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|Young Piper methysticum|
The roots of the plant are used to produce a drink with sedative and anesthetic properties. Kava is consumed throughout the Pacific Ocean cultures of Polynesia, including Hawaii, Vanuatu, Melanesia and some parts of Micronesia. Kava is sedating and is primarily consumed to relax without disrupting mental clarity. Its active ingredients are called kavalactones. A Cochrane Collaboration systematic review of its evidence concluded it was likely to be more effective than placebo at treating short-term social anxiety.
People taking certain kava-based drugs and dietary products have suffered liver damage or liver failure as a result of hepatotoxicity. Consequently, the sale of kava-based products is regulated in a number of countries.
- 1 Characteristics
- 2 Preparation and consumption
- 3 Effects of consumption
- 4 Regulation
- 5 See also
- 6 References
- 7 Literature
- 8 External links
The several cultivars of kava vary in concentrations of primary and secondary psychoactive substances. The largest number are grown in the Republic of Vanuatu, and so it is recognised as the "home" of kava. Kava was historically grown only in the Pacific islands of Hawaii, Federated States of Micronesia, Vanuatu, Fiji, the Samoas and Tonga. Some is grown in the Solomon Islands since World War II, but most is imported. Kava is a cash crop in Vanuatu and Fiji.
The kava shrub thrives in loose, well-drained soils where plenty of air reaches the roots. It grows naturally where rainfall is plentiful (over 2,000 mm/yr). Ideal growing conditions are 70–95 °F (21–35 °C) and 70–100% relative humidity. Too much sunlight is harmful, especially in early growth, so kava is an understory crop.
Kava cannot reproduce sexually. Female flowers are especially rare and do not produce fruit even when hand-pollinated. Its cultivation is entirely by propagation from stem cuttings.
Traditionally, plants are harvested around four years of age, as older plants have higher concentrations of kavalactones. In the past two decades, though, farmers have been harvesting younger and younger plants, as young as 18 months. After reaching about 2 m height, plants grow a wider stalk and additional stalks, but not much taller. The roots can reach a depth of 60 cm.
Strains and origins
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One of the most potent strains is called "Isa" in Papua New Guinea, and also called "Tuday" in Hawaii. In Vanuatu, it is considered a type of "Tudei" kava, pronounced as "two-day" because it is said to have effects lasting two days due to its chemical profile being high in the kavalactone dihydromethysticin. The plant itself is a strong, very hardy, fast-growing variety with multiple light to dark green stems covered with raised dark spots.
In Vanuatu, exportation of kava is strictly regulated. Only strains they deem as "noble" varieties that are not too weak or too potent are allowed to be exported. Only the most desirable strains for everyday drinking are selected to be noble varieties to maintain quality control. In addition, their laws mandate that exported kava must be at least five years old and farmed organically. Their most popular noble strains are "Boroguu" or "Boronggoru" from Pentecost Island. "Melomelo" from Ambae island, (called sese in North Pentecost) and "Palarasul" kava from Espiritu Santo Island. In Vanuatu, Tudei (two-days) kava is reserved for special ceremonial occasions and exporting it is not allowed. "Palisi" is a popular Tudei variety.
In Hawaii, there are many other strains of kava. Some of the most popular strains are the "Mahakea," "Mo'i," "Hiwa" and "Nene" varieties. The Ali'i (kings) of old Hawaii coveted the special kava they called "Mo'i" that had a strong cerebral effect due to a predominant amount of the kavalactone kavain. This sacred variety was so important to them that no one but royalty could ever experience it, "lest they suffer an untimely death". The reverence for Hiwa in old Hawai‘i is evident in this portion of a chant recorded by N.B. Emerson and quoted by Handy and Handy. "This refers to the cup of sacramental‘awa brewed from the strong, black ‘awa root (‘awa hiwa) which was drunk sacramentally by the kumu hula":
- The day of revealing shall see what it sees:
- A seeing of facts, a sifting of rumors,
- An insight won by the black sacred ‘awa,
- A vision like that of a sacred god!
Winter describes a hula prayer for inspiration which contains the line, He ‘ike pū ‘awa hiwa. Pukui and Elbert translated this as "a knowledge from kava offerings". Winter explains that ‘awa, especially of the Hiwa variety, was offered to hula deities in return for knowledge and inspiration. [pg. 34, Hawaiian 'Awa, Views of an Ethnobotanical Treasure, 2006].
Other strains are found in Fiji, Tonga, and Samoa.
