Kava Kava (Piper methysticum)

by Lee Ann Cooper

-cultivated in South Pacific for around 3000 yrs.

-has been cultivated for so long that it no longer produces viable seeds and must be propagated by cuttings

-Islanders drink a drink made from chewing of or grating the root of the Kava plant in the same way we would drink wine. Chewing the root is supposed to produce a stronger drink because enzymes in saliva breakdown more of the starches releasing the active component of the plant.

-The active ingredient of Kava are kavalacetones. These are lipid like compounds that are not soluble in water. They are however soluble in alcohol and some vegetable oils.

-Moderate amounts of Kava are used to obtain a "state of happiness and tranquility" similar to drunkenness, but without the side effects of alcohol.

-Medicinally smaller amounts of Kava are used as a muscle relaxant, analgesic and anesthetic. Other studies have shown Kava may be an anti-convulsive agent, diuretic, decongestant, and antibacterial/fungal agent. It has also been used to treat insomnia. It may be a nonaddictive alternative to synthetic psychopharmaceuticals.

-In humans, kavalactones have been shown to change brain activity without sedation. Kavalactones are considered depressants. A study showed that kava extract did better in word recognition tests than people taking a synthetic tranquilizer. Kavalactones have also been shown to relax skeletal muscles. It has also been shown to reduce anxiety.

-Kava should be used cautiously. Long term use can cause yellowing of the skin, hair and nails, itching, sores and vision problems . When used as directed kava products are considered nonaddictive, nonhypnotic, and safe to use. these products should not be taken during pregnancy, bouts of depression, or when operating machinery (i.e. don't take Kava and drive).

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