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What other names is Kava known by?

Ava Pepper, Ava Root, Awa, Gea, Gi, Intoxicating Long Pepper, Intoxicating Pepper, Kao, Kavain, Kavapipar, Kawa, Kawa Kawa, Kawa Pepper, Kawapfeffer, Kew, Lawena, Long Pepper, Malohu, Maluk, Maori Kava, Meruk, Milik, Piper methysticum, Poivre des Cannibales, Poivre des Papous, Rauschpfeffer, Rhizome Di Kava-Kava, Sakau, Tonga, Waka, Wurzelstock, Yagona, Yangona, Yaqona, Yaquon, Yongona.

What is Kava?

Kava is a plant native to the South Pacific. The root is used for medicine.

There are some BIG safety concerns about kava. Many cases of liver damage and even some deaths have been traced to kava use. As a result, kava has been banned from the market in Switzerland, Germany, and Canada, and several other countries are considering similar action. This ban has hurt the economies of Pacific Island countries that export kava.

Kava is used to calm anxiety, stress, and restlessness, and treat sleep problems (insomnia). It is also used for attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), 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 use kava for urinary tract infections (UTIs), pain and swelling of the uterus, venereal disease, menstrual discomfort, and to arouse 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 was named by the explorer Captain Cook, who chose a name that meant "intoxicating pepper." While Captain Cook may have named kava, he didn't discover it. Kava has been used for thousands of years by Pacific Islanders. Today in the South Pacific, kava is a popular social drink, similar to alcohol in Western societies. It also still has a role in rituals and ceremonies.

Is Kava effective?

Kava can reduce anxiety. Up to 2 months of treatment with kava may be needed before you notice an improvement in anxiety.

There isn't enough information to know if kava is effective for other conditions that people use it for, including: stress, insomnia, restlessness, epilepsy, psychosis, depression, headaches, colds, respiratory tract infections, tuberculosis, rheumatism, chronic bladder infections, sexually transmitted diseases, menstrual problems, and others.

Possibly Effective for...

  • Anxiety. The majority of evidence shows that certain kava extracts (extracts standardized to 70% kavalactones) can lower anxiety and might work as well as prescription anti-anxiety medications called low-dose benzodiazepines. But it might take up to 8 weeks of treatment to see improvement.

Insufficient Evidence to Rate Effectiveness for...

  • Benzodiazepine withdrawal symptoms. Some research suggests that slowly increasing the dose of kava while decreasing the dose of benzodiazepines over the course of a week can prevent withdrawal symptoms and reduce anxiety in people who have been taking benzodiazepines for a long period of time.
  • Cancer prevention. There is some evidence that taking kava might help to prevent cancer.
  • Insomnia. Research on the effectiveness of kava in people with sleeping problems is unclear. Evidence shows that taking 200 mg of a kava extract (WS1490) daily for 4 weeks reduces sleeping problems associated with anxiety. However, a study using a different kava product found that it did not reduce sleeping problems associated with anxiety.
  • Anxiety related to menopause. Early research shows that taking 300 mg of a kava extract product (WS1490) daily for 8 weeks reduces anxiety and hot flashes in women with menopause.
  • Stress. Early research suggests that taking a single dose of kava by mouth might reduce the physical changes associated with mentally stressful tasks.
  • Restlessness.
  • Attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
  • Epilepsy.
  • Psychosis.
  • Depression.
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS).
  • Headaches.
  • Colds.
  • Respiratory tract infections.
  • Tuberculosis.
  • Achy joints (rheumatism).
  • Chronic bladder infections.
  • Sexually transmitted diseases.
  • Menstrual problems.
  • Other conditions.
More evidence is needed to rate kava for these uses.

Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database rates effectiveness based on scientific evidence according to the following scale: Effective, Likely Effective, Possibly Effective, Possibly Ineffective, Likely Ineffective, and Insufficient Evidence to Rate (detailed description of each of the ratings).

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