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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 (pronounced yangona)

General description:

The kava plant is native to the South Pacific, where it is still widely used. It is a tall, upright bush with large leaves. The rhizome is the portion of the plant that contains the active ingredient. Some European manufacturers use top cuttings from the kava plant. This material has very little psychoactive property.

Kava contains six major kava lactones, which act on the nervous system to produce drowsiness or a mild anti-anxiety effect. Kava is used most commonly as a sedative, a muscle relaxant and to reduce stress and anxiety.

Medically valid uses:

Kava is used as a mild sedative and to treat stress and anxiety. The active ingredients may also have muscle-relaxant properties.

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

Unsubstantiated claims:

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

Not yet substantiated claims include using kava to relieve the pain of gonorrhea and other urinary tract conditions such as cystitis and urethritis. Kava is used as a diuretic, and as a topical rubefacient and antimicrobial.

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

Dosing format:

Typically, 60 to 120 mg of kava pyrones per day is recommended. Do not use kava for an extended period of time. Follow packaging instructions for correct dose.

Kava is available as tinctures, extracts, tablets and capsules.

Kava infusions can be made by grating, grinding or cutting the root, or rhizome, into small pieces, then steeping the rhizome material in water until the active ingredients are extracted. The beverage is mildly intoxicating when taken at recommended dosages.

Side effects, toxicity and interactions:

In August 2002, Canada banned the sale of kava products because of related liver toxicity.

Extended use can cause a yellowish discoloration of the skin and nails, and a scaly skin rash called kava dermopathy. The effect is temporary and disappears slowly after use of kava is discontinued.

Excessive consumption may cause allergic reactions, changes in pupil size or a condition resembling mild alcohol intoxication.

Several cases of necrotizing hepatitis have been reported following the use of kava.

Women who are pregnant or breast-feeding should not use kava.

People with depression or bipolar personalities should not use kava as it may exacerbate depression.

People who operate dangerous machinery or function in other situations requiring reflex and coordination should not use kava. Kava may interfere with the ability to drive a car safely.

Kava may increase the effects of central nervous system drugs, particularly depressants such as alcohol, barbiturates and benzodiazepines.

Coma has been reported following the use of kava with alprazolam.

Additional information:

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