In the period between 1990 and 2001, Kava was a wildly popular botanical used to combat anxiety and sleep disorders. All that came to a screeching halt when The German Ban on Kava was instituted in 2001. In this article, you will find the conclusion that there was never any hard evidence that Kava caused the liver damage. Anyway, the FDA never jumped on the German bandwagon and it was never banned in the United States. Though the ban has been rescinded, we still have to put up with "internet experts" reciting the ban and then trying to sell you their own dubious products for sleep, anxiety, etc. Kava has been used safely for 1000s of years by Islanders in Hawaii, Vanuatu, Fiji, Tonga, Samoa, and other islands. There are thousands of people here in the United States consuming Kava and that includes the thousand plus members of the Kava Forums. Out of this group, there have been a few anedoctal claims of mild and temporary liver problems (high elevation of the ALT and AST liver enzymes) but none substantiated because of the users prior history with Alcohol, Drugs, and so on. In fact, there is a growing body of literature that supports what islanders have know for centuries: Kava is not only safe, but can help with conditions such as cancer, anxiety, urinary problems, sleep problems, pain, and a host of other conditions. The Ban on Kava was dead wrong and a fiasco for those who depended on it for medicine. But it was also a huge financial disaster to the Kava Farmers in the Islands who lost upwards of 6 billion dollars of revenue.
The German Kava Ban in 2001 and Reversal in 2014
In 2001, the retail sales of medicinal products containing kava had reached approximately 10% of that of benzodiazepines with a total of 450 million daily doses sold between 1991 and 2000. The popularity of kava had gone thru the roof until there were several reports of potential liver toxicity associated with the ingestion of kava. The Germans then banned Kava based on German Marketing Authorization laws and not because of the safety issue. There was no hard evidence of safety issues. In June 11, 2014, the Germans rescinded the ban. The court ruled that there was no justification for the ban. They asserted that Kava has a “positive” risk vs benefit. A complete and thoughtful piece was written about the German Ban and its reversal by Dr. Mathias Schmidt, PHD.
Who Caused the Ban and Why
Interestingly, the Germans were among the first people to study Kava's medicinal, chemical, and pyschoactive properties back in the 19th century. To this day, many of the key kava researchers are based in Germany. These researchers have always concluded that Kava is generally safe, most likely MUCH safer than its alternatives, and they have studied some of the milder side effects like dermopathy. So why didn't the governmental authorities and politicians study this research and/or listen to their own scientists?
On the Web Site of Islands Business , Dionisia Tabureguci quoted a German Scientist as saying that the fight against the Ban came with a lot of dirty politics. She goes on to state that every time there was scientific evidence that vindicated Kava, then the goal posts would shift again. I will leave it up to you to discern who was lobbying against Kava.
The Samoans were part of the group of Islanders who lost revenue because of the ban. Recently, the Samoa News published a story about the man who was responsible for the ban. His name is Professor Harald G. Schweim and to his credit he admitted it was a mistake. He was quoted as saying, "The facts behind the ban were not as clear as originally assumed...". He went on to say "The original article focused on the current tendency of blowing up the significance of small safety issues to overwhelming proportions in order to justify regulatory action taken for consumer protection". So you might say they made a rash judgement before they had all the facts.
Kava vs Benzodiazepines
The 'Awa Development Council in Hawaii listed the assertions made in the German Court Ruling. One of my favorites is this one, "BfArM (German FDA) is wrong to describe benzodiazepines, buspirone or SSRIs as less harmful alternatives to kava." I totally agree with this assertion. I believe that Benzodiazepines are more dangerous than the botanical plant Kava. I have heard countless stories of people addicted to Benzos who started using Kava as part of their regiment to kick their addiction. I myself have taken Benzos on stressful days only to fight a hangover the next day. The cure for this hangover is to take another pill. I never get a hangover with Kava and it is not addictive. So sometimes I wonder if Kava was too successful as a Benzo substitute and perhaps people with self serving agendas were responsible for the ban.
Dangerous Kava Extracts?
Those of us who use kava regularly are absolutely convinced that there were extenuating circumstances surrounding the small amount of Liver Toxicity cases. It was originally thought that extracts manufactured using acetone and/or ethanol as solvents could have been the cause. But this theory was later retracted. It was also thought that some of the unscrupulous vendors may have been using the upper parts of the plant and the leaves which are known to contain toxins. As toxic as the parts might be, it was never proven to cause liver damage. The prime parts of the Kava Plant, the root and lower stalk, are the safest parts. That's why we call it "Kava Root". We know that and the Islanders who drank it for thousands of years also knew that.
Causality Was Probable but Not Actual
In an article on the Web Site of the NCBI (National Center for Biotechnology Information ) it was stated, "About 100 cases of liver damage have now been "associated" with the intake of kava worldwide". Associated means suspected but not proven. They go on to say that in several cases the damage was caused by alcohol and other drugs combined with excessive doses of Kava. In other words combining drugs and abusing them. Then they went on to say that 14 cases were causality deemed to be "probable". So only 14 cases were "probable" but there was still no evidence that Kava caused any damage. They also quoted two drug monitoring studies with a total of 7078 patients taking 120-150 mg kava extract per day. The results of the study found NOT ONE single case of kava-induced hepatoxicity. So basically there were a very small amount of cases of liver damage. The damage was probably caused by bad life style choices but the people just happened to also be Kava users. In my opinion, to say that Kava caused the liver damage would be like saying that an alcoholic who also ate beef got his liver damage from the beef.
The bottom line is that there was no direct evidence that Kava , by itself, caused liver damage and I totally believe that Kava does not cause liver damage. As stated earlier, Islanders never had any liver problems and all our Kava drinking friends have never suffered any damage. Here is something to think about. Big Pharma took a 10% haircut on their sales of Benzos when people started gravitating to the shelter of the Botanical called Kava. Did this have anything to do with the ban?
Second, I would like to put a cease and desist order on all the on line Vendors who mention that Kava damages the liver while at the same time selling a competing drug . This is self serving, untruthful, and it has to stop! Kava, like any other man made drug or botanical drug, has a set of rules for safe consumption. You can see a list of suggestions for drinking kava safely at this link. We have a saying around here, “Drink Kava safely the way the Islanders did for 1000s of years”. In other words, drink Kava responsibly and you will safely reap the full benefits of this powerful botanical.