The Key Differences Between Kava and Kratom

June 09, 2020 Articles, Kava, Kratom Alkaloids, Kratom Capsules, Kratom Products, Kratom Research, Kratom Shots, Kratom Strains, Kratom Tea, Reviews, Supplements

After running into an old friend who’s become a self-proclaimed fitness freak, I realized just how ill-informed the average person is when it comes to kratom. After exchanging the usual pleasantries, my old pal asked me how the writing was going.

“Good,” I told him. “I get to write about something I’m actually passionate about, which makes all the difference in the world.”

“What is it you’re writing?” he asked.

“Kratom,” I told him.

To which he replied, “Oh yeah, I just tried some ayahuasca a couple weeks ago. Can’t say it was for me, I couldn’t take the nausea. Maybe I didn’t use it right.”

After explaining the difference between the psychotropic Amazonian chakruna plant (ayahuasca) and the more mildly invigorating Ayurvedic herb (Mitragyna speciosa or kratom), I could see that he was still confused.

He nodded with some hesitation and said, “That’s the stuff they drink at kava bars, right?”

“Sometimes,” I said.

This only served to confuse him more. He began to stare off distantly and asked the question that I knew was coming: “So is kava just another name for kratom?”

These kind of exchanges are all too common and much of it has to do with the lack of mainstream information regarding these amazing herbal substances. In the interest of clarifying things for the casual consumer, I’ve compiled the following guide to kava vs kratom.

As I’m sure you can well imagine, there are many ways in which these two compounds mimic each other, but for every similarity there are an equal number of disparities.


Like kratom, kava comes from the South Pacific where it is used in traditional Southeast Asian ceremonies. Kava AKA Kava Kava is a regional folk medicine which is derived from the roots of Piper methysticum, a plant from the western Pacific islands.

The name kava comes from the Marquesan tongue and roughly translates as “bitter.” Other common names for kava include “awa,” “sakau” and “malok.”

The Piper methysticum herb hails from the pepper family of plants and as such, it is quite bracing. Some have even suggested that kava has more of a potential for nausea and gagging than the harshest kratom powder.

Kava has been used by the indigenous population of the South Pacific in social rituals, religious sacraments and drug trials. As a depressant substance, kava reduces the speed at which messages read the body and brain.

This compound is commercially available in a variety of forms including drink, extract and supplement. The kava brew is the most widespread form with kava lounges cropping up across the United States.

Florida has become a bit of an ethnobotanical hub, of late; there are more than 20 kava bars in St Petersburg alone. Consequently, night life has changed dramatically in the Sunshine State. Rather than boozing it up at your typical dance hall, most Floridians between the ages of 21 and 40 prefer to chill out in their favorite kava lounge where conversation comes easy and the vibes are almost always positive.

As my fitness freak friend accurately mentioned, a lot of kava bars offer kratom shots or kratom drinks to their patrons. It’s gotten to the point where the two are virtually interchangeable in the public consciousness.


Like I said at the start of this thing, there are a multitude of similarities between these two incredible substances. Like kratom, kava kava has a rich cultural history as a folk medicine.

Although the FDA has not approved either of these substances for medicinal use, the natives of Southeast Asia regard them both as natural remedies. In the case of kava, it has been used to relieve pain and to relax muscles.

Kava Kava is powered by kavapyrones (more on this later), a class of lacone compounds which are thought to possess anxiolytic and sedative properties.

Similarly, kratom draws its efficacy from its inherent alkaloids which include mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine. Mitragynine is an indole alkaloid that is believed to be potentially sedating while 7-hydroxymitragynine is a terpenoid indole alkaloid with exhilarating effects.

Both of these substances have been used by individuals suffering from anxiety disorders, work-related stress, depression and a lack of energy. Despite their lack of classification by the FDA, they are beloved by many Americans who insist that they are useful as a home remedy.

Kava root extract’s natural kavapyrones have a mechanism of action that is somewhat akin to alcohol’s effect on the brain. The purported benefits of this substance may include feelings of calm, relaxation and overall well being. Likewise, kratom is often said to be calming and restorative in nature.

As with kava, kratom is notorious for having an adverse impact on liver function. At certain dosages, kratom may lead to kidney and liver damage, and long-term use is associated with liver failure. Many have urged users to only take kava kava under medical supervision, so that liver function can be regularly monitored.

On a more positive and constructive tip, both of these compounds have been brewed by those afflicted with insomnia or night shift sleep disorder. Additionally, neither is classified as a dietary supplement in the United States, but users have taken each of them when attempting to suppress appetite.


Kava has been used traditionally implemented as a sedative and preventative measure in the treatment of patients with seizures. By contrast, kratom has not been studied for this purpose and is not accepted as a treatment of any kind by the medical establishment.

