Kava has been used in medicine as far back as the 1920s by German pharmaceutical companies. As the world began to discover the wonderful properties of Kava both interest and jealousy set in.
Enterprising foreign agents began experimenting and buying Kava throughout the Pacific and using every part of the plant. As we know full well, only the basal and lateral parts of the Kava plant was traditionally used in the Pacific. The aerial parts of the plant contain high levels of Piper methysticine, which is a natural defense chemical produced by the plant to shield itself against browsing animals.
Meanwhile the sale of the synthetic anxiety treatment drug valium etc. was coming under the spotlight as being inferior to Kava in terms of effectiveness and in terms of its negative side effects. But mainstream synthetic products are the gold mine of the pharmaceutical industry so it is clear from the outset that something has to give. Kava was pulled up for causing Liver Toxicity. Many reports and concerns were raised about the safety of Kava use and centered mostly on severe liver toxicity, particularly on liver failure in some people who have used dietary supplements containing Kava extract.
Although no conclusive link was established that the conditions were a result of the Kava components, regulatory drug agencies were quick to instate cautionary measures and Switzerland and France subsequently outlawed Kava completely. This was followed by the Canadian health agency’s issuance of a stop-sale order in 2002.
In 2004 the United States CDC released its reports that called that legal status of Kava into question, and their report was subsequently backed by the FDA. As it turned out the reports highlighted the use of the traditionally non-consumable aerial parts of the plant, the extraction process (which relied heavily on solvents other than the traditional water extraction used in the Pacific Islands). It also pointed out the patients concerned already had liver concerns before being introduced to the dietary supplements. Above all, over many centuries of Kava use in Pacific cultures, there is simply no single conclusive case of adverse liver effects on the native population.
On closer inspection the German Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices (BfArM), which was the first to evoke a total ban on Kava, agreed that the evidence does not support such a stance. Thus, the BfArM agreed to a partial revocation of its actions. In 2008 EU member countries reversed the ban altogether, much to the delight of Pacific island countries whose economies have suffered immensely due those actions.
Only Heavy Kava use has side effects but all of which are reversible once use is discontinued. These include dermopathy, a scaly eruption of the skin, which again is reversible by discontinuing Kava use. Fresh Kava brew from unpeeled basal organs can cause running red eyes. This is a mixture of the plants defense chemical and the fact that some heavy users do stay up late into the night every night chin wagging with friends. With normal use the effect is non-existent.
The ancient centre of the Pacific Kava trade lies in the “Lost Island” of Kuwae in central Vanuatu. It is a drink domesticated by our ancestors, enjoyed by our Pacific neighbors, and now making waves in the international arena. In contemporary society Kava is still very much harmless curiosity.
Now that the reputation of Kava, Vanuatu’s national beverage, has been restored, it is most appropriate that we share a shell of Kava with friends throughout the world and tell them of the wonderful properties of Kava. The brew brings an overflowing sense of well being, of deeper understanding, of relaxation and calm, of euphoria and peace. Our Kava, the wonder herb is Dark, Mysterious and Beautiful.
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