|. . . . Information and Availability of Naturally Occuring Mind Altering Substances . . . .
Piper methysticum is also know by a variety of names, including: Kava kava, Piper methysticum Forst.f., Piper methysticum G. Forst., ava, awa, awa pepper, intoxicating pepper, kava root or pepper, kawa, kew, Piper methysticum, rauschpfeffer, sakau, tonga, melo, ka ka, wurzelstock and yangona, kawa-kawa, and most commonly, simply "Kava."
Kava kava induces a pleasant sense of tranquility and sociability after it is consumed. Over the years many scientists have consumed kava kava in an attempt to describe its effects in more scientific terms. One of the first such descriptions of kava was offered by the noted phamacologist Louis Lewin in 1886.
Lewin must have enjoyed studying kava kava, because what became his classic description of kava kava's effects was written in 1927, forty one years after his initial investigation.
Here is Lewin's classic description:
"When the mixture is not too strong, the subject attains a state of happy unconcern, well-being and contentment, free of physical or psychological excitement. At the beginning conversation comes in a gentle, easy flow and hearing and sight are honed, becoming able to perceive subtle shades of sound and vision. Kava soothes temperaments. The drinker never becomes angry, unpleasant, quarrelsome or noisy, as happens with alcohol. Both natives and whites consider kava as a means of easing moral discomfort. The drinker remains master of his conscious and his reason.
When consumption is excessive, however, the limbs become tired, the muscles seem no longer to respond to the orders of control of the mind, walking becomes slow and unsteady and the drinker looks partially inebriated. He feels the need to lie down....He is overcome by somnolence and finally drifts off to sleep."
A more recent description is provided by researcher R. J. Gregory, of his own experience:
"Kava seizes one's mind. This is not a literal seizure, but something does change in the processes by which information enters, is retrieved, or leads to actions as a result. Thinking is certainly affected by the kava experience, but not in the same ways as are found from caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, or marijuana. I would personally characterize the changes I experienced as going from lineal processing of information to a greater sense of "being" and contentment with being. Memory seemed to be enhanced, whereas restriction of data inputs was strongly desired, especially with regard to disturbances of light, movements, noise and so on. Peace and quiet were very important to maintain the inner sense of serenity. My senses seemed to be unusually sharpened, so that even whispers seemed to be loud while loud noises were extremely unpleasant."
The difference between the effect noted by these pharmacologists consuming kava kava beverage and the effect of the kava extract that will be described here is a matter of dosage.
During the traditional kava ceremony an individual will usually ingest much higher amounts of kava components compared with the levels commonly used in the treatment of depression and anxiety. The kava extract could produce the same type of effects as kava beverage if taken at high levels (not recommended).
"Until recently, kava has been regarded as a medicinal plant with a very favourable risk profile and a distinct efficacy. On first sight, the current discussion of potential deleterious effects of kava medication on liver metabolism seems to reverse the risk-benefit ratio, and calls for a closer look at the available data of the observed adverse effects on the liver in connection to kava intake. Within this analysis, we report background data on a total of 82 case reports dating from the years 1990 to 2002. This database consists of 38 case reports from the German "BfArM" (plus five duplicate/triplicate entries of otherwise identical case reports), five cases from the Swiss SWISSMEDIC" (formerly "IKS"), two case reports published in the German public press, five cases from the medicinal literature, 21 case reports from the US American FDA, four case reports from the British MCA, one from the Australian TGA, three from Canada, two from the French ADM and finally one case from the Pharmacovigilance Working Party of the EMEA. Twenty of these cases are obviously not connected to kava intake. In 21 case reports a potentially hepatotoxic concomitant treatment was identified. In seven cases there is considerable doubt concerning the causality of kava, whereas in 31 other cases the available data is too fragmentary for an assessment. This leaves three cases where some probability of hepatotoxic effects by kava can be established. In only one these case reports kava was taken according the dosage recommendations of the German commission E monograph. As a conclusion, hepatotoxic effects of kava intake cannot generally be ruled out. However, in comparison with alternative treatments for stress and anxiety disorders, respectively in comparison drug intake related hepatotoxicity in general, the risk of adverse liver effects seems to be very low."
As DNA molecules replicate themselves trillions of times in order to create all the cells in a person's body, alterations inevitably occur numerous times. These polymorphisms (literally, multiple shapes), of which there may be as many as 10 million in total (as many as 1 million per individual), are responsible for our biochemical individuality. Those involving only a single nucleotide (A, T, G or C), aptly named single-nucleotide polymorphisms (or SNPs), are the most prevalent variety, and are important because they modify the way the body functions in specific circumstances, and in some cases may make you more or less resistant to specific diseases, environmental toxins, drugs etc. Different ethnic groups have distinct SNPs. An example that relates to kava, and its potential for or lack of toxcicity in individuals, is known as Human Cytochrome P450 2D6 (abbreviated CYP2D6). This isoenzyme metabolizes many common prescription medications as well as kavalactones. Kava has been safely used for centuries by islanders in the South Pacific, yet when kava is taken by people of northern European ancestry, approximately 7-10% experience liver toxcicity due to a hereditary SNP that renders the CYP2D6 enzyme defective. This SNP is rarely found in individuals indigenous to the South Pacific. It is pertainent to note that there are a number of drugs that act as CYP2D6 inhibitors, temporarily inhibiting the function of the enzyme system responsible for detoxifying kava's active constituents in the liver. Taking any drug that functions as a CYP2D6 inhibitor with kava will render it toxic to anyone.
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