Piper methysticum (kava kava).

Author

Date

12/1998

Journal

Altern Med Rev

Abstract

Piper methysticum (kava kava) is a plant native to the Pacific Island region, and has been used ceremonial for thousands of years. The active ingredients are a group of substances know as kava lactones (AKA kava pyrones). Four lactones in kava have been found to have significant analgesic and anesthetic effects via non-opiate pathways. Kava's most popular application is as a natural anxiolytic, comparing favorably in several studies to a number prescription medications, including benzodiazepines. CNS effects seem to be mediated by several mechanisms. Studies have been conflicting regarding its GABA-receptor-binding capacity, although this has been found to occur in some studies. In vitro kava has been found to block norepinephrine uptake. It also has some anti-convulsant capabilities, which appear to be mediated by Na+ channel receptor sites. The therapeutic dosage is in the range of 50-70 mg kava lactones three times daily. The most common side effect, usually seen only with long-term, heavy usage of the herb, is a scaly skin rash called "kava dermopathy." It has also been know to potentiate other medications such as barbiturates and Xanax.