How Kava Kava Is Used to Treat Social Anxiety

Hawaiian variety of 'Awa or kava kava, Piper methy
Joshua McCullough, PhytoPhoto/Stockbyte/Getty Images

Kava kava (piper methysticum) is a plant native to the islands of the South Pacific. A member of the pepper family, the root and rhizome of the kava kava plant are used to prepare natural remedies for insomnia, anxiety, and menopausal symptoms.

Kava Kava for Social Anxiety Disorder

There is some clinical evidence to suggest that kava kava is effective in relieving some types of anxiety. A 2009 systematic review found evidence for the use of kava kava in the treatment of generalized anxiety.

Taking Kava Kava

Kava kava is available over-the-counter in the form of beverages, extracts, capsules, tablets, and topical solutions. Dosage guidelines recommend not exceeding 250 mg of the supplement within a 24-hour period.

Who Shouldn’t Take Kava Kava

Kava kava is not recommended for pregnant or nursing women, children under age 18, and people taking prescription monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs).

A consumer advisory was released by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on March 25th, 2002 warning that kava-containing dietary supplements may be associated with severe liver injury.

The advisory was based on reports from a number of countries including Germany, Switzerland, France, Canada, and the UK where at least 25 cases of liver toxicity were reported. In addition, many countries have instituted bans on the sale of products containing kava kava.

As a result, kava kava should not be used by people with liver disease, liver problems, or those taking drugs that affect the liver. In addition, although the potential for liver problems is rare if you experience signs of illness associated with the liver disease while taking kava kava you should consult with a medical professional immediately. Symptoms of liver problems may include jaundice, brown urine, nausea, vomiting, light-colored stools, unusual tiredness, weakness, stomach or abdominal pain, and loss of appetite.

Medication Interactions

You should not mix alcohol with kava kava. Kava kava has the potential to interact with drugs used in the treatment of Parkinson's disease. In addition, drowsiness may occur if combined with benzodiazepines, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), or selective norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs).

Side Effects

Side effects of kava kava are rare but may include drowsiness, headache, stomach upset, dizziness, and sensitivity to ultraviolet light sources. 

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