Taki MaiTaki Mai

By Zane Yoshida

Kava: A Legal Anxiety Treatment Across Australia

Great news for Australian kava enthusiasts and for the kava industry as a whole: it’s now legal for use as a medical anxiety treatment across the country.

Previously kava was legal as a medical treatment in all states except Western Australia and the Northern Territories. The restriction there was due to concerns of over-use in remote indigenous communities, where it is often used as an alcohol replacement.

This restriction has now been removed, so that kava is now available to treat anxiety across the whole of Australia.

Anxiety in Australia

According to this report from Ten News, at least one in seven Australians suffer from anxiety. Symptoms include a quicker heart rate, tightness in the chest area, and breathing difficulties.

The usual treatments for anxiety are a range of medications, including benzodiazepine-based drugs. These are tranquillisers that are commonly prescribed for panic and anxiety attacks. While they are generally quite effective in treating short-term anxiety, they also carry a long list of possible side effects and can even lead to dependency. Long-term use of such drugs is therefore not advised.

For these reasons, many people have turned to natural remedies for anxiety treatment.

Kava and anxiety

Naturopaths in Australia have used kava to treat anxiety, stress, and insomnia for the past 14 years; while this is a relatively recent practice in Australia, kava has been used for many centuries in the Pacific islands, where the concept of stress and anxiety is almost unheard of.

In Australia, kava has recently been the subject of several clinical studies led by Professor Jerome Sarris. Results from these studies have shown kava to be safe and effective for the treatment of generalized anxiety; though people with a pre-existing liver disorder should take medical advice first.

All this is further good news for the kava industry in general as word spreads about its many health benefits.

By Zane Yoshida

Who Should Avoid Kava?

Most of you reading with this will enjoy the occasional Taki Mai shot or even regular kava sessions with friends, without having to worry about safety or whether you need to avoid kava.

But there are still the ‘naysayers’ out there who continue to focus on the isolated negative incidents involved with kava rather than the millennia of safe kava use in the South Pacific.

Now kava is becoming more global and is taking its place alongside other herbal supplements and beverages in health stores and supermarkets across the world, it is inevitable that kava is coming under more scrutiny.

This is a good thing – let’s consider it a way for kava to clear its name.

But there are some people who certainly should avoid kava. Below we briefly consider who should NOT be sitting by the kava bowl.

Avoid kava if you…

Let’s first make it clear that kava is non-addictive, has proven ability to relax and de-stress you, and has been used safely for millennia to treat a wide range of ailments and at social gatherings and ceremonies in the South Pacific.

Kava is well-known for its treatment of mild anxiety but those with severe depression should avoid taking it.

While it is worth noting that no study has ever proven a link between liver toxicity and kava, rare cases of liver problems have been reported, as you are probably aware from the so-called ‘European kava ban’ from previous years. Kava is best avoided totally if you have pre-existing liver problems.  It is not known precisely why the cases of liver toxicity in Europe occurred, but it is suspected that sub-standard kava was used.

Putting this problem into context, the amount of people with liver problems as a result of kava usage would be a dot on the landscape of those who suffer liver problems from alcohol usage.

…which brings us to another category of people who should avoid kava. It’s best never to mix kava with alcohol, benzodiazepine, or SSRI usage. It’s also best avoided if you are taking prescription monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs).

Pregnant or nursing women are also advised to avoid kava altogether, as are children under the age of 18 and anyone who is due to have surgery.

Kava is sometimes associated with dry, yellowish, scaly skin, but this is usually only in users who take large amount of kava, or indulge in particularly strong, low-grade strains of kava.

A few shots of elite Taki Mai kava are very unlikely to cause any problems. So enjoy!

By Zane Yoshida

Kava: ‘An Alternative Therapy That Works’

It’s not often that kava (or any other alternative therapy, for that matter) gets a truly ‘fair’ write up in the mainstream press.

