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Kava Kava

Botanical name(s):

Piper methysticum, Piperis methystici rhizoma. Family: Piperaceae

Other name(s):

ava, awa, gea gi, kava, kava-kava, kawa kawa, methysticum, yaqona

General description

The kava plant is native to the South Pacific. It’s still used there. It’s a tall, upright bush with large leaves. The rhizome is the part of the plant that has the active ingredient. Some European manufacturers use top cuttings from the kava plant. But this part has little psychoactive property.

Kava contains six major kava lactones. These act on the nervous system to make you drowsy. They also have a mild anti-anxiety effect. Kava is used most often as a sedative and a muscle relaxant. It’s also used to ease stress and anxiety.

Medically valid uses

Some studies say that kava is a mild sedative. It also helps to treat stress and anxiety. The active ingredients may also work as muscle relaxers. But there is contradictory evidence when it comes to its effect on anxiety. It doesn’t seem to treat anxiety much more than a placebo.

Animal studies suggest that kava may also act as a mild anticonvulsant and anti-spasmodic.

Know that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued a warning about kava. The supplements have been linked to severe liver damage. As a result, the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health has suspended further testing of kava kava.

Unsubstantiated claims

Please note that this section reports on claims that have not yet been substantiated through studies.

Kava is said to relieve the pain from gonorrhea and other urinary tract issues. These include cystitis and urethritis. Kava is used as a diuretic. It’s also used as a topical rubefacient and antimicrobial.

Kava is also used in sacred, formal ceremonies. It’s used to welcome visitors, resolve disputes, and reinforce the social norms. In informal ceremonies, it’s used to develop and reinforce social ties among peers. Kava is also used to access the spiritual and higher self, including lucid dreaming.

Dosing format

Kava comes as tinctures, extracts, tablets, and capsules.

Side effects, toxicity, and interactions

In August 2002, Canada banned the sale of kava products. This is due to its risk of liver problems. The FDA says that people who have liver disease or liver problems should talk to their healthcare providers before taking kava supplements. You should also talk to your healthcare provider if you take other medicines that affect the liver.

Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding shouldn’t use kava. People with depression or bipolar disorder also shouldn’t use kava. It may make your depression worse.

If you use machinery or do other activities that require alertness, don’t use kava. It may make you drowsy. It may also keep you from being able to drive a car safely.

Kava may increase the effects of central nervous system medicines. These include depressants such as alcohol, barbiturates, and benzodiazepines.

Taking alprazolam and kava together has caused comas.

Online Medical Reviewer: Poulson, Brittany, RD, CDE
Online Medical Reviewer: Wilkins, Joanna, R.D., C.D.
Date Last Reviewed: 8/1/2016