When someone struggles with an anxiety disorder, it can have negative repercussions through their day-to-day life. Typically, benzodiazepines or SSRI antidepressants are prescribed to help treat anxiety. However, many have been seeking out treatment through more natural remedies.
Kava kava is one of these natural alternatives that’s received a lot of attention. Many claim that it can help to treat anxiety symptoms and allow people to live out their day-to-day lives. But how true are these claims?
Throughout this article, we’re going to look into whether or not you can use kava for anxiety. We’ll discuss the benefits, potential consequences, and figure out whether or not it’s a good alternative treatment for symptoms.
What is Kava Kava?
Kava kava is a natural occurring plant that is indigenous in the Pacific Islands. The root of kava kava is known for its sedating effects throughout indigenous Pacific Island tribes and since has been exported and utilized in herbal medicine. In Western countries, the effects of the kava kava root has been utilized in treating mental health conditions, such as anxiety and insomnia. ¹
Can Kava Kava Help with Anxiety?
The use of kava kava as a naturally occurring anxiety suppressant has become more common as the effects of the root can create a calming effect on the user. Not to mention, it can be utilized in various different ways depending on the users preference. Still, the most common is in capsules or tincture-based extracts.
When one ingests the kava kava based product the different effects that they may feel in result could be:
- General uplifted mood (feeling happy, content, and relaxed)
- Mild numbness in the mouth or throat.
- Reduction in appetite.
Those effects can assist in giving temporary relief for anxiety. Since kava doesn’t interfere with mental sharpness, some have used it instead of prescription antidepressants and anti-anxiety medication.
However, it shouldn’t be used with or alongside prescribed mental health medications as it can create complications. ² Not to mention, you should always consult your doctor before replacing your prescription with any all-natural supplement.
What Does the Research Say
While research is limited, there are enlightening results on kava kava helping to alleviate anxiety. Currently, the most remarkable studies include:
- In a 2013 randomized controlled trial, 75 people with a type of anxiety were given either kava or a placebo. After 6 weeks of regular usage, those who received the kava extract experienced a small reduction in symptoms. Besides for headaches, participants didn’t report any side effects. ³
- In a 2016 study, it was discovered that an isolated compound of kava known as kavain was able to greatly reduce symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). Unfortunately, researchers still aren’t 100% sure how kavain works in the body to suppress anxiety symptoms. ⁴
- In a review study, it was found that kava could be used for short-term anxiety relief, but that more research was required to confirm these findings. ⁵
- Other research studies have found mixed results concerning kava for anxiety relief. With that, these studies conclude it’s too difficult to determine whether or not kava is an effective treatment.
There are plenty of self-reports claiming that kava kava can cause significant temporary relief for anxiety. Especially in moment when anxiety or stress is at an all-time high. However, these claims only have so much research to confirm their statements.
Kava Kava Pros:
- According to the above-mentioned research, kava has a good chance at temporarily relieving anxiety symptoms.
- Kava has been found helpful in protecting neuro-pathways in the brain from degradation. ⁶
- There’s a relatively new understanding for kava’s ability to act as a natural pain killer, leading some to use it as an alternative to painkillers and addictive opioids. ⁷ In fact, even NFL players have used it to recover from injuries and to deal with the rigorous consequences of the sport.
- Due to its anxiolytic effects, kava may be able to help people get a better night’s sleep. Though this may be due to it anti-anxiety and anti-stress effects rather than promoting sleep itself. In 2015, a systematic review found no evidence that kava can induce sleep. ⁸
Kava Kava Cons:
- Although the use of kava kava can bring temporary relief, it’s still not recommended for long-term use. Research has found there can be liver and kidney complications after 8 weeks of regular consumption. ⁹
- Kava kava has been found to have a number of negative side effects, such as lethargy, stomach problems, and kidney function issues (changes to urine output and coloration).
- There currently isn’t enough research to back up that kava kava can be used for anxiety. Furthermore, the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved kava for anxiety treatment.
Kava Kava for Anxiety Dosage Recommendation
There are different ways to take, ingest, and absorb the kava kava root. It’s common to ground the root up into a fine powder and mix it into water or tea. In fact, this is the consumption method preferred by Pacific Island tribes.
Other uses of kava kava extract include:
- Liquid drops
- Infused drinks (also brownish in color)
- Powdered form (usually brownish in color)
Since kava kava isn’t approved by the FDA (nor are sales regulated), there is no set dosage to take kava kava root. It’s generally suggested that newcomers start small and work their way up. This will give you an idea of how kava kava root has an effect on you and how much you’ll need in order to benefit from it.
