Rationale: Piper methysticum (Kava) has been withdrawn in European, British, and Canadian markets due to concerns over hepatotoxic reactions. The WHO recently recommended research into "aqueous" extracts of Kava.
Objective: The objective of this study was to conduct the first documented human clinical trial assessing the anxiolytic and antidepressant efficacy of an aqueous extract of Kava.
Design and participants: The Kava Anxiety Depression Spectrum Study was a 3-week placebo-controlled, double-blind crossover trial that recruited 60 adult participants with 1 month or more of elevated generalized anxiety. Five Kava tablets per day were prescribed containing 250 mg of kavalactones/day.
Results: The aqueous extract of Kava reduced participants' Hamilton Anxiety Scale score in the first controlled phase by -9.9 (CI = 7.1, 12.7) vs. -0.8 (CI = -2.7, 4.3) for placebo and in the second controlled phase by -10.3 (CI = 5.8, 14.7) vs. +3.3 (CI = -6.8, 0.2). The pooled effect of Kava vs. placebo across phases was highly significant (p < 0.0001), with a substantial effect size (d = 2.24, eta(2)(p)). Pooled analyses also revealed highly significant relative reductions in Beck Anxiety Inventory and Montgomery-Asberg Depression Rating Scale scores. The aqueous extract was found to be safe, with no serious adverse effects and no clinical hepatotoxicity.
Conclusions: The aqueous Kava preparation produced significant anxiolytic and antidepressant activity and raised no safety concerns at the dose and duration studied. Kava appears equally effective in cases where anxiety is accompanied by depression. This should encourage further study and consideration of globally reintroducing aqueous rootstock extracts of Kava for the management of anxiety.