The Kava Anxiety Depression Spectrum Study (KADSS): a randomized, placebo-controlled crossover trial using an aqueous extract of Piper methysticum

Abstract

Rationale

Piper methysticum (Kava) has been withdrawn in European, British, and Canadian markets due to concerns over hepatotoxic reactions. The WHO recently recommended research into “aqueous” extracts of Kava.

Objective

The objective of this study was to conduct the first documented human clinical trial assessing the anxiolytic and antidepressant efficacy of an aqueous extract of Kava.

Design and participants

The Kava Anxiety Depression Spectrum Study was a 3-week placebo-controlled, double-blind crossover trial that recruited 60 adult participants with 1 month or more of elevated generalized anxiety. Five Kava tablets per day were prescribed containing 250 mg of kavalactones/day.

Results

The aqueous extract of Kava reduced participants' Hamilton Anxiety Scale score in the first controlled phase by −9.9 (CI = 7.1, 12.7) vs. −0.8 (CI = −2.7, 4.3) for placebo and in the second controlled phase by −10.3 (CI = 5.8, 14.7) vs. +3.3 (CI = −6.8, 0.2). The pooled effect of Kava vs. placebo across phases was highly significant (p < 0.0001), with a substantial effect size (d = 2.24, \( \eta_{\text{p}}^2 = 0.428 \)). Pooled analyses also revealed highly significant relative reductions in Beck Anxiety Inventory and Montgomery–Asberg Depression Rating Scale scores. The aqueous extract was found to be safe, with no serious adverse effects and no clinical hepatotoxicity.

Conclusions

The aqueous Kava preparation produced significant anxiolytic and antidepressant activity and raised no safety concerns at the dose and duration studied. Kava appears equally effective in cases where anxiety is accompanied by depression. This should encourage further study and consideration of globally reintroducing aqueous rootstock extracts of Kava for the management of anxiety.

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Acknowledgments

Thanks are extended to Peter O’Rourke and Kylie Mallitt for their assistance with analyzing the data and to Ashley Dowell and the Centre for Phytochemistry and Pharmacology at Southern Cross University (Lismore Australia) for providing HPLC analysis of the Kava tablets.

Conflicts of interest

Kerry Bone is a consultant to MediHerb Pty Ltd (supplier of the tablets). He was not involved in the conduct of the study or the analysis of the data.

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Correspondence to J. Sarris.

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Sarris, J., Kavanagh, D.J., Byrne, G. et al. The Kava Anxiety Depression Spectrum Study (KADSS): a randomized, placebo-controlled crossover trial using an aqueous extract of Piper methysticum . Psychopharmacology 205, 399–407 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00213-009-1549-9

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Keywords

  • Kava
  • Piper methysticum
  • Herbal medicine
  • Aqueous extract
  • Anxiety
  • Depression