Stories tagged psychopharmacology


This isn't where I got my kava: But, yes, the secret ingredient in kava is the server's hands.
This isn't where I got my kava: But, yes, the secret ingredient in kava is the server's hands.Courtesy Kanaka's Paradise Life
Remember how I went on vacation to Hawaii recently? It’s okay if you don’t. It was my trip, after all, and I, at least, sort of remember it.

Being in Hawaii, I naturally spent plenty of time drinking out of coconuts. This is an old Hawaiian tradition, like getting sunburned and swimming in hotel pools. Granted, for the first part of my trip, most of what I drank from coconut shells consisted of brackish water.

(OMG! Did I not tell you about that? Right outside the airport I fell into a very large hole, and got trapped under my backpack! I was there for days, surviving on the rainwater that seeped into the pit. Fortunately, I was eventually found by “a warrior for good” named Larry, who dragged me—and my backpack—out of that hole with a rope and a quad-bike. Larry didn’t really understand how I could get trapped in a 3-foot-deep hole, but whatever. It had been a long flight and I was tired.)

Anyway, I eventually did try some beverages other than rainwater. Wanting to make friends with some of the town hippies, I tried a local favorite: Kava. (Or kawa, or ava, or awa, depending on how seriously you take yourself.) Kava is a plant native to Polynesia, and its roots are used to make a beverage that is said to have a relaxing effect on the drinker. (Or more than relaxing, I guess, depending on how much is consumed.) So, yes, figuring “When have hippies ever done anything unhealthy?” I went to the kava and fudge bar and got some kava and fudge. The kava came in a coconut shell. (The fudge came on wax paper, unfortunately. I had been hoping for another coconut.)

The fudge was decent. On a deliciousness scale, however, it turns out that kava rates a little ways below rainwater that has seeped into a muddy pit. It’s sort of a light, browny color (light brown, you might say), slightly chalky in the mouth, and it tastes like… like… the pounded root of a plant that grows in an island swamp. So… swampy. Also, it leaves your mouth feeling a little numb. In my experience, though, sometimes a thing tastes a lot less foul when you drink lots of it. I thought it would maybe be a good idea to try that out with the kava.

It didn’t work. Four or five coconuts later, the kava tasted as bad as ever. And while I did suddenly feel as if I had delivered four or five large coconut shells full of swamp mud into my tummy, I was not feeling noticeably more relaxed.

I’m going to credit this towards the fact that Gordon anxiety is made of pretty stern stuff. (Like diamonds. Diamonds and titanium.) Because, according to a new study in the journal Psychopharmacology (reported on here), that kava should have been a “safe and effective” way to reduce my anxiety.

Researchers gave participants in the study five tablets of kava extract daily, or five tablets of a placebo. The group receiving the real kava demonstrated “dramatically decreased anxiety levels,” as well as reduced depression levels. The members of the control group, I guess, remained anxious and depressed.

There had been concern in recent years over a connection between kava marketed in Europe and liver toxicity, leading kava to be banned in the UK, Europe and Canada. But the researchers observed no major health concerns in the participants of the study. While more research is needed to confirm kava’s safety, it is thought that the toxicity in some kava products actually came from improper processing of the plant; traditionally, only the kava root is used, and it is processed with water, but some producers were using ethanol and acetone to obtain kava extract from the leaves and stem of the plant.

Again, except for the possible toxicity, all this was contrary to my experience. On the other hand, the kava dispenser informed me that there are many varieties of kava, each with their own properties. The one served there, he assured me, was sort of “the thinking man’s” kava. I’m not much of a thinking man, though, and therein may lie the problem..

Still, this is probably good news for those of you following the development of anti-anxiety drugs. Or drug alternatives. Or horrible-tasting beverages.