Kava Kava (Kavalactones)

General Information

Common Name:
Kava Kava

Latin Name: Piper Methysticum

Family: Piperaceae

Other Names:

  • Awa.
  • Intoxicating pepper.
  • Kew.
  • Tonga.

Indications & Historical Uses

  • Anxiety (stress reliever) – induces physical and mental relaxation.
  • Insomnia.
  • Restless leg syndrome.
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome.
  • Menopausal symptoms.
  • Bladder anti-spasmodic.

Contraindications & Precautions

  • Not to be taken during pregnancy or lactation.
  • Exercise caution with any concurrent illness.
  • Contraindicated in severe depression. (See Caution).

Adverse Effects:

Regular use of Kava may cause a scaly skin disorder resembling psoriasis. This takes four months to a year of regular use to appear, and it is not related to niacin deficiency. Allergic skin reaction to Kava may manifest after 2 – 3 weeks of regular ingestion of Kava. This reaction can be aggravated by sunlight. The condition is reversible and resolved when Kava intake is stopped. Kava can also cause pupillary dilatation and lack of skeletal muscle co-ordination. Therefore people taking Kava should not drive or operate heavy machinery. Kava may also exacerbate depression.

Drug Interactions:

  • May potentiate the effect of anxiolytics. Therefore patients on benzodiazepines or other anxiolytics should not take Kava without physician supervision.
  • Alcohol and other depressants may potentiate the action of Kava. On the other hand, food decreases the effect of Kava.
  • Kava increases renal sodium excretion and may potentiate effects of diuretics.
  • Patients on hypoglycemic drugs may need dosage adjustment.

Dosage Information

How Supplied: 100mg, 150mg, and 200mg capsules.

Dosage: 100 – 300mg twice daily.


The active compounds in Kava are a group of 15 lactones unique to the plant and are collectively known as Kavalactones. There are some alkaloids too, but it is not certain whether any of these are responsible for Kava’s activity. These Kavalactones exert their effect at the level of the LIMBIC SYSTEM in the brain as opposed to the benzodiazepines which work on the GABA receptors in the brain. Research studies show that Kava does not exhibit any loss of effectiveness over time, and there was no evidence of development of tolerance or resistance to Kava. Thus, there is very little likelihood of addiction at normal doses. Kava definitely has pharmocologic activity; hence people use Kava to relieve anxiety, as a muscle relaxant, to induce sleep, to counteract fatigue and as an intoxicant or alcohol substitute. People using Kava for sedation may find that their muscles are relaxed, but their mind is clear. High doses may cause muscle weakness. There are some reports that suggest Kava may be neuroprotective after strokes. Kava is not hallucinogenic, addictive or dependency-causing.

Kava is not anti microbial, but it has anti fungal activity – However, at present, this does not have any clinical significance. Kava also has local pain relieving properties. When chewed ,the root produces numbness in the mouth ,similar to that one would experience with cocaine and longer lasting than what one would experience with benzocaine.

Active Ingredients: Kavalactones (group of lactones) – extracted from dried roots.

Enhancing Agents:

  • Phosphatidyl serine.
  • Valerian.
  • Hops.
  • Chamomile.
  • Licorice.


Piper methysticum [kava] is a hardy flowering shrub indigenous to the South Pacific Islands.


There are over 72 varieties of this plant. Some have stronger effects than others. Specific strains of Kava, with demonstrated high level of activity are cultivated in the South Pacific. The dried roots are exported to Germany where extracts are prepared in accordance to the OTC Pharmaceutical Standards.

Scientific References

  • Lebot, V., Merlin M., and Lindstone: Kava: The Pacific Elixir, Rochester VT: Healing Arts 1997.
  • Walji: Kava – Natures Relaxant; Holm Press, Prescott, AZ, 1997.
  • Singh, Y.N. and Blumenthal, M. “Kava: An overview.”. Special Review, HerbalGram. 1997, No. 39: 34-56.
  • Smith, R.M. “Pipermethystine: a novel pyridone alkaloid from Piper methysticum.” Tetrahedron Letters. 35 (1979): 427-439.
  • Smith, R.M. “Kava lactones in Piper methysticum from Fiji.” Phytochemistry. 22 (1983): 1055-1056.
  • Smith, R.M., et al. “High-performance liquid chromatography of kava lactones from Piper methysticum.” Journal of Chromatography. 283 (1984):303-308.
  • Steinmetz, E.E. “Piper methysticum (kava). Famous drug plant of the South Seas Islands.”Amsterdam. 1960. 1-46.
  • Suss, R. and Lehmann, P. “Hematogenous contact eczema cause by phytogenic drugs exemplified by Kava root extract.”Hautarzt. 1996 Jun;47(6):459-61.
  • Volz, H.P. “Kava kava extract WS1490 versus placebo in anxiety disorder-a randomized, placebo-controlled 25 week outpatient trial.”Pharmacopsyc. 1997, 30:1-5.
  • Warnecke, G. “Neurovegetative dystonia in the female climacteric. Studies on the clinical efficacy and tolerance of Kava extract WS 1490.” Forschr. Med. 190 (1991): 120-122.
  • Weiss, R.F. Herbal Medicine. Beaconsfield, England: Beaconsfield Publishers, LTD, 1988.
  • Russell, P.N., et al. “The effect of kava on altering and speed of access of information from long-term memory.” Bull, Psychonomic Soc. 1987,25(4):236-237.
  • Ruze,P. “Kava-induced dermopathy: A niacin deficiency.”Lancet. 335 (1990):1442-1445.
  • Schelosky, L., et al. “Kava and dopamine antagonism”[letter]. J. Neurol. Neurosurg. Psychiatry. 1995. May; 58(5):639-40.
  • Scheuer, P. and Horigan, T.J. “A new carbonyl compound from Piper Methysticum Forst.” Nature. 1959 (184):979-980.
  • Scholing, W.E. and Clausen, H.D. “On the effect of dl-kavian: Experience with neuronika.” Med. Klin. 72(1977):1301-1306.
  • Schubet, K. “Chemistry and pharmacology of Kava-Kava (Piper methysticum).” Journal of the Society of Chemical Industry. 43, no. 38 (1924):766B.
  • Shulgin, A.T. “The narcotic pepper: the chemistry and pharmacology of Piper methysticum and related species.” Bull. Narcotics. 1973(25): 59-74.
  • Siegel, R.K. “Herbal intoxication.”JAMA 1976(236:473-476.
  • Singh, Y.N.”A review of the historical, sociological and scientific aspects of Kava and its uses in the South Pacific.”Fiji Medical Journal. 9(1981):61-64.
  • Singh, Y.N. “Effects of Kava on neuromuscular transmission and muscle contractility.” Journal of Ethnopharmacology. 7 (1983):267-276.
  • Singh, Y.N. Kava: a bibliography. Pacific Information Centre, University of the South Pacific, Suva. 1986.
  • ingh, Y.N. “Kava: An overview.” J. of Ethnopharmacology. 37, no. 1 (1992): 13-45.

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