Kava Kava-Good Health

Kava Kava (Piper Methysticum), also known as kava pepper, is an exciting botanical that is gaining popularity across the United States. Though Kava is relatively new to the U.S., it is certainly not a new herb. Depending on the area of the Pacific, Piper methisticum has been called Kava, awa, waka, lawena, or yaqona by the people who have used it perhaps for thousands of years. It is a large-leaved swamp-loving plant, growing to six feet high. Because of its importance as a ceremonial and beverage plant, kava is still cultivated in many parts of the Pacific. The plants are often tended in small gardens near houses. Kava drinking is often associated with the "noble class" or royalty, but several authors report that the noble class drank socially and for pleasure, the priest class used it ceremoniously, and the working class for relaxation. Kava was very much used as a medicine, and some varieties were considered better for this purpose than others. Priests often used kava for divination, and the drink was offered to such supernaturals as the shark patron. "Psychic diagnosticians" drank kava to increase the power of the spirits, and in Samoa it was used to "bring forth inspiration".

Kava is a relaxant and sleep aid, able to induce a feeling of relaxation, peace and contentment, along with a sharpening of the senses. Kava was the beverage of choice during important meetings involving conflicts, inducing a state of relaxation and goodwill among parties trying to reconcile differences. The effects of kava vary according to the method of preparation. Formerly, Polynesians chewed the fresh root, mixed it with coconut milk, then strained and drank the mixture for an alcohol-like intoxication and feeling of well-being. Today, they are more likely to grind fresh or dried roots with machines and mix them with water.

Kava was first mentioned in the scientific records in 1886, and by 1993 the active ingredients, Kavalactones, were detected by mass spectrometry. Over the past 100 years extensive analytical investigation of the Kava root has revealed that the active ingredients in Kava, the kavalactones, comprise 15% of the root. Of the fifteen lactones isolated from Kava, there are six major lactones (kavalactones) known to provide psychoactive activity: kawain, methysticin, demethoxy-yangonin, dihydrokawain, dihydomethysicin, and yongonin. All kavalactones are physiologically active, though it is the fat-soluble kavalactones derived from kava resin that convey the main psychoactive activity. Moderate use does not appear to be particularly harmful, and it should be remembered that kava has been an important social, ritual, and health drink in several Pacific Island cultures for centuries. This use is extremely well documented by casual observers and scientists (anthropologists, sociologists) alike. Because of its long use in almost every aspect of daily life, there is a good case to be made for defining kava as GRAS (generally recognized as safe).

Preparations made from the fresh root are much more powerful. The dried-root preparations are more relaxing than intoxicating. Kava relaxes muscles and causes tingling or numbness in the body and slowed reflexes, without any loss of mental clarity. Unlike sedatives, Kava improves mental function instead of "dulling the brain. And unlike alcohol or sedatives, it would be extremely difficult to build up a tolerance to Kava. A dose of 100 to 150 ml of Kava can induce sleep within 30 minutes. No aftereffects are noted at this dose. Kava root is primarily used as a natural sedative and sleep inducer. It is also effective in reducing menstrual cramps. Kava is obviously not recommended for those who intend to drive or conduct any activity which requires fast reaction time.

Pharmaceutical grades of natural Kava root are available from reputable companies in the United States. Synthetic Kava can be produced but does not possess the same soothing qualities of naturally extracted kavalactones from the Kava plant. Correctly extracted Kava will contain all six kavalactones in high concentrations (25-30%).

CAUTION: Driving or operating heavy or dangerous equipment is not recommended while under the influence of Kava Kava, as drowsiness is likely to occur. Do not use Kava with alchohol or other barbiturate agents. Kava Kava use is contraindicated during pregnancy or nursing, and in cases of depression. Do not take for more than 3 months, or more than 1,000 mg. per day without medical advice. Extended continuous intake can cause a temporary yellow discoloration of skin, hair and nails, in which case it must be discontinued. Discontinue use if dilation of pupils or disturbances of coordination between vision and movement occur. As always, we suggest seeking expert advise before using any herbal remedy.


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