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 islands of the South Pacific. It is a member of the pepper family. It’s a tall, upright bush with large leaves. The rhizome in the underground root and stem is the part of the plant that has the active ingredient.

Kava contains 6 major kava lactones. These act on the nervous system to make you drowsy. They have a mild anti-anxiety effect. Kava is used most often as a sedative and a muscle relaxant. It’s used to ease stress and anxiety.

Medically valid uses

Some studies say that kava is a mild sedative. It helps to treat stress and anxiety. The active ingredients may work as muscle relaxers. But there is conflicting evidence when it comes to its effect on anxiety.

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

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

Unsubstantiated claims

There may be benefits that have not yet been proven through research.

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

Kava is 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 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. 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 shouldn’t use kava. It may make your depression worse.

If you use machinery or do other activities that need you to be alert, don’t use kava. It may make you drowsy. It may 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: Diane Horowitz MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Raymond Kent Turley BSN MSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Rita Sather RN
Date Last Reviewed: 3/1/2019