The focus is usually on the safety concerns of sub-standard kava raised in recent years, rather than the centuries of trouble-free usage, and the proven positive effects of kava on the body and mind.

While medications with some serious side effects often get off without even a reference to their dangers, kava and other ‘alternative therapies’ often get hammered as ‘unproven’, ‘proven not to work’, or possibly dangerous to the health.

This is par for the course – and another example was found in a recent article in the UK’s Spectator magazine.

Kava: an alternative therapy for relaxation

It’s worth summarising the article and including a few quotes here.

It takes what it considers to be a balanced view about ‘alternative medicine’ and begins by highlighting how certain quips about alternative medicine not working may be unfair. The author selects three in particular that can claim to work: tai chi, garlic, and our beloved kava.

The article puts forward positive points about each of these therapies. For instance, it points out that tai chi reduces the risk of falling, and hence could be an important therapy for old people. However, it also points out that more conventional treatments might be “more suitable, cheaper or more available.”

In the case of kava, the author introduces it as “a herbal medicine that, about 10 years ago, used to be very popular for managing anxiety.”

Then the evidence for it working is presented:

“Does kava work for anxiety? The answer is yes. In 2003, we published a Cochrane review of all rigorous studies testing the efficacy of kava as a treatment of anxiety. We were able to include 11 randomised, placebo-controlled trials and concluded that ‘compared with placebo, kava extract appears to be an effective symptomatic treatment option for anxiety. The data available from the reviewed studies suggest that kava is relatively safe for short-term treatment (one to 24 weeks), although more information is required.”

Waiting for the mention of the ‘dangers’…

While reading, you just know the ‘catch’ is coming. And sure enough…

“For a while, many of us thought that kava was safe and effective. When the first reports of side effects emerged, we were not particularly worried — which medication is totally free of them? But then a flurry of reports was published suggestive of severe liver damage after kava intake. At this stage, many national regulators became seriously concerned and started to investigate. The results seemed to indicate that the commercial kava preparations on the market were indeed liver-toxic. Consequently, kava was banned in many countries.”

That’s it. No mention of the overturn of the kava bans; no mention of the likelihood of inferior quality kava being the likely cause. All kava is tarred with the same brush again!

And, what’s more, there is no mention of the serious side effects of some other anti-anxiety drugs like the benzodiazepines (tranquilisers). These can cause addiction when taken long-term and come with a wide range of other side effect warnings, including dizziness, trembling, and confusion.

The author’s conclusion is that he agrees with the quip that ‘alternative treatments are therapies that either have not been proven to work or have been proven not to work’. This, despite specifically stating that kava was an ‘alternative therapy that works’…

What started as a promising article strangely turned on its head and effectively became another ‘hit piece’ on kava in the end!

As stated, this really is par for the course for kava in mainstream media.

By Zane Yoshida

Sweet Dreams With Kava?

Always wanted to get a picture of a cute sleeping puppy into a blog post! Bear with me – it’s relevant!

The SquareRut Kava Bar in Austin, Texas, is frequented by many University students, because of kava’s reputation for increasing mental prowess and focus while studying.

But, with kava being kava, it also has an almost reverse quality that many people crave. Rather than aiding mental clarity, they take it to send them to sleep – and to dream.

Scott Pingel, owner of The SquareRut Kava Bar says:

“It will relax you but make you more productive. Your dreams will be vivid and you’ll remember them.”

Kava’s sedative qualities

Kava is not technically a sedative, and may not be what you are looking for if you have serious insomnia. Sleep problems may be complicated and can be down to a wide variety of reasons – both physical and psychological.

However, kava is generally classified as hypnotic and is well-known to decrease anxiety, which is nearly always a hindrance to good sleep. The National Institutes of Health in the U.S. even suggests that kava may be as effective as benzodiazepines like Valium or Xanax (which are sedatives) for promoting calmness and rest.

This may explain many observational reports of kava users experiencing deeper sleep.

