As we can see, herbs are often claimed to have dangerous adverse effects that do not really exist. The FDA commonly does this in an attempt to gain more control over herbs, which helps them to protect their illegal investments in pharmaceutical companies and to protect their cozy relationship. As with chaparral, kava was also given a false reputation of causing cases of hepatitis.
Kava refers to the INNER ROOT of the kava plant. Kava has been used for centuries as both medicine, and as a mind altering drug when specially prepared. For centuries kava has had a reputation of being quite safe except when abused. By this I mean extremely high doses over a period of time. Overuse by kava addicts can lead to thickening and peeling of the skin. This has never been seen in normal use of kava capsules. And no cases of hepatitis were ever reported from traditional preparation and normal use of kava.
A few years back though, there were actually cases of hepatitis appearing out of nowhere in people taking kava supplements. The medical journals and news media jumped all over the story and reported repeatedly that kava was dangerous and caused hepatitis. Yet they never reported all the facts or the truth even when the problem was exposed. In fact, the problem stemmed from the greed of a pharmaceutical company looking to cash in on the herbal movement bandwagon. The company traveled to Fiji to obtain information on the use of the herb and looking for kava sources.
During traditional preparation, the islanders would strip off the outer root bark and discard it. Only the inner root was being used for consumption. The pharmaceutical company decided that they could buy up all of the waste the islanders were discarding for next to nothing, dry it, grind it, capsule it and sell it. So this is exactly what they did. Though in the blinding glare of dollar signs and in their rush to get in on the bandwagon they overlooked an important rule of herbs. Not all parts of a plant have the same chemistry! Although a few plants will have basically the same alkaloids, glycosides, etc. throughout the plant in varying amounts this is not common. It is more common to have totally different chemistry throughout the plant. For example, cocklebur root is a pain killer. The leaves are used to treat asthma and the seeds used to stop diarrhea. And when using lapacho (pau d’ arco, taheebo, ipe roxo), the inner bark is used, not the outer bark, which does not have the medicinal properties. Kava is no different. The reason the islanders were discarding the outer bark of the kava was because they knew that the outer bark was toxic!
If the pharmaceutical company would have taken the time to ask questions on the preparation and looked into the chemistry then the isolated cases of hepatitis could have been avoided and kava would not have received an undeserved bad reputation. General use of the inner root of kava remains safe as it always has.