UF team receives grant to study kava as smoking cessation aid

A team of University of Florida researchers has received a three-year $1.5 million grant from the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health to conduct a clinical trial on the use of kava as a tobacco cessation aid.

Chengguo Xing, Ph.D., left, and Ramzi Salloum, Ph.D.

Chengguo Xing, Ph.D., a professor and associate chair in the department of medicinal chemistry in the UF College of Pharmacy, and Ramzi Salloum, Ph.D., an associate professor in the department of health outcomes and biomedical informatics in the UF College of Medicine, are leading the research team. Salloum also serves as associate director for community outreach and engagement at the UF Health Cancer Center.

Tobacco cessation remains challenging, in part because of stress and insomnia associated with abstinence. About 34 million U.S. adults smoke, and about half of smokers will die of smoking-related problems if they do not quit.

The UF team aims to test their hypothesis that kava — a traditional beverage consumed among South Pacific Islanders for relaxation, stress reduction and sleep improvement — can serve as a cessation aid.

The new grant will fund a randomized controlled trial to evaluate the compliance and safety of AB-free kava use among adult smokers who intend to quit and assess changes in smoking behaviors. It will also evaluate AB-free kava’s effects on biological signatures associated with tobacco use, stress and sleep. The long-term goal is to develop a kava-based tobacco cessation intervention.

Co-investigators include John Malaty, M.D.; Zhiguang Huo, Ph.D.; Roberto Firpi Morrell, M.D., M.S.; Carla Fisher, Ph.D.; Demetra Christou, Ph.D., and Frank Orlando, M.D., FAAFP.

The UF Health Cancer Center previously provided pilot funding to the research team and is providing ongoing support with regulatory oversight and clinical trial coordination. The UF Health Cancer Center’s pilot program receives crucial support from the state of Florida through the Casey DeSantis Cancer Research Act (Fla. Stat. § 381.915).

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