Potential for interaction of kava and St. John's wort with drugs

J Ethnopharmacol. 2005 Aug 22;100(1-2):108-13. doi: 10.1016/j.jep.2005.05.014.


The present interest and widespread use of herbal remedies has created the possibility of interaction between them and pharmaceutical drugs if they are used simultaneously. Before the recent reports of apparent hepatotoxicity associated with its use, kava (Piper methysticum Forst. F.), was one of the top 10 selling herbal remedies in Europe and North America. This adverse effect was not previously encountered with the traditional beverage which was prepared as a water infusion in contrast to the commercial products which are extracted with organic solvents. Kavalactones, the active principles in kava, are potent inhibitors of several of the CYP 450 enzymes, suggesting a high potential for causing pharmacokinetic interactions with drugs and other herbs which are metabolized by the same CYP 450 enzymes. Furthermore, some kavalactones have been shown to possess pharmacological effects, such as blockade of GABA receptors and sodium and calcium ion channels, which may lead to pharmacodynamic interactions with other substances which possess similar pharmacological proprieties. St. John's wort (Hypericum perforatum L.), used extensively for the treatment of mild to moderate clinical depression, has long been considered safer than the conventional pharmaceutical agents. However, its ability, through its active constituents hypericin, pseudohypericin and hyperforin, to induce intestinal P-glycoprotein/MRD1 and both intestinal and hepatic CYP3A4 enzyme, could markedly reduce the distribution and disposition of their co-substrates. In addition, St. John's wort is a potent uptake inhibitor of the neurotransmitters serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine all of which have a role in mood control. Consequently, the very real potential for a pharmacodynamic interaction between the herb and pharmaceutical drugs which share this mechanism of action and, like St. John's wort, are used for mood elevation. However, presently there is very little evidence to substantiate actual pharmacokinetic and/or pharmacodynamic interaction between drugs and kava or St. John's wort. This review provides a brief overview of the existing data on interactions of kava and St. John's wort with pharmaceutical agents and as a result reveals the urgent need for detailed investigations to identify clinically significant interactions for these herbal remedies that have the potential to cause adverse effects.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Herb-Drug Interactions*
  • Humans
  • Hypericum / adverse effects*
  • Kava / adverse effects*