Kava dermopathy.J Am Acad Dermatol. 1994 Jul; 31(1):89-97.JA
Kava is a psychoactive beverage used ceremonially for thousands of years by Pacific Islanders. Kava is made from the root of the pepper plant, Piper methysticum, found in Polynesia, Melanesia, and Micronesia. The beverage is a nonfermented depressant with complex neuropharmacologic properties that causes a tranquil state of intoxication. Kava also affects the skin, causing a peculiar scaly eruption. The cutaneous effects were first reported by members of Captain James Cook's Pacific expeditions, but they have never been described in dermatologic literature. Heavy kava drinkers acquire a reversible ichthyosiform eruption, kava dermopathy. The cause is unknown but may relate to interference with cholesterol metabolism. Today kava is used across the Pacific in both traditional ceremonies and informal social events. In Western nations, kava is sold as a relaxant by health food stores. This article explores the history of kava dermopathy from Cook's early reports to its presence today.