental health effects of COVID and natural disasters (such as the recent Cyclone Gabriel in Aotearoa New Zealand [ANZ]) are also triggering increased rates of PTSD in the wider population. The efficacy of current therapies for PTSD is low, motivating calls for innovative treatment approaches. Medical standards of care for anxiety/PTSD typically involve drugs such as benzodiazepines and tricyclic antidepressants, which are addictive, efficacious only in the short term and contraindicated for key populations such as older people. This presentation explains work among Pacific peoples in the UK and US military who had recently returned from combat operations, and who reported that traditionally influenced kava use settings produce a context in which mental wellbeing therapy occurs informally. Kava is a culturally significant Pacific drink with clinically validated anti-anxiety and sleep aiding properties. Kava is vastly safer than benzodiazepines and tricyclic anti-depressants, reflected in kava’s regulation as a ‘food’ in ANZ. Additionally, kava at high doses does not cause marked euphoria or hallucinogenic effects, therefore aiding quality discussion, and with regular use not leading to addiction. Post-combat personnel who engage in traditional kava-use report that kava with talanoa (as ‘talk therapy’) is associated with a sense of increased cultural connectedness, reduced traumatic distress and improved sleep. This work supports upcoming clinical trials aimed at validating traditional kava-use as a culturally informed, therapeutic approach to treating PTSD.
Conference Contribution
Type of thesis
Pacific Medical Association Group
© 2023 The Authors.