Kava Kava

Does it actually work? The stuff’s pretty expensive, and on my budget I figured I’d get some StraightDope opinions before I invested my hard-earned cash.
If it does work, is there any difference between capsules and liquid extract?
What about Valerian root?


There are tons of previous threads in GQ.

I dug up a Kava root ball the size of a bathtub when I lived in Maui. I made a milkshake which gave me a minor buzz - basically a waste of time. Not to mention that it completely covered the inside of the blender with a milky white sap that was imposible to remove.

I’ve taken it (capsules) a few times, I can’t say I felt serene and all that, but a good friend of mine swears by it. This is a guy I was in the Marines with who, by all accounts, is “high energy” and this stuff did seem to relax him.

My doctor says he believes in its effects, but he didn’t recommend I try it because he felt it worked better for people with anxiety. At the time I was asking him about it, I was bummed out rather than tense.

He’s a pretty standardly-trained and educated fella, so that’s something.

I tried it for a few weeks. It did nothing for me. Maybe it’s one of those things you have to take for a long time before you feel the effects. Or maybe it’s a big rip. Really, if you can buy it without a prescription, how powerful can it be?

Skeptical Inquirer, Volume 25, No. 1 (Jan/Feb 2001). This was a special issue on Alternative Medicine. Obviously, this journal takes a dim view of any claims not backed up by scientific fact.

There was a review article by Marcello Spinella about various herbal medicines. He concludes that some very reputable studies show that some herbal medicinces may well have very real merit. In particular, “[a] review and meta-analysis of methodologically controlled studies of kava for treating anxiety has shown kava to be consistantly superior to placebo.” No clinical studies have yet to be conducted about the claim that kava helps one sleep, however.

The other herbal medicines worthy of mention in this article are St John’s Wort to treat depression and Ginko Biloba and Ginseng for improving cognitive function.

By the way, I’ve never tried kava myself but I back my statements about the stuff with facts. Shame on you Dopers who resorted to the fallacy of Argument by Testimonial to answer the question. You should know better. If some newbie had come on here and said, “I tried it and it works great,” they would have been roundly criticized and cites would have been demanded. “I tried it and it didn’t work” is just as bad.


Um, yeah. Don’t know about you, but I sleep better when I’m not anxious, don’t you?

I’ve tried kava kava myself, using it during times of high stress and anxiety. For me, it does help. But it’s NOT a huge difference, mostly it just takes the edge off. I’m still anxious, but no longer so anxiety-ridden I’m vibrating in place too fast for others to see clearly.

If you’re not anxious, just bummed out, it may not have any effect on that state of mind, in which case using it is a waste of money. It’s not a magical good-for-what-ails-you feel-good pill.

Another thing to consider is that it’s an organic substance. Prolonged storage, storage at high temperatures, and other improper handling methods can render the active ingredient(s) inert whether you’re talking pills, capsules, tinctures, or actual roots. On top of that - the amount of active ingredients varies from root to root, as is typical of plants and herbal rememdies, so it’s possible to get wide variations in dosages. Quality/quantity control can be tricky with herbal things. It’s certainly possible to get a bottle of the stuff that’s too weak to do anything noticeable.

Uh, yeah yourself. Pay close attention. There are two distinct claims about kava: 1. That it is helpful in reducing anxiety, a claim which seems to have some degree or merit and 2. That it is helpful as a sleep aid amongst those that are not necessarily anxious, a claim which has yet to be clinically tested.

You do make very good points about the quality control of herbal medicines though. That should be a major concern for those who wish to try such remedies.


Thanks, all. Keep 'em coming.