The Curious Case of Kava

Why did it take the FDA so long to finally sound the alarm?

Kava is a far-flung relative of the pepper plant that grows on the remote tropical islands of Polynesia. It's famous for the calm, dreamy state of mind it induces, and the locals have used it for centuries to celebrate weddings and greet visiting royalty. Kava enthusiasts claim that it can ease anything from anxiety and insomnia to menopause. In sleepless, stress-rattled America, consumers spend more than $50 million on kava--kava drinks, kava drops, kava capsules, kava candy and kava tea.

These days kava users aren't feeling quite so calm. Reports of liver damage have been piling up in Europe and the...

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