Driver Busted for Kava Tea

Driver Busted for Kava Tea
Posted by FoM on April 30, 2000 at 13:15:46 PT
San Mateo County case first of its kind in state 
Source: San Francisco Chronicle
San Mateo County prosecutors are charging a man with driving under the influence of kava tea, a first in California. Taufui Piutau of San Bruno faces the same penalty as if he drove while drunk. His attorney says Piutau lost his job as a Federal Express driver because of the charge hanging over him. 
Piutau, 46, had sipped kava tea for hours while sitting cross-legged with fellow parishioners at his church, according to his attorney, Scott Ennis. As Piutau drove home in the early morning hours, he was weaving on Highway 101 and drew the attention of a police officer. Piutau was given a field sobriety test and taken to the San Mateo County Jail for a chemical test. The test found no trace of illegal drugs or alcohol, but he told investigators he had drunk copious amounts of kava tea. Kava is popular in the South Pacific, with beverages made from the kava root used in religious and royal ceremonies. It is often sold in the United States as a natural herbal tea to combat anxiety and insomnia. Piutau is scheduled to be arraigned Tuesday on one count of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Speaking on behalf of his client yesterday, Ennis called the prosecution ``ridiculous.'' Although he refused to say how much kava tea Piutau had consumed, Ennis played down its effects. ``It's a widespread beverage sold over the counter with no warnings on it,'' he said. ``You can have a very similar effect to drinking a double shot of cappuccino. It gives you a little buzz like coffee, but it makes you mellow.'' Ennis said Piutau's legs were cramped from sitting for hours and he was ``shuffling in his car'' when the officer pulled him over in his blue Ford Taurus at 3:45 a.m. August 7. District Attorney Jim Fox said state law is clear that a ``drug'' need not be illegal or have a warning label attached to make it a driving-under-the-influence violation. In the Vehicle Code, a drug is defined as ``any substance or combination of substances'' that impairs driving. ``It is our belief that kava is a substance that has a hallucinogenic effect that impairs a person's ability to drive,'' Fox said yesterday. ``The fact that kava is not illegal per se does not negate the hallucinogenic properties. The law doesn't require that the drug be illegal.'' Fox said an expert on the influence of kava and a study were consulted before filing the one misdemeanor count, which carries a penalty of six months in county jail and a $500 fine. ``People who drink commercial teas,'' Fox said, ``need not worry.'' His office found no previous prosecutions for driving under the influence of kava in California. In 1996, a court in Utah convicted a man after he told authorities he had drunk more than a dozen cups of kava tea before getting behind the wheel. Kava has long been used in Polynesian cultures to soothe nerves and induce sleep. Numerous natural and health food books recommend kava as an alternative to anti-anxiety and sleeping pills. The root of the kava plant, or piper methysticum, contains fatlike compounds called kavalactones. Commercial capsules are often sold in health and natural food stores. Translated from Latin, piper methysticum means intoxicating pepper. In high doses of capsules, or when taken with alcohol or other medications that cause drowsiness, the user may experience sedation and a loss of coordination, said Cathi Dennehy, an assistant clinical professor with the Department of Clinical Pharmacy at the University of California at San Francisco. Yet the effects of kava in tea are not so clear-cut, Dennehy said. The active ingredient, she said, is poorly soluble in water, meaning that it is unlikely the kavalactones would be drawn into the tea. In addition, kava tea formulations have not been clinically studied, so the effects are not known, she said. ``Given the lack of data using kava tea, it is difficult to speculate what the physiologic effects would be,'' she said. Traditionally, kava is steeped in water to loosen the root, then prepared with coconut milk as a ceremonial drink in the South Pacific. The Wellness Guide to Dietary Supplements by the University of California at Berkeley warns about the effects of kava, saying, ``kava may not be safer, less intoxicating, or less potentially addicting than alcohol.'' Kava is advertised widely on the Web. Because kava is not soluble in water, one kava purveyor recommends releasing as much kava powder as possible into the tea. Meanwhile, Ennis complained that the delay between the officer stopping Piutau on August 7 and the filing of charges Monday placed an undue hardship on his client. Piutau reported the incident to his employer, Federal Express, which placed him on unpaid leave, Ennis said. Piutau now works in a warehouse, he said. Penisula:Marshall Wilson, Chronicle Staff WriterSaturday, April 29, 2000 2000 San Francisco Chronicle  Calmer-Calmer with Kava-Kava? Dr. Andrew Weil-Q&A: Ready for a Kava Cocktail?,2283,249,00.html
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Comment #1 posted by V J Tilet on July 19, 2000 at 10:52:45 PT:
Kava Tea
Perhaps this Kava, in any form, should be studied by the FDA. As long as Kava can be purchased legally in any "health" food/product store...the public will continue to think that it is "safe" for consumption. Mr. Piutau should not be criminally charged. 
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