If we go back to its origins in the South Pacific, we also see that kava’s soothing, soporific effects have been used medicinally to treat sleeplessness for centuries. So you might like to try it as a safe and natural alternative to reaching for the sleeping pills.

Crazy dreams?

Kava has also developed a reputation for promoting vivid and bizarre dreams, as Scott Pingel suggests. If you scour the online forums there are plenty of stories of ‘crazy’ dreams from people who use kava – but in a positive way, not a negative way.

This is probably related to the fact that kava can induce deeper sleep – which is precisely when dreams tend to abound. We all dream – and the inability to remember dreams is what people often mean they say ‘I don’t dream’.

But with kava, the general consensus (without any scientific proof, mind) is that people can recall their dreams better.

Having trouble sleeping? That puppy’s not! Try a few of our kava shots and you might just sleep a little deeper and remember more of your dreams!

By Zane Yoshida

What’s the Risk-Benefit of Kava?

Remember the European kava ban and the effect it had on the kava industry in the years that followed? It’s worth looking at the risk-benefit of kava to consider whether that ban was fair.

The German government’s ban, finally reversed in June 2014 after 12 years, imposed an immediate withdrawal of marketing authorizations for products containing extracts of kava.

We argued all through that this ban made no sense, pointing out that we (and many people we know) had been taking kava for decades without any ill effects; and, going back further, Fijians had been drinking kava for centuries without problems. Quite the reverse in fact: kava is not only considered very safe, but has significant health benefits.

While the German authorities eventually came to the conclusion that there was no justification for the ban, some interesting statistics illustrate the risk-benefit of kava and the absurdity of the ban in the first place…

Kava dose numbers

An article on the HerbalEGram website, written by a prominent German herbal medicine researcher who was involved in the German court case on kava, says the following:

“By 2001, the overall retail sales of medicinal products containing kava had reached approximately 10% of that of benzodiazepines (conventional pharmaceutical anti-anxiety drugs), with a total of 450 million daily doses sold between 1991 and 2000, and no significant risks were observed. It therefore came as a surprise when, in 1999 and 2000, there were case reports of potential liver toxicity associated with ingestion of kava products, which then led to a so-called graduated plan procedure with the aim of examining risks and benefits of kava-containing preparations.”

That’s worth repeating: “450 million daily doses sold between 1991 and 2000, and no significant risks were observed.”

Which medicines out there could claim the same?

Risks and benefits of kava

Normally when the safety of pharmaceutical products is considered, there is an assessment of the risk-benefit. This was clearly not done in the case of the kava ban imposed in 2002:

“Benefit-risk assessments address not only the risk but also the efficacy of a pharmaceutical agent: when a benefit to the patient’s health is demonstrated, a risk may be deemed acceptable. This part of the equation led to misunderstandings on the international level with respect to kava.”

If the German government had considered the risk-benefit of kava around the world, then surely the above statistics would have prevented a ban?

Though there were, no doubt, complex regulatory issues at play, the 12-year ban had knock on effects around the world: kava farmers in Fiji, Vanuatu, Tonga, Samoa and elsewhere in the South Pacific rely heavily on exports for their livelihood.

The author of the above article believes that the German government did not examine the universal risk-benefit of kava, but only the few “specific medicinal products with German marketing authorizations”.

It was later proposed that these products may not have contained pure kava root/stem (the leaves contain toxins) or the preparation of the kava in these products may have released toxins not found in traditional preparations.

The court agreed and ended up ruling that the risk of liver toxicity from kava was considered “rare” or “very rare”. It also recognised its important role in relieving anxiety and stress.

We may not be able to draw a line under this issue yet, as the reversal of the ban has been appealed in Germany; but hopefully the relevant authorities start looking at the worldwide numbers as they consider the risk-benefit of kava in future.

Kava: A Legal Anxiety Treatment Across Australia
Who Should Avoid Kava?
Kava: ‘An Alternative Therapy That Works’
Sweet Dreams With Kava?
What’s the Risk-Benefit of Kava?