Kava plant used for centuries in traditional medicine now being studied for the treatment of PTSD

Kava Ceremony in Samoa – University of California Digital Libraries

In New Zealand, Pacific Island scientists just received a large grant to conduct an experimental study on the use of traditional kava preparation and the kava ceremony to treat PTSD.

Believing it could help treat PTSD and other trauma in soldiers and veterans, police officers and correctional facility personnel, the two scientists want to overhaul kava’s reputation, which has been damaged by a pharmaceutical rush on the product some years ago.

Dr. Apo Aporosa, of Fijian descent on his mother’s side, and Dr. Sione Vaka of Tonga, were awarded $1 million by the Health Research Council to combine the kava drink with the traditional speaking ceremony.

I am so thrilled that the Health Research Council trusts us as a team to carry out this vitally important work,” Dr Aporosa told the NZ Herald. We are likely to spend a million dollars demonstrating what traditional Pacific knowledge has been trying to tell Europeans for the past 200 years.”

Kava comes in many traditional names, all relating to the root of the Metistic Piperplant. In the Pacific Islands, the root was mixed in water and drunk for its subtle euphoric but also sedative properties. Accompanying the drink was atalanoaor what Dr. Aporosa refers to as “talking therapy,” but what was essentially a heart-to-heart conversation.

Their study will take two groups of people and give them the whole kava drink plus the talanoa,referred to as “the complete package”, while another group will receive only thetalanoa,and another group just the kavalactones, the active ingredient in the plant.

In 2009, the Cochrane Institute confirmed that kava was probably more effective than placebo for treating anxiety. At the time, pharmaceutical and supplement companies were quick to isolate kavalactones and sell them as natural relaxants.

The irony is that in this extracted form it was mildly toxic to the liver, whereas when traditionally consumed in the “Ava Ceremony” (to use the Samoan language) or Faikavain Fijian, such toxicity is not present.

An informal Faikava

Like most indigenous peoples, New Zealand’s Mori people suffer from higher rates of stress, trauma and anxiety than the national average, and the Health Research Council believes the Kava ceremony is the most sensible way to address this unmet need .

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“We know that … talk therapy works for some cases of PTSD, Dr. Aporosa said, adding that talanoa it’s basically talk therapy, done while sitting on the floor rather than chairs.

We know that kava has relaxing properties, that kava is a natural anti-anxiety drug, so we combine these two elements in a culturally influenced space and we have something unique here.

Aporosa understands the situation better than anyone. He not only is he of Pacific stock, but he was a police officer who had to leave the force due to PTSD from the line of duty.

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His experience traveling the world talking to former military and police landed him a Fulbright fellowship to study the kava ceremony in Hawai’i, another island culture that uses the plant.

His hope is to demonstrate that it works significantly in the process, and then release a free e-book on how to perform the ceremony and surgery, to ensure that as many people as possible can access the knowledge of this traditional medicine of the Pacific.

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