The EclecticPhysician

The Eclectic Physician
Medicinal Herb Monographs

Kava Kava

Botanical Name 
Piper methysticum

Piper methysticum (Kava)
Piper methysticum

The information on this page compiled by
Beth Burch N.D.
(click on the keywords)


Kava-kava has a long history of use in Polynesia, probably dating back 2500-3000 years. It is an integral part of rituals in the South Sea Islands. King’s American Dispensatory recommends it for neuralgia, toothache and earache, dysuria and dysmenorrhea. Weiss’ Herbal Medicine lists it for its sedative and anesthetic effect on the bladder. Most recently it has been studied for its anti-anxiety effects.

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  • Kava-kava is a shrub about 6 feet high, a native of the South Sea Islands. It somewhat resembles bamboo in its growth and has alternate cordate leaves with prominent veins. It has small slender spikes of flowers. The root is the medicinal part.
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  • Kavalactones, including kavain, dihydrokavain, methysticin, dihydromethysticin, yangonin, dimethoxyyangonin
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  • Sedative- seems to act on the limbic system, does not bind to specific receptors (1)
  • Analgesic
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Conditions used for

  • Anxiety (2,3,4)
  • Menopausal symptoms (5)
  • Useful for urinary tract discomfort, menstrual cramps and neuralgia

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  • Dried extract or freeze-dried- amount to yield 45-70 mg of kavalactones three times a day
  • Liquid extract- 1/4 teaspoon three times a day

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Side Effects

  • Mild gastrointestinal upset
  • Nausea and headache with acute toxicity
  • Dermatitis with long term high doses

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  • Endogenous depression
  • Allergy to kava
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Interactions with medications

  • Do not use with benzodiazipines, barbiturates, other sedatives, alcohol, antidepressants or antipsychotic medications (6,7)
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Use in pregnancy & lactation

  • Do not use in pregnancy or lactation
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1. Holm E et al, Studies on the profile of the neurophysiological effects of D,L-kavaine: Cerebral sites of action and sleep-wakefulness rhythm in animals, Arzneim-Forsch Drug Res 1991; 41:673-83
2. Piper methysticum (kava kava), Altern Med Rev 1998;3(6):458-60
3. Scherer J, Kava-kava extract in anxiety disorders: an outpatient observational study, Adv Ther 1998;15(4):261-9
4. Volz HP et al, Kava-kava extract WS1490 versus placebo in anxiety disorders-a randomized placebo-controlled 25-week outpatient trial, Pharmacolpsychiatry 1997;30(1):1-5
5. Warnecke G, Psychosomatic dysfunctions in the female climacteric: Clinical effectiveness and tolerance of Kava extract WS1490, Fortschr Med 1991;109(4):119-22
6. Miller LG, Herbal medicinals: selected clinical considerations focusing on known or potential drug-herb interactions, Arch Intern Med 1998;158(20):2200-11
7. Jamieson DD et al, Positive interaction of ethanol and kava resin in mice, Clin Exp Pharmacol Physiol 1990;17(7):509-14
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* The information presented in this web site is intended to inform and educate. It is not intended replace a qualified medical practitioner to diagnose or treat medical conditions.

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