In response to an Associated Press
story by Jean Christensen released today, the nonprofit American Botanical
Council (ABC) clarified the safety surrounding the traditional South Pacific
herb kava (Piper methysticum). It is generally safe when used responsibly
according to label directions, said the research and education organization.
A leading academic expert expressed concern that recent press reports
about people driving while using the herb kava are potentially misleading.
According to noted herb expert Varro E. Tyler, Dean and Professor of
Pharmacognosy Emeritus at Purdue University and author of several leading
herbal medicine books for health professionals, "Kava has been used safely in
moderation in its South Sea culture for thousands of years. The enormous
doses for recreational purposes referred to in the AP article are much higher
than the appropriate doses found in dietary supplements used for anxiety and
The Associated Press story points out that the kava being consumed in
Hawaii is a beverage that is four times stronger than the kava dietary
supplements consumers can buy in retail stores, noted ABC founder and
executive director Mark Blumenthal. Yet Blumenthal cautioned that kava users
must be careful when considering driving a car or operating heavy machinery.
The herb industry has also recognized the potential problems associated
with driving. The American Herbal Products Association, the leading herb
industry trade group, issued a recommendation in 1997 for the labeling of kava
products to include the following warnings: kava should not be used by people
under 18 or by pregnant or nursing women without professional advice, people
should not exceed the recommended dose, excessive consumption may impair
ability to drive or operate heavy equipment, and kava is not recommended with
consumption of alcohol.
ABC stressed that moderate use is the general rule in Europe, where the
majority of clinical research on kava has been conducted to date. "The German
government cautioned people that using kava, even at recommended dosage
levels, can potentially lead to impaired operation of a car or machinery,"
said Blumenthal, referring to the famous Commission E, a panel of medical and
pharmacy experts that reviewed herbal medicines for their safety and benefits
in Germany. The German government approved the use of kava as a
nonprescription medicine for "nervous anxiety, stress, and restlessness."
Blumenthal also pointed out that the safe and effective benefits of kava
to relieve symptoms of anxiety were confirmed last year in a meta-analysis, a
systematic statistical review, of seven clinical trials published in the
Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology.
Blumenthal, who is also adjunct associate professor at the College of
Pharmacy at the University of Texas at Austin, emphasized that "the problem in
this case is one of dosage and degree."
Currently, kava ranks ninth in sales of all herbal dietary supplements
sold in mainstream retail markets, with total mainstream sales of
approximately $15 million. This statistic does not include sales in health
food stores, multi-level marketing companies, mail order, or sales by health
professionals, which account for an additional $15 million, or more, said