Paradise Found

A Brief Guide to Kavalactones

In the tropical paradises of the South Pacific grows a wonder of nature. Otherwise known as Kava (or Kava-Kava), the Piper methysticum shrub is a member of the pepper family. The rhizomatous roots of this “intoxicating pepper” give us a beloved and relaxing beverage we call kava. But what is it about kava that makes us humans feel so calm and pleasant? The secret is in tiny molecules called kavalactones.

What Is Kava?

Nature gives us a variety of psychoactive botanical solutions that when used responsibly can enhance our lives and make us feel better. No one knows this better than South Pacific islanders in places like Fiji and Tonga, where we get kava. Here you’ll find warm greetings of “Bula!” – the traditional way to say hello. You’ll also find a culture ripe with kava tradition.

Ancient ritual and cultural practices have used the roots of the kava bush for centuries as a way to bring about a sense of peace and tranquility, to enhance social interactions, and to demonstrate generosity. Giving kava to a neighbor or friend, for example, demonstrated peaceful intentions and extended well-wishes to the receiver.

Kava is sourced from mature plants, which are more abundant in kavalactone compounds. The most potent roots are also preferred; the lateral root sections being more concentrated with kavalactones than the roots closer to the aerial parts of the plant. The potent root fibers are ground into powders that can be used to make kava beverages, capsules, or tinctures.

Pacific Islanders have been so generous with their kava traditions that the use of kava as a relaxant and social lubricant have spread around the globe. Today, kava is enjoyed as a way to relax, spend time with friends, or to experience a gentle awakening of the senses. Kava bars are popping up in the US and other countries as users seek alcohol alternatives.

Read more about kava: The Go-To Guide to Noble Kava

What Makes Kava So Appealing?

Because kava is gentle and relaxing, many people flock to the aromatic beverages as a way to enhance their social interactions and connect with other wellness aficionados. This may be why kava bars are becoming a great place to hang out and feel a sense of community. Many kava bars are decorated with an island aesthetic to further perpetuate a feeling of being on vacation in the tropics. And since kava is a calming and somewhat meditative experience, there are myriad applications for it:

  • To feel more calm and relaxed.
  • To shake off the worries of the day.
  • To ease into social situations and feel more calmly “chatty.”
  • To slip into a more relaxed state that makes sleep more restful.

Now, exactly how does drinking a kava beverage work on our bodies? How does it make us feel that sense of calm? This brings us to the active compounds in kava: kavalactones.

What Are Kavalactones in Kava?

Kavalactones are truly fascinating little molecules found primarily in the root fibers of the kava plants. As the kava roots are ground up, the kavalactones are separated and aerated, increasing their potency and efficacy. This means, the ground kava root powders are primed and ready to make your beverage a powerful way to find your own island calm.

Kavalactones are considered psychoactive compounds, which means they affect how you feel. There are lots of plants that can do this, each with their own active compounds like the alkaloids found in kratom products and the THC found in cannabis, as examples. Kavalactones vary in concentrations and combinations – as there are many types of these calming molecules. These combinations of kavalactones are called chemotypes.

How they combine is determined by the kava plants themselves – where they are grown, the types of soils they are grown in (virgin volcanic soils, for example), the environment and weather patterns, and in the rich traditions of care given them by local farming families.

Types of Kavalactones

There are six main types of major kavalactones found in kava:

  • Desmethoxyyangonin
  • Dihydrokavain
  • Yangonin
  • Kavain
  • Dihydromethysticin
  • Methysticin

There are also a slew of minor kavalactones, but these six are the most important ones, and the ones you’ll see most frequently mentioned when it comes to buying kava to use at home.

Biosynthetic Origin of Psychoactive Kavalactones

In biology, there’s a synthesis or a multi-step process to the “evolution” of a particular molecule, in this case kavalactones. Enzymes catalyze changes within the plant and bing, bam, boom – kavalactones of various types.

The most important thing to understand, here, is that these kavalactones develop naturally within the plant. This natural maturation process is unique to kava, thereby producing the molecules – kavalactones and flavonoids (compounds which influence aroma and taste) – which make kava so botanically unique.

Kavalactones Mechanism of Action

How these compounds work on the body is something scientists have been studying and hypothesizing about for decades. Kavalactones “interact with the human central nervous system through mechanisms distinct from those of conventional psychiatric drugs,” according to a 2019 Nature.com article on The biosynthetic origin of psychoactive kavalactones in kava.