Fresh kava root contains on average 80% water. Dried root contains approximately 43% starch, 20% dietary fiber, 15% kavalactones, 12% water, 3.2% sugars, 3.6% protein, and 3.2% minerals. Kavalactone content is greatest in the roots and decreases higher up the plant. Relative concentrations of 15%, 10% and 5% have been observed in the root, stump, and basal stems, respectively.
The mature roots of the kava plant are harvested after a minimum of four years (at least five years ideally) for peak kavalactone content. Most kava plants produce around 50 kg (110 lb) of root when they are harvested. Kava root is classified into two categories: crown root (or chips) and lateral root. Crown roots are the large-diameter pieces that look like (1.5 to 5 inches (38 to 130 mm) diameter) wooden poker chips. Most kava plants consist of approximately 80% crown root upon harvesting. Lateral roots are smaller-diameter roots that look more like a typical root. A mature kava plant is about 20% lateral roots. Kava lateral roots have the highest content of kavalactones in the kava plant. "Waka" grade kava is made of lateral roots only.
Kava's active principal ingredients are the kavalactones, of which at least 15 have been identified and are all considered psychoactive. Only six of them produce noticeable effects, and their concentrations in kava plants vary. Different ratios can produce different effects.
Research has suggested that kavalactones potentiate GABAA activity, but do not alter levels of dopamine and serotonin in the CNS. It is thought to do this via modulating GABA activity via altering the lipid membrane structure and sodium channel function. However, it has also been shown that administration of the GABA antagonist Flumazenil does not have an antagonistic effect on kavalactones, suggesting that an alternative pathway may be involved. Heavy, long-term kava use does not cause any reduction of ability in saccade and cognitive tests, but is associated with elevated liver enzymes.
Desmethoxyyangonin, one of the six major kavalactones, is a reversible MAO-B inhibitor (Ki 280 nM) and is able to increase dopamine levels in the nucleus accumbens. This finding might correspond to the slightly euphoric action of kava.
Kavain, in both enantiomeric forms, inhibits the reuptake of norepinephrine at the transporter (NAT), but not of serotonin (SERT). An elevated extracellular norepinephrine level in the brain may account for the reported enhancement of attention and focus.
Yangonin, another major kavalacatone, has been demonstrated to act as a CB1 agonist. This mechanism is also responsible for the effects of THC and likely contributes to the psychoactive effects of kava.
Recent usage of kava has been documented in forensic investigations by quantitation of kavain in blood specimens. The principal urinary metabolite, conjugated 4'-OH-kavain, is generally detectable for up to 48 hours.
Preparation and consumption
Kava is consumed in various ways throughout the Pacific Ocean cultures of Polynesia, Vanuatu, Melanesia and some parts of Micronesia and Australia. Traditionally, it is prepared by either chewing, grinding or pounding the roots of the kava plant. Grinding is done by hand against a cone-shaped block of dead coral; the hand forms a mortar and the coral a pestle. The ground root/bark is combined with only a little water, as the fresh root releases moisture during grinding. Pounding is done in a large stone with a small log. The product is then added to cold water and consumed as quickly as possible.
The extract is an emulsion of kavalactone droplets in starch. The taste is slightly pungent, while the distinctive aroma depends on whether it was prepared from dry or fresh plant, and on the variety. The colour is grey to tan to opaque greenish.
Kava prepared as described above is much more potent than processed kava. Chewing produces the strongest effect because it produces the finest particles. Fresh, undried kava produces a stronger beverage than dry kava. The strength also depends on the species and techniques of cultivation. Many find mixing powdered kava with hot water makes the drink stronger.
In Vanuatu, a strong kava drink is normally followed by a hot meal or tea. The meal traditionally follows some time after the drink so the psychoactives are absorbed into the bloodstream quicker. Traditionally, no flavoring is added.
In Papua New Guinea, the locals in Madang province refer to their kava as waild koniak ("wild cognac" in English).
Fijians commonly share a drink called grog made by pounding sun-dried kava root into a fine powder, straining and mixing it with cold water. Traditionally, grog is drunk from the shorn half-shell of a coconut, called a bilo. Grog is very popular in Fiji, especially among young men, and often brings people together for storytelling and socializing. Drinking grog for a few hours brings a numbing and relaxing effect to the drinker; grog also numbs the tongue and grog drinking typically is followed by a "chaser" or sweet or spicy snack to follow a bilo.
