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Kava (Piper methysticum)

Kava (Piper methysticum)

*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.


Kava is a beverage or extract that is made from Piper methysticum, a plant native to the western Pacific islands. The name "kava" comes from the Polynesian word "awa," which means bitter. In the South Pacific, kava is a popular social drink, similar to alcohol in Western societies.

There have been some safety concerns about kava. Cases of liver damage and even some deaths have been traced to kava use. Because of these reports, kava was withdrawn from the market in Europe and Canada in the early 2000s. However, in 2012 and 2015, the market withdrawals in Canada and Germany were lifted. These countries decided that there was not enough research to show that kava was the direct cause of liver toxicity in many of these cases. Kava has never been taken off the market in the U.S.

Some people take kava by mouth to calm anxiety, stress, and restlessness, and to treat sleeping problems (insomnia). It is also used for attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), withdrawal from benzodiazepine drugs, epilepsy, psychosis, depression, migraines and other headaches, chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), common cold and other respiratory tract infections, tuberculosis, muscle pain, and cancer prevention.

Some people also take kava by mouth for urinary tract infections (UTIs), pain and swelling of the uterus, venereal disease, menstrual discomfort, and to increase sexual desire.

Kava is applied to the skin for skin diseases including leprosy, to promote wound healing, and as a painkiller. It is also used as a mouthwash for canker sores and toothaches.

Kava is also consumed as a beverage in ceremonies to promote relaxation.

How does it work?

Kava affects the brain and other parts of the central nervous system. The kava-lactones in kava are believed to be responsible for its effects.

Traditionally used for

Benzodiazepine withdrawal symptoms.
Cancer prevention.
Menopausal symptoms.
Attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS).
Common cold.
Respiratory tract infections.
Muscle pain.
Urinary tract infections (UTIs).
Swelling of the uterus.
Sexually transmitted diseases.
Menstrual problems.
Sexual arousal.
Skin diseases.
Wound healing.


For Anxiety: 50-100 mg of a specific Kava Kava extract (WS 1490, Dr. Willmar Schwabe Pharmaceuticals), taken three times daily for up to 25 weeks, has been used. Also, 400 mg of another specific Kava Kava extract (LI 150, Lichtwer Pharma) taken daily for 8 weeks has been used. Five Kava Kava tablets each containing 50 mg of kavalactones have been taken in three divided doses daily for one week. One to two Kava Kava extract tablets has been taken twice daily for 6 weeks. Calcium supplements plus 100-200 mg of Kava Kava taken daily for 3 months has also been used.

Possible Side Effects

Kava Kava is SAFE when taken by mouth, short-term. Kava Kava extracts have been used safely under medical supervision for up to 3 months.

To be on the safe side, people who choose to use Kava Kava should get liver function tests.

Using Kava Kava can make you unable to drive or operate machinery safely. Do not take Kava Kava before you plan on driving. "Driving-under-the-influence" citations have been issued to people driving erratically after drinking large amounts of Kava Kava tea.

Special Precautions & Warnings

Pregnancy and breast-feeding: Don't use Kava Kava if you are pregnant or breast-feeding. Kava Kava is POSSIBLY UNSAFE when taken by mouth. There is a concern that it might affect the uterus. Also, some of the dangerous chemicals in Kava Kava can pass into breast milk and might hurt a breast-fed infant.

Depression: Kava Kava use might make depression worse.
Liver problems: Kava Kava can cause liver problems even in healthy people. Taking Kava Kava if you already have liver disease is taking a risk. People with a history of liver problems should avoid Kava Kava.

Parkinson's disease: Kava Kava might make Parkinson's disease worse. Do not take Kava Kava if you have this condition.

Surgery: Kava Kava affects the central nervous system. It might increase the effects of anesthesia and other medications used during and after surgery. Stop using Kava Kava at least 2 weeks before a scheduled surgery.

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