A 3,000 Year Old Herbal Remedy for Anxiety Puts Drugs to Shame in Landmark Clinical Trial

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From racing thoughts to restless dread, anxiety’s distress calls for soothing relief. Now research on an ancient South Pacific herb brings hope for those looking for safer natural alternatives. 

A pioneering study reveals the South Pacific herbal remedy kava rivals leading anti-anxiety drugs in treating Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), yet spares patients their troublesome side effects[1].  


In one of the first GAD clinical trials of kava, German researchers found an extract of the root to be as effective as standard prescription anxiolytics Buspirone and Opipramol in treating 127 outpatients over 8 weeks[2].  This is all the more significant, considering the well-known side effects associated with pharmaceutical drugs used for anxiety disorders. For instance, Buspirone is associated with dizziness in ~10% of those prescribed the drug, and acording to FDA product labeling, the following reports of adverse events occurred in 1% to 10% of patients:[3] 

  • Central nervous system (CNS): Abnormal dreams, ataxia, confusion, dizziness, drowsiness, excitement, headache, nervousness, numbness, outbursts of anger, paresthesia 
  • Ophthalmic: Blurred vision
  • Otic: Tinnitus
  • Cardiovascular: Chest pain
  • Respiratory: Nasal congestion
  • Dermatologic: Diaphoresis, skin rash
  • Gastrointestinal: Diarrhea, nausea, sore throat
  • Neuromuscular and skeletal: Musculoskeletal pain, tremor, weakness
  • Hepatic: isolated cases of serum enzyme elevations without jaundice


Remarkably, 75% of kava patients saw marked improvement on anxiety rating scales - matching outcomes from the drugs. And it worked quickly, mirroring the medications’ robust 27% score decrease after just 2 weeks[2].


Perhaps most profoundly, kava generated such benefits without the notoriety of side effects burdening these pharmaceuticals like sedation, nausea and chemical dependence[3]. It was also safer regarding sexual symptoms, mood dulling and interactions with common medications[2].


Beyond replicating efficacy, this evidence of kava’s impeccable safety and rapid action sets it apart as an compelling option for many wishing to avoid pharmaceutical pills. 


The anxiety reductions weren’t superficial either - around 60% of participants in all groups achieved full remission of symptoms[2]. And benefits lasted after stopping 9 days later, indicating lack of any withdrawal.



Kava’s versatility likely stems from myriad muscle relaxant, pain relieving and soothing compounds working through multiple pathways important in anxiety[3,4]. This distinguishes its plant-based combination therapy from the single-target paradigm of patented synthetics. 


So for those desiring au natural anxiolysis, the verdict is in: kava constitutes a scientifically validated therapeutic that finally fulfills this promise. The study cements its evidence-based place for consideration alongside first-line treatments for anxiety disorders.


Yet for the South Pacific people who have consumed kava ceremonially for 3000+ years[3], relief of “worried minds” is nothing new. With formulations optimized and dosing now refined through science to maximize benefits, ancestral wisdom is attaining increasingly greater relevance in modern times[4].


For more information on natural approaches to anxiety disorders, visit our database on the subject here.






[1] Boerner, R.J., et al. Phytomed. 2003;10(Suppl IV):38-49

[2] Boerner RJ, et al. Phytomedicine. 2003 Dec;10 Suppl 4:38-49.

[3] StatPearls, NLM: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK531477/

[3] Greenmedinfo.com. Kava Kava Research Overview. https://greenmedinfo.com/substance/kava-kava (Accessed 2/24/23).

[4] Sarris J, et al. Aust N Z J Psychiatry. 2009 Apr;43(4):327-47.

Disclaimer: This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of GreenMedInfo or its staff.

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