Kava-kava and anxiety: growing knowledge about the efficacy and safety

Life Sci. 2002 Apr 19;70(22):2581-97. doi: 10.1016/s0024-3205(02)01555-2.


Kava-kava (Piper methysticum G. Forster) has been used in social and ceremonial life in the Pacific islands from ancient times for the soporific and narcotic effects. Today several extracts standardized in the biologically active constituents kavalactones are marketed both as herbal medicinal products for anxiety disorders and as dietary supplements to improve stress disorders, nervous tension and restlessness. Unlike other substances used for these purposes, kava-kava has been shown to have minimal negative effects, and possibly positive effects, on reaction time and cognitive processing. Furthermore, it decreases anxiety without the loss of mental acuity. Although kava-kava has been found to be very effective, well tolerated, and non-addictive at therapeutic dosages, potential side effects can occur when very high doses are taken for extended periods. In addition, in the last two years unexpected high liver toxicity has been reported in two patients. Until now no studies support the liver toxicity of kavalactones and it is unknown which compound could have provoked the liver disease. On the other hand, it should be possible that unknown or unexpected constituents are the responsible or contributed to the liver toxicity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anti-Anxiety Agents / pharmacology*
  • Anxiety / drug therapy*
  • Drug Interactions
  • Humans
  • Kava / chemistry*
  • Plants, Medicinal / chemistry
  • Safety


  • Anti-Anxiety Agents