Are Kratom And Kava The Same Thing?

Kava vs Kratom: The Important Differences You Need to Know

Kava and Kratom are increasingly being sold alongside each other at gas stations and in stores online. While they may be similar in name and drink appearance, truth is, they are worlds apart. In this post, we look at some the similarities and differences and explain why it is important for buyers and consumers not to confuse the two.

What Is Kratom?

People are often surprised to learn that kratom is a plant related to coffee. In kratom’s native Southeast Asian countries, locals often chew the leaves for energy and pain relief. In recent years, some of these countries outlawed kratom because of growing concern about the potential for addiction. However, the plant is still exported to the United States and other countries. Manufacturers crush the leaves and process them for commercial sale as a nutritional supplement.

U.S. consumers purchase kratom in powder form or as a liquid extract. The powder form is sometimes made into a tea or mixed into beverages. It’s also sold in capsule form, which many people prefer because of the strong taste of kratom powder. In liquid extract form, kratom comes as a potent concentrate, which is easy for people to consume in high doses. Kratom is used recreationally to promote relaxation or medicinally to help with various physical and mental health issues and promote well-being.

What Is Kava?

Kava is made out of the roots of the kava plant. The plant belongs to the pepper family, and it’s native to countries like Fiji and Indonesia. People in its native area use the root of the kava plant to create different types of tea and juice beverages. Some restaurants and bars mix it with either water or coconut milk to create drinks that are consumed socially or recreationally. Kava has also been used for ceremonial rituals.

In the U.S., kava is used as a tea, a supplement or even an extra ingredient in certain baked goods. Because of its relaxing qualities, it’s often used by those experiencing anxiety or insomnia.

Kava vs Kratom: Key Similarities

Similar PreparationSimilar Effects
The leaves of the Kratom tree can be chewed but more frequently they are dried, then crushed to create a powder that is mixed with water to create a drink or added to another drink to mask the taste. Dried leaves can also be used to make tea.
Similarly, the traditional preparation of a Kava drink includes mixing ground kava root with water then steeping and straining to create a murky brown tea. Both can also be found in pill form. These similarities in preparation and appearance are another reason it is easy for consumers to confuse Kratom and Kava or assume they are similar in nature. Adding to this confusion is the fact that the two drinks are now being sold side-by-side in some Kava bars across the country.
Increasing scientific research means that the effects of drinking Kava are now better understood and well documented. Kava can be used to reduce stress or temporary bouts of anxiety, to help manage pain, relieve muscle tension and to promote overall emotional and physical relaxation. Drinking Kava can reduce social inhibitions and induce a sense of euphoria and happiness akin to other nootropics. There are 3 categories of kava. Heady varieties create a clear-headed calm and slight boost of energy. Heavy kavas have a more of a sedative effect, and Balanced have mixed effects.
Kratom has somewhat similar effects depending on the dosage. It is a psychoactive drug, that when consumed at a low dosage makes people more energetic, talkative, agitated and socially hyperactive. On the other hand, a higher dosage creates a sedative effect, pain relief, and a euphoric experience or dream-like state.

Kava vs Kratom: Distinct Differences

Pharmacological Differences The pharmacology of Kava is very different from Kratom. While scientific research into Kratom is in its infancy, there is a growing body of scientific data on the chemistry of Kava and its’ effects. The main active ingredients in Kava are kavalactones with six alone being more important than others and responsible for over 90 percent of the active natural ingredients in the plant. Active ingredients vary depending on the variety of the plant and these are identified by a plant chemotype. Read about the science behind the natural calm of Kava. Kavalactones interact with the limbic system, the part of our brain most associated with emotions, emotional behavior, and motivation. Kavalactones are responsible for the positive effects gained from kava root consumption. Unlike the alkaloids in Kratom, the Kavalactones in Kava are not opiate agonists and do not pose the risk of opioid side effects such as the risk of addiction.

Legal Differences Kratom is currently undergoing a heated and complicated legal battle that could make the plant and its active constituents banned in the US – Kratom Ban

In Thailand where the plant grows in abundance and is widely used, Kratom has been outlawed for over 70 years since 1943. The original ban was linked to Kratom reducing Thai government tax revenues from opium distribution. While in recent years there have been calls to decriminalize Kratom and remove it from the list of banned narcotics in Thailand, this has yet to happen. One reason for this could be the connection between Kratom and crime in the country. In Thailand in 2011, more than 13,000 people were arrested for kratom-related crimes (5% of all drug-related crimes in that country). The use of Kratom is also prohibited in Malaysia where users can be penalized with a maximum imprisonment.
Pharmacological Differences Kratom contains alkaloids. The alkaloids in Kratom interact with the opioid systems in the brain, the systems that play key roles in modulating how we respond to pain. The alkaloids in Kratom act as opiate receptor agonists in the same way that morphine or other opiates do. From a pharmacological perspective, though Kratom is not an opiate itself, its effects are very similar to those of opiate drugs and it comes with the same risks of addiction. While there has been little scientific research on Kratom, the main psychoactive ingredients in Kratom are believed to be the alkaloids mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine. The latter is known to be orally active in animals as an analgesic. These alkaloids produce normal opioid side effects. This explains why Kratom can be addictive.  Opioid side effects include the development of tolerance. Tolerance means that the effect of a drug lessens over time, and there is withdrawal syndrome upon abstinence. The unique chemical make-up and effects of Kratom has resulted in the plant being used by people previously addicted to heroin or pharmaceutical opioids as a means to wean themselves off these drugs. It has also shown promise as a natural pain reliever for these same characteristics but much research is still needed on the plant.

Legal Differences
At the same time, Kava is gaining worldwide acceptance as a natural and safe herbal product. While kava was banned in Germany and Switzerland for a number of years ago a result of research suggesting that drinking kava caused liver problems. That ban was lifted in 2015 after further research revealed the liver issues were related to other contributing factors.  Kava is legal in the U.S, has been available for over 20 years, and is categorized as a herbal supplement. It has been part of cultural life in the State of Hawaii for many years. Most recently it has been gaining in widespread popularity. Many kava bars have opened up across the nation. Countless people are giving up their nightly glass of wine, beer or cocktail and turning to this interesting tropical root as a more natural means of relaxation.

Summary: Know the Differences

While Kava and Kratom may be offered alongside one another at your local kava bar and online, it’s important to know the differences. Kratom has shown to be highly beneficial for certain individuals and uses, but can be addictive and could face a future ban by the FDA. Drinking Kava, on the other hand, has no addictive properties, is ingrained in cultural and ceremonial traditions of the countries and islands where it is grown and is gaining in acceptance and popularity as a natural way to relax throughout the US.

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