Generic Name: Piper Methysticum
Brand Names: Kava Kava extract, Kava Kava root
Drug Class: Herbals
Available Dosage Forms: Tea, capsule, and powder
What is Kava?
Kava is a herb member of the plant species Piper methysticum. The primary active components of Kava, namely kawain and dihydrokawain are lipophilic kavalactones responsible for the herb’s therapeutic properties. Both active ingredients are obtained with the cold water extraction technique that utilizes the root part of the plant.
Kava has been employed to treat various minor distresses like muscular spasms, pain, and dysmenorrhea in traditional medicine.1 It has also been associated with the relief of anxiety and stress. Long-term stress alters brain activity, causes unrestrained excitation, and diminishes inhibitory action necessary for a calming effect.1
It is presumed that Kava restores the normal functioning of the limbic system, upregulates the function of inhibitory GABA neurotransmitters, and downregulates the overexpression of excitatory signals. Anxious individuals after Kava consumption show signs of improvements, including physical relaxation, emotional stability, and no cognitive performance deterioration (a usual side effect of antidepressant agents).
A study evaluated the implication of Kava as a possible treatment option for generalized anxiety disorder in recently diagnosed patients without a history of prior treatment. The Kava group had no significant improvement in symptoms and instead displayed signs of poor memory. It was concluded that Kava might have therapeutic effects in behavioral anxiety but has no efficacy in treating generalized anxiety disorder.2
How to use Kava?
-Kava can be taken in the form of tea, capsule, and powder. The suggested maximum daily dosage is 250 mg
-For anxiety disorders
- Take 100 mg of 70% extract orally thrice daily.
- The recommended dosage for Kava Lactones is 60-120 mg per day
- Take 2-4 g of root and consume it orally one to three times daily with 1 cup or 150 ml of water
-Prescripted dosage of Kava Lactones for insomnia is 180-210 mg
-Take the supplements at bedtime to avoid daytime drowsiness
What are the side effects of Kava?
Abnormalities in liver function tests were apparent after administration of Kava during a study; however, the group did not exhibit symptoms classic to herb-related liver toxicity.2
Kava is generally safe when consumed orally for a short term. However, there is a risk of hepatotoxicity beyond the daily dosage of 250mg
Other side effects include:
-Dry, flaky skin
Potential adverse effects with long term use include:
-Abnormalities of blood cells (RBS, WBC, platelets)
Who should not use Kava?
-Pregnant and lactating women
-Anyone with Parkinson’s
-Those with hepatic disorders
-Those with renal impairment
-Those with blood disorders
-Anyone that has hypersensitivity to Kava
- Savage KM, Stough CK, Byrne GJ, et al. Kava for the treatment of generalised anxiety disorder (K-GAD): study protocol for a randomised controlled trial. Trials. 2015;16:493. Published 2015 Nov 2. doi:10.1186/s13063-015-0986-5
- Sarris J, Byrne GJ, Bousman CA, et al. Kava for generalised anxiety disorder: A 16-week double-blind, randomised, placebo-controlled study. Aust N Z J Psychiatry. 2020;54(3):288-297. doi:10.1177/0004867419891246