RxList has recommended the following doses for kava kava usage:
- 70% standardized extract: 100mg orally three times daily
- Kava-lactones: 60mg to 120mg orally daily
- Root tea: 1 cup orally one to three times daily using 2 to 4 grams of root in 150 mL of water
Benzodiazepine Withdrawal Prevention:
- Only use 70% standardized extract
- Initially, take 50mg orally once a day
- From there, steadily increase dose while weening off benzodiazepines over 2 weeks
- Do not consume more than 300mg of kava per day within a 1 week period
Keep in mind that this supplement affects everyone differently. Furthermore, you shouldn’t dose yourself with kava kava in the long-term as it may have some negative consequences.
What are the Risks of Kava Kava?
As with any medications or herbal supplements, kava kava does have its own risks and complications. Since there aren’t any regulations on the herbal supplement industry, these products haven’t been screened or tested to back up the claims by the manufacturer.
It is important to keep that in mind when shopping or taking herbal supplements as there may be health risks tied to the supplements. ¹⁰
In rare cases, some may have allergic reactions or prolonged short-term side effects. The kava kava herbal supplement should never be taken with psycho-active drugs, alcohol, or prescription medications as it may cause a negative interaction.
Kava Kava Side Effects
RxList has determined a number of side effects reported with kava kava use. While it’s unlikely you’ll experience all of these (if any), it’s worth mentioning as a warning.
Short-term kava kava side effects:
- Allergic skin reactions
- Enlarged pupils
- Gastrointestinal upset
- Hepatitis (acute)
- Liver damage
- Liver failure
- Motor reflex impairment
- Oculomotor equilibrium disturbances
- Visual accommodation disturbances
Long-term kava kava side effects:
- Blood in urine
- Decreased body weight
- Decreased protein levels
- Facial puffiness
- Kava dermopathy
- Movement disorders
- Pulmonary hypertension
- Red blood cell volume increase
- Low blood platelet count (thrombocytopenia)
When taking kava kava for anxiety, it’s vital to speak with your doctor as a means of avoiding any negative drug interactions or health repercussions.
Can You Overdose on Kava Kava?
Overdosing on kava kava is rare but can occur. There’s enough data to show that large amounts of kava ingested or introduced to the body can cause serious health complications including:
- Renal disruptions to kidney and liver function ¹¹
- Shortness of breath
- Stomach irritation
Of these, liver damage is the most concerning effects from long-term kava use. The liver is a vital organ that helps process everything we eat, drink, and introduce to our bodies. Liver failure can result in renal failure and, in certain cases, lead to death.
In one study, the researchers found that in copious amounts, the kava root can cause liver toxicity, liver cirrhosis, and, in extreme cases, permanent liver damage and failure. Of the study, 7 of the patients experienced serious health outcomes including reduced liver function, liver toxicity, and resulting in liver transplantation. ¹¹
Most of these responses came from individuals that used kava long-term and took too much of it on a regular basis.
Kava for Anxiety Reviews
When it comes to finding the best kava for anxiety, it’s important to understand that a number of irreputable sellers have appeared online over the last decade or so. Since the industry is unregulated, many can sell low-quality kava that might even be mixed with other substances.
For this reason, we devised a list of the 5 best online retailers to purchase kava from:
1.) Fiji Vanua Kava
Fiji Vanua Kava is a great place to start if you’re new to kava. They offer high-quality products in a variety of forms – each of which is made on a family-run farm in the Fiji islands. They have complete control over their production and offer their products at a fairly reasonable price.
2.) Kava Time
If you’re looking for a cheaper selection of kava products, look no further than Kava Time. While their selection is slim, you can ensure these products are pure and contain no contaminants. This is thanks to the fact that they offer a Certificate of Analysis (CoA) with every batch of kava they produce. The only downside with Kava Time is many of their products were sold out at the time of this writing.
Kavafied is another great vendor to get started with as their website sells everything you’ll need in order to get going with your kava experience. This include the kava root powder along with kava strainers and makers. They currently offer shipments to a number of international countries and their website hosts a ton of information surrounding kava root and how it may be able to help you.
4.) The Kava Society
Founded in 2011, the Kava Society has taken the time to research and craft only the finest blends of kava this earth has to offer. They make an attempt to keep their kava as pure as possible so you can enjoy it just as the Pacific Islanders do. They currently offer 9 different high-quality blends.
5.) Art of Kava
When a well-established tea merchant (Zac) discovered the benefits of kava firsthand, he began selling it through the Art of Kava. All of their high-quality roots are imported from carefully selected farmers in Fiji. The company goes as far as to test and repackage each batch in Florida to ensure you’re only getting a top-tier product.