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In Western countries, kava beverage is usually made from kava root powder. The root is dried and then finely ground into powder before being exported. Generally, one tablespoon of powder is added per cup of water, but sometimes as much as a half a cup of powder (eight tablespoons) is added per cup of water to increase potency. The powder is then soaked in water for about 30 minutes to allow the water to completely soak through the powdered fibers. Lecithin is often added to aid in the process of emulsifying the kavalactones with water. The kava powder, water, and lecithin are blended in a blender for several minutes then strained into a straining cloth. Nylon, cheesecloth, and silk screen are common materials for straining. The remaining liquid is squeezed from the pulp and the rest is discarded. As an alternative to the blender method, with the powdered pulp enclosed within the straining material, the pulp is massaged for five to 30 minutes in water, then the liquid is wrung out. As more pressure is applied to the wet powdered pulp while wringing it out, more kavalactones will be released from it. Finally, the pulp resin is discarded and the beverage is enjoyed. Often, coconut water, coconut milk, lemongrass, cocoa, sugar, or soy milk is added to improve flavor.
Mary Jane's Relaxing Soda also contains kava.
Pharmaceutical and herbal supplement companies extract kavalactones from the kava plant using solvents such as supercritical carbon dioxide, acetone and ethanol to produce pills standardized with between 30% and 90% kavalactones. Some kava herbal supplements have been accused of contributing to very rare but severe hepatotoxic reactions (see section on safety) such may have been due to the use of plant parts other than the root, such as stems or peelings that are known to have been exported to European manufacturers. A kava pill usually has anywhere from 60 mg to 150 mg of kavalactones. By comparison the typical bowl of traditionally prepared kava beverage has around 250 mg of kavalactones.
Kava is chewed by some to relieve symptoms of throat pain, as it produces a "numbing" effect on the tongue and throat. The kava is first chewed in the back of the mouth for five to 10 minutes while swallowing the saliva and kavalactones released from the process. It produces an effect similar to that of Chloraseptic spray (an over-the-counter medicine to alleviate sore throat by numbing it, via pump-spraying it into the mouth).[medical citation needed]
Kava is used for medicinal, religious, political, cultural and social purposes throughout the Pacific. These cultures have a great respect for the plant and place a high importance on it. In Fiji, for example, a formal yaqona (kava) ceremony will often accompany important social, political, religious, etc. functions, usually involving a ritual presentation of the bundled roots as a sevusevu (gift), and drinking of the yaqona itself.
Correspondingly, the paraphernalia surrounding the traditional kava ceremony are expertly crafted. Traditionally designed kava bowls are made from a single piece of wood, with multiple legs. More modern examples are also highly decorated, often carved and inlaid with mother of pearl and shell.
Kava is used primarily at social gatherings to increase amiability and to relax after work. It has great religious significance, being used to obtain inspiration. Among some Christian denominations and sects in the Western Pacific, the drink has been seen as a vice to some, and some young members of these religions often reject its traditional and nontraditional uses. However, among many mainline Christian denominations, i.e. the Roman Catholic, Methodist, and Anglican churches, kava drinking is encouraged where it replaces alcohol.
Effects of consumption
Medical literature sometimes claims kava has a "potential for addiction" because "it produces mild euphoria and relaxation". In a traditional setting, a moderately potent kava drink causes effects within 20–30 minutes that last for about two and a half hours, but can be felt for up to eight hours. Some report longer-term effects up to two days after ingestion, including a feeling of mental clarity, patience, and an ease of acceptance. The effects of kava are most often compared to alcohol, or diazepam.
The sensations, in order of appearance, are slight tongue and lip numbing (the lips and skin surrounding may appear unusually pale), mildly talkative and sociable behavior, clear thinking, calmness, relaxed muscles, and a sense of well-being. As with other drugs that affect the GABA receptors, there can also be paradoxical dysphoria. The numbing of the mouth is caused by the two kavalactones kavain and dihydrokavain, which cause the contraction of the blood vessels in these areas, acting as a local topical anesthetic. These anesthetics can also make one's stomach feel numb. Sometimes, this feeling has been perceived as nausea.
The effects of a kava drink vary widely with the particular selection of kava plant(s) and amount. A potent drink results in a faster onset with a lack of stimulation; the user's eyes become more sensitive, the person soon becomes somnolent and then has deep, dreamless sleep within 30 minutes. Sleep is often restful and pronounced periods of sleepiness correlate to the amount and potency of kava consumed. Kava drinkers are often perceived as having lazy days after consumption of kava the night before, which can be expected as many active kavalactones have half lives of approximately 9 hours. Although heavy doses can cause deep, dreamless sleep, many people reportedly experience lighter sleep and rather vivid dreams after drinking moderate amounts of kava.
