Kava, or Piper methysticum in Latin, is a plant (a shrub, to be more precise) which comes from South Pacific islands such as Hawaii, Fiji, Vanuatu and some others. In the past, it has mostly been used for relaxation and mood elevation. Nowadays, it has several purposes, but it is mostly used for reducing anxiety and stress, as well as helping people who suffer from insomnia and sleep deprivation.
Kava root has been used for around 3,000 years. Traditionally, islanders used it as a psychotropic, hypnotic and anxiolytic (substances for reducing anxiety). Today, it remains an effective substance in anxiety treatment, and in some cases, it is used as a cognitive enhancer as well, although some studies suggest that it is not entirely safe for these purposes.
Also known as Piper methysticum, Intoxicating Pepper, Kava Kava, or Kava Pepper, this herb contains several kavalactones – bioactive compounds such as desmethoxyyangonin, yangonin, dihydrokavain, kawain, dihydromethysticin, and methysticin, as well as some glutathione, flavonoids and alkaloids, but in smaller percentages.
These main bioactive compounds found in the plant cross the blood-brain barrier around 45 minutes after ingestion. Global Neuroscience Initiative Foundation from California has conducted research showing that Kava is a potent substance in the treatment of anxiety and insomnia, and that its anxiolytic effects are neither mentally impairing nor sedative.
In addition, some studies have shown that Kava boosts our cognition by relaxing our mind and muscles. However, it doesn’t have such a strong effect compared to other anxiolytics and antidepressants. Researchers at Melbourne University’s Brain Sciences Institute have found that the plant has an ability to improve our cognitive processes and visual attention.
People dealing with anxiety and chronic stress may experience issues related to decision-making and cognition, and risk developing certain brain conditions which may result in memory loss over the course of time. While medications used to treat anxiety such as benzodiazepines might have some mentally impairing and sedative effects, Kava provides us with mild calming effects.
What’s more, Kava provides certain antidepressant effects too, which, unlike those of traditional antidepressants, are not harmful. However, similar to any other substance, it is important to use it properly in order to decrease the possibility of any negative outcomes.
Kava Benefits and Effects
As we have already mentioned, the effects of Kava can be felt around 45 minutes after taking it, and they include the feelings of calmness and relaxation, decreased anxiety and increased sociability. However, it is important to mention that high doses might cause slight euphoria, muscle weakness, decreased muscle control and sedation.
If you stick to recommended doses, on the other hand, Kava will help you become calm and more focused, without causing any feelings of drowsiness.
Research shows that Kava is a potent substance in the treatment of anxiety and insomnia, and that its anxiolytic effects are neither mentally impairing nor sedative
This plant was shown to be a great alternative treatment for generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). Researchers from the University of Melbourne treated 75 patients diagnosed with this disorder for 6 weeks.
Patients were given 120 mg tablets made through the process of extraction of Kava root twice a day in the period of 3 weeks. Some patients didn’t experience any differences whatsoever, so their dosage was doubled, and then they were monitored for another 3 weeks. After this, all patients experienced a decrease in their anxiety levels to a significant extent.
Furthermore, there was another study where healthy individuals were given 300 mg of Kava extract tablets. The goal of this research was to find out whether Kava affects our cognition and emotions. The results have shown that people experienced an increase in their short-term memory, visual focus, cheerfulness, and accuracy in the performance of certain tasks.
In addition, some researchers found that certain the ingredients in Kava, such as dihydromethysticin and flavokawain B can even stop the growth of tumors.
Some of the major benefits of Kava include:
· Reduced anxiety
· Reduced depression
· Mood elevation (especially in menopause)
· Improved cognition
· Improved attention
How Kava Works
It is already a known fact that kavalactones are the active ingredients of the Kava root, even though their exact effects still haven’t been studied in detail.
Some scientists claim that they interact with our limbic system by binding to different receptors in our brain (GABA, opiate, dopamine receptors), particularly ones found in the amygdala – a part of the brain responsible for regulating the feelings of anxiety and fear. However, this still remains just a theory for now.
Each of the kavalactones found in Kava root has different effects on our brain and body. For instance, kavain works as a muscle relaxant which doesn’t affect the brain functions. On the other hand, desmethoxyyangonin causes an increase of dopamine which results in moderate euphoric sensations.
When talking about these active ingredients, the essential thing to take into consideration are the so-called chemotypes – numbers which show what percentage of kavalactones can be found in a certain plant. They are used to indicate how strong the plant is and what kind of effects it is most likely to have, and they vary depending on the location where the plant is cultivated.
In fact, the 6 main kavalactones that we have mentioned earlier all have their own identifying numbers: desmethoxyyangonin (1), dihydrokavain (2), yangonin (3), kavain (4), dihydromethysticin (5), and methysticin (6).