Kavalactones enter the body through the stomach lining after you ingest them. From there, you can feel the calming effects in your mind and body. In fact, kavalactones, like the active ingredients in cannabis and kratom, are able to pass the blood-brain barrier. The tiny molecules have a relaxing effect for several hours after ingesting.

Are kava and kratom similar?: Kratom and Kava; Similarities and Differences

Common Questions About Kavalactones Use

Recommended kavalactones dosage? – It’s difficult to elucidate recommended daily dosage for kava. Remember that medical studies of kava are still ongoing. It’s best to use kava in moderation and according to the package (kava dosage) instructions on the product that you buy.

How many kavalactones to get high? – This is another question we are asked frequently. While kavalactones are psychoactive, this does not necessarily mean you will experience the same types of feelings that other psychotropic substances may cause. This is also subjective; one person’s “high” is another person’s feeling “calm.” It’s best to be mindful of your kava use and use it responsibly.

Can I drink kava and alcohol together? – It is not recommended to drink kava with alcohol. While the effects of kava may last a few hours, kava can be found in your system until completely metabolized and eliminated from the body.

What is kava extract? – Just as companies produce kratom extract or CBD extract, they can also produce kava extracts by extracting and concentrating kavalactones for a stronger kava experience. Kava extracts, therefore, are more potent than regular kava products. Pay attention to the total kavalactones and the manufacturer’s recommendations on how to use their product.

Getting the Most from Your Kava Beverages

To get those tiny kavalactones to work, they must be cultivated and harvested mindfully, and then ground carefully to separate the kava root fibers. Because this is typically a lot of work, when you buy kava that’s really good, this has been done for you.

Here at Kats Botanicals we take it one step further and micronize the powders so they are even more separated (more effective!) and dissolve better in water.

Then, all you have to do is stir the powders (usually a teaspoon per 8-12 oz of cool water) into your liquid and drink it. Here are a few tips to aid the work of the kavalactones:

  • Drink reasonably quickly – Kava isn’t meant to be sipped but simply drunk down like you would a glass of water. This puts all the kavalactones into your tummy at the same time, and they are digested into the bloodstream evenly.
  • Drink on an empty or mostly empty stomach – Because the kavalactones are absorbed through the stomach lining, it helps to have an empty or mostly empty stomach. This keeps from diluting the action while kava’s active ingredients are being metabolized into your bloodstream.
  • Enjoy kava in the right mindset – Many psychoactive substances seem to work better when you are in a good frame of mind. Before you consume your kava beverage, take a moment to find a comfortable place to relax, and once you’ve drunk your beverage, relax and allow the effects to wash over you. It does take about 30 minutes for you to feel the effects of kava, depending on your personal metabolism.
  • To share or not to share? – The rich traditions of kava are all about sharing a communal sense of calm, and were traditionally carried out in small groups, or in religious or family ceremonies. If you are not one to enjoy the company of others, consider trying kava alone until you know how it makes you feel, and then try it with a few people you feel comfortable with.

The Kats Kava Promise

If you check out some of the Kats Botanicals reviews, you’ll know we strive to bring you the best of kava – both in your cup and by way of information that improves your kava experience. If you want to learn more about kava traditions, our premium kava powders, or how kavalactones in kava can bring you a sense of calm, you can contact us with your questions or check out our Guidebook.

Written By Staff

The staff writers for Kats Botanicals have been researching and writing about Kratom products for more than 5 years, and have a combined experience of over 35 years of writing in the healthcare and supplement industry. The team has a keen understanding of the topic, remain current on all FDA and industry news, and use their expertise to generate engaging and informative content to help educate consumers on Kats Botanicals’ products. Each article is fact-checked and includes sources to scientific data to ensure readers receive the most up-to-date and accurate information possible.

Reviewed By Justin Kats

Justin Kats, founder of Kats Botanicals reviews and approves all content before releasing it for posting on the Kats Botanical website. Justin has been a tireless advocate for the benefits of Kratom since 2012. As a champion for botanical therapy, Justin created a Facebook group where more than 12,000 people discuss botanicals, and Kratom. He has also assisted more than 80,000 customers since the inception of his business and works directly with a single source farmer to ensure the purity of the products he sells. He also performs rigorous lab testing because he understands what it takes to get a high-quality and safe product to market.

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