Mat Gendle, Anna Stroman ’11 and Dani Mullin ’12 publish study on kava

Their work appears in the Australian Journal of Medical Herbalism.


A research report authored by Associate Professor Mathew Gendle, Anna Stroman ‘11 and Dani Mullin ’12 was published in the December 2011 issue of the Australian Journal of Medical Herbalism. The study, “Effect of an Acute Dose of Crude Kava Root Extract on Problem Solving in Healthy Young Adults,” demonstrated that a clinically effective dose of kava does not produce significant impairments in the ability to construct novel solutions to ambiguous problems.

This finding suggests that kava may have value as an alternative treatment for anxiety, as many of the presently available prescription anti-anxiety drugs produce notable cognitive dysfunction at therapeutic doses.

Kava is an intoxicating drink that is used by the indigenous peoples of Oceana, and it plays in important role in many of the social and religious rituals in that geographic region. Kava is also used as a recreational intoxicant, and such use has become widespread throughout northern Australia. Kava is not a controlled substance in the United States, and capsules of powdered kava extract are widely available over-the-counter. Kava is produced through a water or solvent extract of numerous bioactive compounds present in the root of the plant Piper methysticum, and is currently viewed as a potentially viable anti-anxiety agent and alternative to benzodiazepine drugs such as Xanax and Valium.

However, much of the enthusiasm regarding kava’s potential therapeutic uses has been tempered by reports of liver toxicity under certain dosing conditions, and additional research is required before kava can be endorsed as a safe and effective replacement for current anti-anxiety medications.