As a matter of fact, some believe that kratom may have contributed to seizures in some cases involving patients with preexisting health conditions. Consequently, the medical establishment urges users to avoid kratom consumption, especially at higher dosages.

Whereas kava is often used to treat or prevent headaches and migraines, kratom use is purported to be responsible for causing headaches. These headaches may be a symptom of kratom hangover and typically occur after taking large dosages (6 grams or more).

Some studies have explored kava’s potential as a drug for managing psychosis. Conversely, kratom tea has been linked to certain forms of psychosis; higher dosages of kratom may lead to confusion, agitation, hallucination and more.

The locals of the South Pacific have brewed kava to treat upper respiratory tract infections (URIs). It would be easy to see why people might use kratom for this same application. After all, its alkaloid profile contains compounds which may be antibacterial, antitussive and antimicrobial in nature. Unfortunately, there is insufficient scientific evidence to support kratom’s efficacy in this area.


Some forms of kava kava are significantly heady in their effects, inducing a clean energy boost that is appreciated by athletes and anyone coping with work-related fatigue. Like kratom, it may serve users well if they plan to engage in some form of physical exertion.

As with Mitragyna speciosa, the Piper plant is thought to be efficacious in the area of sociability. By reducing inhibitions and stimulating the mind, kava root extract makes users more talkative and extroverted.


There really is no comparison when it comes to the potency of these two herbs. The pharmacology of kava kava is dependent upon kavalactones which do not affect mu-opioid receptors in the way that kratom’s alkaloids do.

Whereas kratom can lead to tolerance, addiction, abuse and overdose, kava is considered to be safe and free of any potential for addiction. Unlike kratom, kava root extract does not have any known withdrawal symptoms.


Kratom is an Ayurvedic herb which is derived from Mitragyna speciosa, an evergreen tree from the coffee family of plants. Indigenous to Southeast Asia, kratom is regarded as a folk medicine by the locals who have chewed its leaves for hundreds of years.

In the Western world, kratom capsules have become a popular alternative to traditional supplements. It is frequently brewed as kratom tea by those seeking tranquility, focus, motivation and restorative sleep.

Some kratom strains are regarded as daytime strains due to their invigorating and inspirational qualities while others are considered nighttime strains due to their more lethargic and serene attributes.

Common regional names for kratom include “kakuam,” “kademba” and “biak-biak” (Malay). The latter translates as, “Be careful.” This is understandable given the oft-overwhelming aroma of certain kratom strains, particularly Super Green Malaysian and Red Vein Sumatran.

The effects of kratom may include any of the following:

  • Reduced stress
  • Suppressed appetite
  • Sharpened focus
  • Mild exhilaration
  • Moderate invigoration
  • Motivation
  • Attentiveness
  • Restful sleep
  • General well being


There are six major kavalactones which comprise kava’s chemical profile. They are as follows:

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

These lactone compounds have been found to be behind kava’s substantial potency. Together with the kava shrub’s many flavonoids, they work in concert to elicit calming effects on those who ingest kava root extract.


The Mitragyna speciosa herb contains no fewer than 25 unique alkaloids. They include all of the following:

  • Ajmalicine (Raubasine)
  • Akuammigine
  • Ciliaphylline
  • Corynantheidine
  • Corynoxeine
  • Corynoxine A and B
  • Epicatechin
  • 9-hydroxycorynantheidine
  • 7-hydroxymitragynine
  • Isomitrayphylline
  • Isomitrafoline
  • Mitraciliatine
  • Mitragynine
  • Mitraphylline
  • Paynantheine
  • Rhynchophylline
  • Speciofoline
  • Stipulatine
  • Tetrahydroalstonine


  • Calming
  • Energizing
  • Effective in the prevention of seizures
  • May relieve depression
  • Reduces anxiety
  • Relieves migraines
  • Low to no risk of addiction


  • May be harmful to healthy liver function
  • Causes nausea in some persons
  • May cause dizziness or drowsiness
  • Commonly associated with stomach pain


  • Calm
  • Increased sociability
  • Sharpened focus
  • Natural invigoration
  • Mild exhilaration
  • Appetite suppression
  • Restorative sleep


  • May cause headaches
  • May be harmful to healthy liver function
  • Leads to dilated pupils
  • Profuse sweating
  • Loss of appetite
  • Stomach cramps
  • Constipation or diarrhea
  • May lead to vomiting
  • May lead to tolerance or addiction


At the end of the day, both of these substances are alike in more ways than not and both may be taken relatively safely when used in moderation. Just be sure to consult with your physician before using them. Be safe, be smart and be well.

Bob Freville
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