Kava-Kava: A brief History
Piper methysticum, or Kava-Kava is shrub-like plant, deriving from the pepper family. Native to the southern pacific, it has been grown in Polynesia, Melanesia, and parts of Micronesia for thousands of years for its calming effects. Used for both ceremonial and medicinal purposes, Kava showed up everywhere from weddings to funerals, and in medicinal capacities for ailments ranging from insomnia, to toothaches, to anxiety attacks.
Traditionally it is prepared either as a ‘tea’ made by soaking chopped Kava root in cold fresh water, and strained, or chewed directly. When consumed using the soaking or chewing method, the Kava often causes a mild numbing effect to the mouth and gums which is considered quite pleasant, causing Kava-Kava to be chewed recreationally much in the same way that tobacco has been chewed in the west for hundreds of years.
When consumed in small portions, Kava has little effect other than a slight calming and the numbing that is exhibited from drinking or chewing the Kava root. However, when the dosage is increased to moderate or higher doses, individuals report feelings of calm, well-being, and relaxation, and in the case of larger doses, drowsiness resulting in a restful sleep; leading Kava to become a popular herbal remedy for insomnia and panic attacks on into the modern day.
How it works
Knowing the history and background of Kava is one thing, but how exactly does it work? Francis Brinker, author of Contraindications and Drug Interactions, had this to say about Kava-Kava: “The main active components in kava root are called kavalactones. Specific types of kavalactones include dihydrokavain, methysticin, kavain, dihydromethysticin, dihydrokawain, yangonin and desmethoxyyangonin.
Although it’s not clear exactly how kava works, kavalactones may affect the levels of neurotransmitters (chemicals that carry messages from nerve cells to other cells) in the blood. Kava has been found to affect the levels of specific neurotransmitters, including norepinephrine, gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) and dopamine.
Scientific Evidence for Kava:
A number of well-designed studies have examined kava’s ability to relieve anxiety compared to anxiety medication or a placebo. The results have been promising.
In 2003, a review by the Cochrane Collaboration examined the existing research to see how kava fared compared to a placebo in treating anxiety. After analyzing the 11 studies (involving a total of 645 people) that met the criteria, the researchers concluded that kava "appears to be an effective symptomatic treatment option for anxiety." However, they added that it seemed to be a small effect.”
Having personally used Kava on several occasions, I can attest to its effectiveness as a sleep aid, and relaxant. The effect is similar to the drowsiness experienced from drinking two to three cups of wine, or in a milder sense, having taken an adult dosage of Benadryl. The user will first feel quite relaxed, peaceful, and pleasantly calmed. Depending on the method with which the Kava is imbibed, full effects should be felt within twenty minutes, leaving the user feeling less connected with things around him until he begins to grow drowsy, and finally drifts in a peaceful and easy slumber.
All in all, Kava-Kava is a fantastic option for anyone that even occasionally suffers from insomnia. Especially those that are wary of, or opposed to, the use of prescription drugs. The fact that it is an all-natural, proven safe substance that can be acquired from a variety of vendors, and in a variety of delivery methods for a relatively modest price, coupled with the near-euphoric and calming effects of the herb make it an absolute must for anyone that desires to manage their insomnia or anxiety attacks in a safe, non-habit forming, and natural manner.