In 2001, concerns were raised about the safety of commercial kava products. Concerns about liver damage consequently prompted action of many regulatory agencies in European countries.
People taking kava products have suffered liver damage or liver failure as a result of hepatotoxicity, probably arising from the poor quality of ingredients used.
Based on a retrospective study of retained P. methysticum drug materials in Germany, the alkaloid pipermethystine, occurring to about 0.2% in the leaves, is an unlikely cause for the observed hepatotoxicity. Whether kava hepatotoxicity may be due to contamination with aflatoxins or other mould hepatotoxins, requires further studies. Heavy use of kava with comorbid alcohol consumption or an existing liver condition appears to lead to malnutrition, weight loss, liver damage (causing elevated serum γ -glutamyltransferase and high-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels), renal dysfunction, rashes, pulmonary hypertension, macrocytosis of red cells, lymphocytopenia, and decreasing platelet volumes.
The United States CDC has released a report expressing reservations about the use of kava and its possibly adverse side effects (specifically severe liver toxicity), as has the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The aviation medicine branch of the FAA has strongly recommended against any use of kava by pilots. According to the Medicines Control Agency in the U.K., there is no safe dose of kava, as there is no way to predict which individuals would have adverse reactions, if any.
With regard to the mechanism of the discussed hepatotoxicity, the data for now indicate an intrinsic toxicity, and possibly also an idiosyncratic metabolic toxicity in isolated cases. Hepatotoxic effects cannot be excluded with elevated doses and abuse of kava or isolated kava lactones, as in the case of other drugs, since this medicinal plant has a pronounced pharmacological activity. Kava is an herbal drug that must be taken within a defined dosage range. Higher than recommended doses and extensive use over a longer time period are therefore not only unnecessary, but also generally increase the risk. From the reviewed adverse events, three possible mechanisms for kavalactone hepatotoxicity were considered: inhibition of cytochrome P450, reduction in liver glutathione content and, more remotely, inhibition of cyclooxygenase enzyme activity. The direct toxicity of kava extracts is relatively small under any analysis, yet the potential for drug interactions and/or the potentiation of the toxicity of other compounds is large.
Several adverse interactions with drugs have been documented, both prescription and nonprescription – including, but not limited to, anticonvulsants, alcohol, antianxiety medications (CNS depressants such as benzodiazepines), antipsychotic medications, levodopa, diuretics, and drugs metabolized by the liver.
Allergic reactions are usually mild and include itchy skin or itchy throat, and hives on the skin usually prevalent on the user's belly region.[medical citation needed]
Australian studies focused on populations with heavy concomitant consumption of alcohol and overall poor health. In one study, heavy kava use in an Aboriginal community in Arnhem Land was associated with overall poor health, a puffy face, scaly rash, and a slight increase in patellar reflexes.
In 2002 the EU imposed a ban on imports of kava-based pharmaceutical products. The sale of kava plant is regulated in Switzerland, France, and the Netherlands. Some Pacific Island States who had been benefiting from the export of kava to the pharmaceutical companies have attempted to overturn the EU ban on kava-based pharmaceutical products by invoking international trade agreements at the WTO: Fiji, Samoa, Tonga and Vanuatu argued that the ban was imposed with insufficient evidence. The pressure prompted Germany to reconsider the evidence base for banning kava-based pharmaceutical products.
Poland is the only EU country with an "outright ban on kava" and where the mere possession of kava is prohibited and may result in a prison sentence.
In Australia, the supply of kava is regulated through the National Code of Kava Management. The sale and supply of kava is prohibited in Western Australia. In the Northern Territory, the police say that "the sale and, in majority of circumstances, possession of kava [...] is illegal". The Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration has recommended no more than 250 mg of kavalactones be taken in a 24 hour period.
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- The Mars Trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson, Spectra, 1993. ISBN 0-553-09204-9. Contains many references to Kava, and "Kavajava" – kava mixed with coffee. The book uses kava as the social drink of choice for the "Martians" (human colonizers of Mars).
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- Getting Stoned with Savages: A Trip Through the Islands of Fiji and Vanuatu by J. Maarten Troost, Broadway Books, New York, 2006. ISBN 978-0-7679-2199-2. ISBN 0-7679-2199-2.
|Wikispecies has information related to: Piper methysticum|
|Wikisource has the text of the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica article Kava.|
- Kava ban documents
- Piper methysticum information from the Hawaiian Ecosystems at Risk project (HEAR)
- "Kava". Encyclopaedia Britannica 14 (9th ed.). 1882.