These numbers are included in chemotypes, and based on them, we are able to tell which kavalactone is the predominant one in the Kava product you chose. For example, if the chemotype starts with 426 (numbers of kavain, yangonin and methysticin), your product will help you feel more enthusiastic, relaxed and sociable.
Since Kava extracts are made in different ways and they vary in strength, it is usually hard to determine which exact dose is the best. However, in the majority of cases, it is recommended to go for WS1490 extract and take 300 mg of it on a daily basis, divided into 3 doses of 100 mg.
The first dose should be taken when you wake up in the morning, the next one in the afternoon, and the last one right before you go to bed. This dosage is confirmed to be reliable and safe when it comes to the treatment of different cognitive issues, including anxiety.
However, some users say that taking these extracts only is not potent enough and that their strength can be increased by taking some additional Kava root in the form of powder, which has a strong and fresh smell.
Fresh Kava root powder can usually be found in stores which sell natural and healthy foods, and it is used for making a beverage similar to tea. If you decide to take Kava this way, soak the powder in cold water and leave it to sit for at least 15 minutes while stirring it occasionally. After this, you can either remove the powder from the beverage or leave it there, and drink it.
In addition, there are some supplements which contain 250 mg of kavalactones and they can be taken a few times a day, whenever you choose. For people who take the entire dose at once, it is advisable to take it right before they go to sleep at night.
The question of combining Kava with other supplements and pharmaceutical remedies is a rather extensive topic that we could write a whole new article about. In general, most authorities in the field agree that combining Kava with other herbal sedatives such as lavender, passionflower, valerian, hops and chamomile is safe. If you combine Kava with other sedatives, you can generally expect heightened sedative effects.
Since there isn’t enough research related to Kava and its effects being done, we cannot guarantee which other supplements you can stack with kava, so your safest bet might be to simply not experiment on your own. At least not before we know more of this herbal supplement and its effects and side effects.
Having said this, Kava can be combined with at least two more plants safely: passionflower and valerian. Results from one study show that combining Kava with passionflower can double their effects and prolong sleep.
Since there isn’t enough research related to Kava and its effects being done, we cannot guarantee which other supplements you can stack with kava, so your safest bet might be to simply not experiment on your own
In another rather extensive study, valerian was observed to help significantly decrease levels of stress and anxiety in combination with Kava. Besides that, many participants of the study reported that their insomnia was almost entirely eliminated. One of the most highly reported side effects of this combination was vivid dreaming.
Last but not least, even though there are not enough details available online when it comes to Kava stacking, some users claim that stacking it with 5-HTP can be beneficial for mobility and pain relief.
Kava Side Effects
There are some reports stating that Kava is toxic for our liver and thus banned in some countries, but it was later concluded that this is a rather uncommon side effect which can be attributed to various other factors. However, long-term consumption and high doses may cause dermopathy – a skin condition that is characterized by rashes and swollen red skin.
Moreover, Kava shouldn’t be used with prescription drugs, and in cases of pregnant and breastfeeding women or people suffering from liver problems. It mustn’t be mixed with alcohol, Xanax, Ambien, phenobarbital, lorazepam, and clonazepam. It is also advised not to drive after taking Kava, because your motor functions may be weakened.
Some resources suggest that the overuse can cause insomnia, depression, anxiety, and tremors.
Where to Buy Kava
Since Kava is still illegal in many countries, and it hasn’t been FDA approved yet, it is not prescribed or sold in pharmacies, but it can be found online on websites such as amazon. However, always bear in mind that you should look for reviews from people who have tried the product before deciding where to purchase it.
The majority of users have reported that taking Kava gave them a pleasant feeling of calmness and relaxation, while reducing their anxiety to a significant extent and making them feel more sociable than usual. Some even use it regardless of the fact that they don’t suffer from anxiety, but rather for relaxing after a stressful day.
Many of the users say that the effects of Kava are somewhat similar to those of alcohol, Xanax, and some medications used for treating anxiety, although they all agree that it is much safer, as it doesn’t cause any major side effects which can normally be experienced with these medications.
I took two tablespoons in a large cup of water, which helped me loosen up and feel more relaxed in my upper back and shoulders, which are normally problem areas for me, and a gentle feeling of serenity washed over me after a while. I was energetic and my mind was quite peaceful, but I wasn’t drowsy like with some drugs.
Lack of sleep and chronic stress can cause serious problems to our overall health. They can cause damage to our neurotransmitters and neuroreceptors, which can, in turn, be detrimental to our brain health. With receding brain health comes the loss of memory and cognitive function and other negative side effects.
Whether you are having problems falling asleep or you are going through a rough time in your life and just need to find a way to deal with stress safely and efficiently, Kava might be just the thing you need. Research on Kava and its effects and side effects is lacking, to say the least, but so far users are reporting almost exclusively positive effects on their mental and physical wellbeing.
If nothing else, 3000 years of documented history say that Kava is a safe and natural solution to many maladies people are suffering from in the modern-day environment.