What is the Difference Between Kava and Kratom?

January 12, 2019 Articles, Kava, Kratom Alkaloids, Kratom Research, Kratom Strains

As botanicals websites have grown in popularity, more and more people have begun to acquaint themselves with both kava and kratom, but to the novice who doesn’t know any better, they might mistake the two for each other.

One noob actually called me and said that he wanted to place an order for kava and I told him, “I’m currently out of stock.”

His response was, “No, you’re not. I saw it on your homepage.”

“That’s kratom powder,” I said.

“Yeah, kratom, kava, aren’t they just nicknames for speciosa?”

I had to explain to him the marked differences between these two plants and how they are far from the same botanical. Today we’ll explore the origins of these herbs and what distinguishes them from one another.

WHAT IS KAVA?

Kava, otherwise known as Piper methysticum, is a crop that grows in the Pacific islands. A lot of the so-called “kava kava” you find online in supplement form comes from the root of the kava plant. The name kava roughly translates as bitter which is just one of the traits it shares in common with kratom leaf.

Kava root has been used as a ceremonial herb for hundreds of years by the natives of the Pacific islands. Like kratom, it is known to possess relaxing properties which may promote a balanced mood.

Furthermore, kava can be mixed with water to form a cloudy brown tea not unlike kratom tea.

Drinking either kratom tea or kava tea may result in increased sociability and relaxation, although the latter is said to be more pronounced with kava tea, hence the current prevalence of kava bars in college towns and metropolitan areas.

As with kratom, there are different types of kava, some of which yield headier effects than others. Just as red vein kratom strains tend to be more sleepy, certain forms of kava can make for a more lethargic state.

Most seasoned users agree that Hanakapi kava is the most soothing form of kava root. In kratom, the presence of the indole alkaloids raubasine (or ajmalicine) and corynantheidine are largely responsible for its soothing aroma at higher levels.

In the case of kava, it is the presence of DHK and DHM (Dihydromethysticin) that make for the heavier effects of kava tea. However, the presence of Yangonin makes for more energy-enhancing effects.

WHAT IS KRATOM?

Kratom leaves come from the Mitragyna speciosa plant, a large evergreen tree native to Southeast Asia. These massive trees come from the coffee family of plants and are, therefore, quite stimulating in nature. This is due, at least in part, to the psychoactive alkaloids contained within its leaves. These alkaloids often occur at high concentrations in kratom powder and kratom extracts.

An Ayurvedic herb that has been used for centuries by the farmers and factory workers of Indonesia, Malaysia and then some, kratom leaf is known to be both stimulating and pretty chill at varying dosages.

The purported effects of kratom include increased mental clarity, clean energy enhancement, sharpened focus and a general sense of well-being.

In recent years, innumerable individuals have turned to kratom to maximize endurance at the gym and unwind after a stressful day at work. Some depend upon kratom to get them through the day while others use it to improve their sleep schedule.

Although kratom is not approved by the FDA for medicinal use, it is enjoyed by thousands of Americans who stand by the wonders of this curious herb.

HOW DO KAVA & KRATOM DIFFER?

Now that we’ve covered the many things these two have in common, let’s look at what you need to know about their distinctions. The most important thing to remember is that they are not the same.

Where kratom’s supposed effects owe to its alkaloid profile, kava is powered by what are known as kavalactones. Whereas kratom contains more than 28 active indole alkaloids, all of which work in concert to produce the kratom leaf’s variety of aromas, only six kavalactones do most of the work (90% of the work, to be exact).

Kratom is most well-known for its chief alkaloids, mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine, respectively. It is only these two alkaloids that are associated with the plant’s soothing and restorative effects.

The other area in which these two herbs differ wildly is in legality. As institutions such as the FDA and the DEA continue to push for kratom to be banned in the United States, kava is stealing the spotlight as a safe herbal supplement.

In recent years, legislation has been passed in several US cities or states to regulate or outright ban kratom with many municipalities implementing penalties for possession or sale of kratom products. Non-profit organizations like AKA (American Kratom Association) are going to great lengths to educate policy makers about the true science behind kratom, but this may fall on deaf ears in certain parts of the country.

By contrast, kava root has been widely accepted across America and is often sold in general stores or pharmacies as an OTC natural supplement. Meanwhile, kratom cannot be purchased in any retail outlets or chain stores, only in tobacco shops and disreputable paraphernalia stores.

In Thailand where kratom was first grown, it has been banned for the last 70 years, allegedly because its popularity threatened the opium trade. By comparison, kava was banned in Switzerland after a study pointed to kava tea as the cause of liver problems. However, this was later found to be unrelated to kava use.

Perhaps the most important difference that users need to familiarize themselves with is the difference in side effects. Kava has more side effects than kratom and some are particularly acute.

Adverse effects of kava use may include any or all of the following:

  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness
  • Allergic skin reaction
  • Headache
  • Enlarged pupils
  • Liver damage
  • Gastrointestinal issues
  • Hepatitis
  • Impairment of motor reflexes
  • Oculomotor equilibrium disturbance
  • Liver failure
  • Parkinsonism
  • Weight loss
  • Facial puffiness
  • Visual disturbance
  • Kava dermopathy
  • Bloody urine
  • Lymphocytopenia
  • Protein deficiency
  • Chronic rash
  • Lowering of red blood cell count
  • Lowering of blood platelet count

It is worth noting that many of the more severe side effects listed above typically occur only after chronic use.

By contrast, kratom has far less documented side effects, most of which include the following:

  • Dizziness
  • Lethargy
  • Headache
  • Stomach upset
  • Constipation
  • Dilated pupils
  • Skin rash
  • Fatigue
  • Agitation
  • Itching
  • Sweating
  • Blurred vision
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Nervousness
  • Sleeplessness
  • Sweating
  • Flushed face
  • Abnormally fast heartbeat
  • Loss of muscle coordination
  • Weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Frequent urination
  • Dark spots on the skin
  • Liver damage
  • Seizure

Some of the more acute side effects listed above typically occur only in cases of chronic use.

BOTTOM LINE

Kava and kratom have their differences, but they also share some amazing qualities and some rather undesirable adverse effects. For those who are thinking about brewing up some kava tea, consider consulting with an expert, someone well-versed in such things. Moderation is key when researching these herbs.

Those who experience side effects from either kava or kratom should seek immediate medical attention. Be safe, be smart and be well.

Bob Freville
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