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EDITIONS
Wednesday, 4 December, 2002, 16:58 GMT
Herbal tranquiliser ban opposed
Complementary medicine shop
Kava-kava is a complementary therapy
Complementary health experts have opposed a ban of the herbal medicine Kava-kava.

The herb is used as a natural tranquiliser, and as an alternative to Valium.

But it has been linked to cases of liver damage, and a UK medicine watchdog is considering a ban.

Scientists meeting at the Symposium on Complementary Medicine at Exeter University say that would be an "over reaction".


If we are going to ban kava today, then we should have banned Valium twenty years ago

Professor Edzard Ernst

Sixty-eight cases of suspected liver damage associated with the use of medicinal products containing Kava have been reported worldwide, three of which were in the UK.

Six patients who had liver failure needed liver transplants and three others died.

But complementary health campaigners claim side effects from Kava-kava are rare, and the risk of liver damage is similar to that associated with Valium.

And they say it has none of the addiction problems associated with drugs like Valium, and does not impair attention and reaction times, which have been problems linked to benzodiazepines, or have links with depression and suicide.

Consultation

The Medicines Control Agency (MCA) has already asked if shops will voluntarily withdraw the herbal medicine from their shelves.

And the Committee on Safety of Medicines has recommended it should be withdrawn from sale.

A consultation period on whether the ban should go ahead has finished, but no final decision has been made.

Professor Edzard Ernst, chair of complementary medicine at Exeter University supports better regulation of herbal medicines.

But he said: "Kava is proven to be effective in treating anxiety and, looking at the total risk, it is safer than synthetic drugs.

"If we are going to ban kava today, then we should have banned Valium twenty years ago."

Risks 'outweigh benefits'

Professor Ernst added: "The public is entitled to protection from dangerous and toxic treatments whether they are complementary or conventional, and we need to investigate these recent reports of liver damage associated with kava.

"But it may be counter-productive to ban an efficacious medicine on the basis of criteria that seem to be harsher than those used to licence conventional, artificial drugs."

However, a spokesman for the MCA told BBC News Online its advisors backed a ban: "On the basis of the data available, the Committee on Safety of Medicines considered that the possible therapeutic benefits of kava-kava cannot be considered to outweigh the safety risks associated with these products."

See also:

18 Jul 02 | Health
18 Dec 01 | Health
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