Kava Kava

Traditional Kava the national drink of Fiji. Kava is a mildly narcotic drink made from mixing the powdered root of the pepper plant with water and results in a numb feeling and a sense of relaxation. Image by rafael ben-Ari, c/o www.123rf.com

Kava Kava or to many of us don’t need to name it twice, just kava is the Polynesian plant with the intoxicating powers. It is scientifically known as Piper methysticum, hence the name ‘intoxicating pepper’.

The plant’s roots are usually ground into a pulp and added to water to form a beverage that’s been known for centuries for its tranquilizing effect. The Pacific Islanders used kava in their rituals and ceremonies, but it’s commonly used like alcohol, as a social drink, similar to alcohol.

The plant attracts its critics because of certain side effects but there appear to be corresponding health ones too.

Anxiety Reduction And Mood Improvement

Many plants which alter mood often come with a bad press. Kava kava is no exception and it may because of its similarities to cannabis. The plant produces sedation, changes in mood and a relaxing effect. There is some association with reducing anxiety and creating calmness.

One study at the Klinik für Psychiatrie und Psychotherapie, Rheinische Kliniken, in Essen, Germany has looked at a particular extract called WS 1490. The study was a  randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind multicenter study in patients suffering from neurotic anxiety. (Gastpar & Klimm, 2003).

The patients took 3 capsules of kava giving a total dose of 150mg/day or a placebo for four weeks. two weeks of observation followed. Levels of anxiety were assessed using a variety of measures and tests such as the Anxiety Status Inventory (ASI). Other tests included a structured well-being self-rating scale (Bf-S), the Clinical Global Impressions (CGI), the Erlangen Anxiety, Tension and Aggression Scale (EAAS) and the Brief Test of Personality Structure (KEPS). Taking the supplement decreased anxiety according to the observations made in the ASI, CGI and Bf-S tests but not as strong benefits as measured using the EAAS and KEPS tests.

The main components are kavalactones and flavokavains which impact on the brain and central nervous system (CNS). One randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind study suggested that kava is an effective treatment for anxiety. The study recommended a dose of 100 milligrams of kava extract which was standardized to contain 70 per cent kavalactones be given two or three times per day.

Toxicity Issues With Kava

One major medical issue is the possibility of liver damage which has been traditionally been witnessed in habitual users of the product. This may be due to toxicity associated with the kavalactones (Petersen et al., 2019).


Gastpar, M., & Klimm, H. D. (2003). Treatment of anxiety, tension and restlessness states with Kava special extract WS® 1490 in general practice: A randomized placebo-controlled double-blind multicenter trial. Phytomedicine10(8), pp. 631-639 (Article)

Petersen, G. E., Tang, Y., & Fields, C. (2019). Chemical and in vitro toxicity analysis of a supercritical fluid extract of Kava kava (Piper methysticum). Journal of Ethnopharmacology235, pp. 301-308 (Article). 

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