Could drinking kava help those with PTSD?

A former police officer is undertaking research to better understand how drinking kava could help anyone on the frontline fight against Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

8th March, 2022

Could drinking kava help those with PTSD?

​Levi Matautia-Morgan

A former police officer is investigating how drinking kava could help military personnel, police and anyone else on the frontline cope with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Dr Apo Aporosa, a research fellow at Waikato University who has also served in the New Zealand Army, has himself used kava this way to combat PTSD and thinks it could help others like him.  

He praises kava as "wonderful for relational connectivity".

"You know us islanders sit around and we're drinking a substance that's relaxing you but it's not changing the way that you're perceiving things or inebriating you or disinhibiting you but it enables you to connect on a relational basis."

Dr Aporosa, who's been hailed as "the world's leading researcher on the social use of kava"​, has now received a highly-prestigious Fulbright Scholarship. That will enable him to work for three months with institutes in Hawai'i on the project that aims to prove his theory on the aid that kava could bring to those in need.

Part of the project will investigate the potential of kava’s effectiveness in reducing PTSD symptoms among post-combat soldiers.

Dr Aporosa has spent time with Fijians in the British Army, who had recently returned from Afghanistan. They use kava to help process the distressing things they have seen on the front-line.

"Most of them are saying that they're not PTSD-free but they certainly do not feel like they're manifesting the level or the same symptoms as their Palagi mates.

“They believe it's because they can sit down, they can talk to one another you know and relationally connect and be drinking a substance that makes you relax and sleep and we also know from the research that quality sleep reduces PTSD."

Dr Aporosa says his research will show he has a tool that could help many people who consistently struggle with the reality of their workforce.

“I still have a lot to do with police now and a lot of them are struggling and if I have a key that could help them out, I want to do that.”

When Dr Aporosa returns home from Hawai’i, he plans to run a full research project with post-combat soldiers, first responders and corrections officers, testing how traditional culturally-informed kava use can work in the treatment of PTSD.