In 2010, a National Science Foundation project in Hawai`i assembled a collaboration of Pacific indigenous scientists, Hawaiian cultural practitioners and scientists trained in Western pharmacology. The objective of the collaborative project was to study Kava, a culturally significant Pacific beverage, and to address and ultimately transcend, long-standing barriers to communication and collaboration between these groups. Kava is a product of the `awa plant (Piper methysticum) that has been used ceremonially and medicinally throughout the history of Pacific Island cultures, and is now in widespread recreational and nutraceutical use in the US. This project, culminating in 2015, has enriched the participants, led to published work that integrates cultural and Western pharmacologic perspectives and established a paradigm for collaboration. This review paper integrates cultural and Western perspectives on efficacy, toxicity and the future cultural and commercial significance of `awa in the Pacific. Here we present a detailed review of traditional and non-traditional kava usage, medicinal efficacy and potential toxicological concerns. Recent mechanistic data on physiological action and potential pathological reactions are evaluated and interpreted.
Keywords: Kava; Kavalactones; Piper methysticum.
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