A Look At Kava

Piper methysticum, or kava, also known as, kava kava, ‘awa, ‘ava, yaqona, and sakau, has been used since ancient times by many cultures of the Pacific islands. In many areas kava is traditionally consumed as a drink. Prepared by grinding kava roots and adding a little bit of cold water, this emulsion is placed in the mouth and chewed. Other traditional forms of use are prepared  by grinding the root and steeping it in cold water and then drinking it. The primary active constituents of kava are kavalactones, a group of 18 lactones found mainly in the roots of Piper methysticum, a member of the pepper femily. Its popularity as an herbal supplement is well known and during the 90s it was commonly found anywhere herbal remedies were sold. In the past decade kava has become less common on store shelves. This came after the FDA claimed kava could cause liver damage. It is thought claims of liver damage may have come from those using inferior kava products made in Europe and elsewhere, that included the cheap aerial parts of the kava plant. Traditionally only the belowground parts, the root and rhizome, are used. Liver damage is not associated with traditional kava use in the Pacific. There is no good causal evidence to suggest kava root and kavalactone use cause liver damage. To make matters worse, the DEA placed kava under its drugs of concern.

There is nothing inherent in kava or kavalactone use that causes health or criminal problems. But don’t be surprised if the media or the DEA/FDA/DHHS drum up some propaganda scare stories, that is of course their style. This would financially devastate many people who make a living growing or distributing kava. Lets not forget that kava has been used traditionally in Hawaii and American Samoa. Recently, kava bars have sprung up throughout the mainland US. Kava can be a great alternative to alcohol for a relaxing drink at the end of the day. Its also finding its way into “anti-energy” or relaxation drinks.

I have tried kava in the past and enjoyed it, it is good for anxiety, similar to the benzodiazepines. It is theorized that the kavalactones found in kava mainly produce effects through potentiating GABA-A activity. One interesting thing is that unlike benzodiazepines, research has shown kava extract to ENHANCE cognitive function.


Check out this research:

Enhanced cognitive performance and cheerful mood by standardized extracts of Piper methysticum (Kava-kava).  Full PDF Here

Thompson R, Ruch W, Hasenöhrl RU.

Department of Psychology, University of Hertfordshire, College Lane, Hatfield, Herts AL10 9AB, UK.


The acute effects of the herbal anxiolytic Kava-kava (Piper methysticum G. Forster) on emotional reactivity and cognitive performance were investigated in a double-blind randomized placebo-controlled trial involving healthy volunteers. Subjects’ reports of mood change were assessed with the state-trait-cheerfulness-inventory, which measures the three concepts of cheerfulness, seriousness and bad mood as both traits and states. Cognitive performance was examined with the Sperling partial report and the Sternberg item recognition task, which were used as an index for visual attention and short-term memory processing. The intake of a single dose of Kava extract (300 mg; p.o.) led to an increase in state cheerfulness, while the phytopharmacon did not influence state seriousness and bad mood. The mood-elevating effects of Kava were most prominent in trait cheerful subjects, indicating that trait cheerfulness moderated the drug-induced increase in cheerful mood. Furthermore, Kava improved the accuracy and the speed of performing the partial report and the item recognition task, indicative of a beneficial effect of the phytopharmacon on visual attention and short-term memory retrieval, respectively. Thus, unlike conventional benzodiazepine-type anxiolytics, which tend to impair cognitive performance and to increase the occurrence of negative affective states, Kava is a potent anxiolytic agent, which, additionally, can facilitate cognitive functioning and can increase positive affectivity related to exhilaration.


Posted on March 3, 2011, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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