Other Natural Alternatives for Anxiety
With the potential risks and lack of ability to use long-term, we understand some may want to take other all-natural routes to relieve anxiety. Luckily, there are a number of options at your disposal:
Cannabidiol (CBD) has become the most notable and popular natural extract to come onto the market in recent years. CBD was federally-legalized in 2018 and provides non-psychoactive effects on the brain and body. Various studies have found it may be beneficial for a number of health conditions, such as chronic pain, sleep, inflammation, seizures, depression, and anxiety. ¹² ¹³
In a 2011 study, it was discovered that CBD has a lot of potential for people with a social anxiety disorder (SAD). Participants were given either 400mg of CBD or a placebo and used neuroimaging to study the results. It was found that CBD had an overall reduction on anxiety levels in the brain. ¹⁴
The chamomile flower is a naturally occurring ingredient that has shown promise in easing the effects of anxiety. The most common way people consume chamomile is through teas that utilize the flower as the main ingredient. However, it’s also available in tablet form, extracts, and even in certain topicals.
It has shown to be effective in treating generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and is not habit-forming or addictive as other substances and natural extracts can be. However, it’s important to note that there are some who could be allergic to certain flowers and the properties it may have once utilized in treating different disorders and medical situations. ¹⁵
Lavender, like chamomile, is a naturally occurring ingredient from a flower and is often found in bath waters, used in the production of essential oils, and mixed into tea. Many have found stress, anxiety, and nerve pain relief from short-term use. In a review study, two terpenes found in lavender essential oil were useful in relaxing the brain’s chemical receptors and, in turn, alleviating anxiety. ¹⁶ ¹⁷ ¹⁸ ¹⁹
Anxiety is a difficult mental health condition to handle and, unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all cure. Most people who take a herbal approach to treatment must experiment around before finding which supplements work best for them.
Since the FDA doesn’t approve such treatment, it’s important to take on these experimentations with a word of caution. Furthermore, it’s in your best interest to consult your doctor before taking kava or any other all-natural alternative.
While kava can be beneficial in the short-term, it’s unfortunately not a long-term solution. If you do plan to use kava, it may be beneficial to use when anxiety becomes extremely intense (i.e. when you’re having an anxiety attack). However, if you’re looking for a supplement that can help you in the long-run, we suggest looking into other alternatives.
Still have questions about kava for anxiety?
We invite you to ask them in the comment’s section below. If you have any further knowledge on this topic – whether personal or professional – we’d also love to hear from you.
¹ National Center for Complimentary and Integrative Health: Kava Health Information – An Overview
² University of Michigan Health: Kava
³ Semantic Scholar: Kava in the Treatment of Generalized Anxiety Disorder: A Double-Blind, Randomized, Placebo-Controlled Study
⁴ PLOS ONE: Kavain, the Major Constituent of the Anxiolytic Kava Extract, Potentiates GABAA Receptors: Functional Characteristics and Molecular Mechanism
⁵ Penn State University: Kava: a comprehensive review of efficacy, safety, and psychopharmacology
⁶ National Institute of Biotechnology Information: Neuroprotective properties of kavalactones
⁷ Phys Organization: How the kava plant produces its pain-relieving and anti-anxiety molecules
⁸ Sleep Medicine Reviews: Herbal medicine for insomnia: A systematic review and meta-analysis
⁹ HHS Public Access: Toxicity of Kava Kava
¹⁰ US Food & Drug Administration: What You Need to Know about Dietary Supplements
¹¹ National Library of Medicine (PubMed): [Kava, kavapyrones and toxic liver injury]
¹² National Institute of Biotechnology Information: Cannabinoids in the management of difficult to treat pain
¹³ National Institute of Biotechnology Information: Medicinal cannabis & CBD for psychiatric disorders: a clinically-focused systematic review
¹⁴ Journal of Psychopharmacology (British Association for Psychopharmacology): Neural basis of anxiolytic effects of cannabidiol (CBD) in generalized social anxiety disorder: a preliminary report
¹⁵ National Institute of Biotechnology Information: Long-Term Chamomile Therapy of Generalized Anxiety Disorder: A Study
¹⁶ National Institute of Biotechnology Information: Essential oil of lavender in anxiety disorders
¹⁷ National Library of Medicine (PubMed): Ambient odors of orange and lavender reduce anxiety and improve mood
¹⁸ National Institute of Biotechnology Information: Effects of Essential Oils and Terpenes in Relation to Their Routes of Intake and Application
¹⁹ National Institute of Biotechnology Information: Lavender and the Nervous System
Thank you for the mention Jake! This is a fantastic and very well put together article. Well done.