The Nervous System
Lesson 9, Page 15 of 19

While the effects of St. John's wort are a result of the synergistic actions of its many constituents, the natural chemical constituents that are considered to be the most important are hypericin and hyperforin.

Kava Kava

Kava originally referred to a psychoactive beverage that has been used ceremonially for thousands of years by Pacific Islanders to induce a state of relaxation and tranquillity. It comes from the rhizome of the pepper plant, Piper methysticum, which is found in Polynesia, Melanesia, and Micronesia. Today Kava continues to be used across the Pacific in both traditional ceremonies and informal social events. It has also become available, usually as a concentrated extract in capsule form, in Western nations where it is used primarily to promote relaxation and relieve anxiety.1 It is also used for stress, restlessness, nervousness and insomnia.2

Kava contains compounds called kava lactones which have been shown to help alleviate anxiety, relieve pain, relax muscles, and prevent convulsions. 3 Unlike many popular prescription drugs, Kava reduces anxiety but does not impair mental function or cause sedation. In a double-blind crossover study conducted in Switzerland, the effects of Kava on short-term memory were compared with those of the anti-anxiety and muscle relaxant drug Oxazepam. While the drug was found to impair short term memory, Kava actually improved it slightly.4

Kava has also traditionally been used by Hawaiian folk healers as a treatment for asthma. In a 1993 article that appeared in the Hawaiian Medical Journal, the authors concluded that Kava does indeed have scientific merit when used for asthma. The authors suggested that more studies be performed to access Kava's potential role, as well as that of other traditional Hawaiian herbs, as an aid for asthma sufferers.5

Kava has a long history of traditional use and appears to be very safe. Unlike its pharmaceutical counterparts, its side-effects appear to be mostly beneficial rather than harmful. For example, it has been shown to have a slight anti-fungal activity 6 and it helps protect the nerves from damage due to ischemia.7

Kava's has a low incidence of adverse reactions when used properly. High dosages have been known to cause a scaly yellowish eruption on the skin, a condition known as kava dermopathy. This condition was first observed among the Pacific natives by Captain James Cook. Fortunately, the dosages taken by most are not likely to cause a problem and this relatively benign condition is reversible. 1 Kava can potentiate the effects of alcohol and barbiturates and it should not be used by pregnant or lactating women or by depressed individuals.2

Kava continues to occupy a central role in the everyday life of the Pacific islanders, although its role has been somewhat diminished by time and outside influence.8 It appears that Kava has lost ground to alcohol in urban areas where a more cosmopolitan lifestyle has been adopted. It has been suggested by one author that Kava, which is relatively harmless, may be promoted to the urban Pacific Islanders as a healthier alternative to tobacco and alcohol use. 9

Kava was originally ______ by the Pacific islanders.

drank
injected
smoked
snorted
none of the above

(Select the best answer and click on the "Continue" button.)

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