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Common Names: 
kava, kava kava, awa, kava pepper
Latin Name: 
Piper methysticum



© Steven Foster

On this page:


This fact sheet provides basic information about kava—common names, what the science says, potential side effects and cautions, and resources for more information.

Kava is native to the islands of the South Pacific and is a member of the pepper family. Kava has been used as a ceremonial beverage in the South Pacific for centuries.

Historically, kava was used to help people fall asleep and fight fatigue, as well as to treat asthma and urinary tract infections. It also had a topical use as a numbing agent. More recent folk or traditional uses include anxiety, insomnia, and menopausal symptoms.

The root and rhizome (underground stem) of kava are used to prepare beverages, extracts, capsules, tablets, and topical solutions.


What the Science Says

  • Although scientific studies provide some evidence that kava may be beneficial for the management of anxiety, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued a warning that using kava supplements has been linked to a risk of severe liver damage.
  • Kava is not a proven therapy for other uses.
  • NCCIH-funded studies on kava were suspended after the FDA issued its warning.


Side Effects and Cautions

  • Kava has been reported to cause liver damage, including hepatitis and liver failure (which can cause death).
  • Kava has been associated with several cases of dystonia (abnormal muscle spasm or involuntary muscle movements). Kava may interact with several drugs, including drugs used for Parkinson’s disease.
  • Long-term and/or heavy use of kava may result in scaly, yellowed skin.
  • Avoid driving and operating heavy machinery while taking kava because the herb has been reported to cause drowsiness.
  • Tell all your health care providers about any complementary health approaches you use. Give them a full picture of what you do to manage your health. This will help ensure coordinated and safe care.

Search the scientific literature for potential herb-drug interactions


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Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS), National Institutes of Health (NIH)

ODS seeks to strengthen knowledge and understanding of dietary supplements by evaluating scientific information, supporting research, sharing research results, and educating the public. Its resources include publications (such as Dietary Supplements: What You Need to Know), fact sheets on a variety of specific supplement ingredients and products (such as vitamin D and multivitamin/mineral supplements), and the PubMed Dietary Supplement Subset.


NIH National Library of Medicine's MedlinePlus


Key References

  • Kava. Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database Web site. Accessed at on July 14, 2009.
  • Kava (Piper methysticum G. Forst). Natural Standard Database Web site. Accessed at on July 14, 2009.
  • Kava kava rhizome (root). In: Blumenthal M, Goldberg A, Brinckman J, eds. Herbal Medicine: Expanded Commission E Monographs. Newton, MA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2000:221–225.
  • Musser SM. Kava (Piper methysticum). In: Coates P, Blackman M, Cragg G, et al., eds. Encyclopedia of Dietary Supplements. New York, NY. Marcel Dekker; 2005:373–380.
  • National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Kava Linked to Liver Damage. Consumer Advisory. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health Web site. Accessed at on June 3, 2010.
  • U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Consumer Advisory: Kava-Containing Dietary Supplements May Be Associated With Severe Liver Injury. U.S. Food and Drug Administration Web site. Accessed at on June 3, 2010.


This publication is not copyrighted and is in the public domain. Duplication is encouraged.

NCCIH has provided this material for your information. It is not intended to substitute for the medical expertise and advice of your primary health care provider. We encourage you to discuss any decisions about treatment or care with your health care provider. The mention of any product, service, or therapy is not an endorsement by NCCIH.

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NCCIH Publication No.: 
May 2006
April 2012