If you’re hoping to stay sober this holiday season, kava may be exactly what you’re looking for. Kava is often used as a substitute for alcohol. Not only is it a social drink, but similar to alcohol, kava is believed to have an effect on the GABA receptors (which play a role in that relaxed feeling).
The negative effects of alcohol are well-known and dangerous. But with kava, there is no hangover and no cloudy judgment. Kava is very different from alcohol. It’s a natural botanical made from the crushed root of a pepper plant that grows in the South Pacific.
Interest in plant medicine has grown exponentially in the last decade, as people are discovering the health benefits of traditional herbs.
As obesity and chronic health conditions continue to climb in the U.S., many people are choosing a healthier way of living. Along with exercise and eating a holistic diet, many have chosen to give up alcohol and other substances that can either pack on the pounds or make you feel terrible the next day.
But it’s no secret that it can be hard to give up that nightly drink or lifestyle. This is where kava can fit nicely into a sober way of living. Whether you’re looking for something to help you wind down at the end of the day, or help you reduce anxiety, kava could be your go-to instead of alcohol.
Kava as an alcohol replacement
In 2019, 25.8% of U.S. adults reported binge drinking within the past month, and 6.3% reported heavy alcohol use within the past month. In addition, 14.5 million people aged 12 and older had alcohol use disorder (AUD) — 9 million men and 5.5 million women.
Each day, about 28 people in the U.S. die in drunk-driving accidents. This is one person every 52 minutes. We definitely need a better way to relax.
Kava offers a lot of the benefits of alcohol without the negative effects. It reduces anxiety and helps you wind down after a stressful day but without the risk of getting drunk. Although you can feel “muddy” after drinking a large amount of kava, it is nothing like being drunk, and your thinking processes remain intact.
How will kava make you feel?
When a person is “muddy,” they might feel extremely relaxed, slightly numb and a little tingly. Most say it is an enjoyable feeling.
Here are a few classic quotes from various experts:
- Kava produces “‘a pleasant, warm, and cheerful, but lazy feeling, [making people] sociable, though not hilarious or loquacious…” Hocart, AM (1929) Lau Islands, Fiji
- Professor Peter D’Abbs (1995) from the Darwin School of Medicine, confirms that consuming kava will “not lead to violent behavior” as it does with alcohol use, and it does not “befuddle the mind and can be used to stimulate clear-headed discussion.”
- “Reason and consciousness remain unaffected.” Aronson, JK (2008) Meyler’s Side Effects of Herbal Medicines.
- Whereas alcohol has the ability for some drinkers to “release aggressive impulses; if anything kava inhibits or disassociates them. You cannot hate with kava in you.” Lemert, EM (1967) “Secular use of kava in Tonga.” Quarterly Journal of Studies on Alcohol.
- Researchers who studied kava and mental clarity found that kava exerts “no impairment in cognitive or saccade function in individuals who were currently heavy kava users, nor was there any impairment in individuals who had been heavy kava users in the past but had abstained for longer than six months.”
Kava relieves anxiety
Many kava drinkers say they drink it for the anti-anxiety effects. In a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study, researchers evaluated the effectiveness of kava on people living with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). GAD is a common debilitating mental health disorder that often affects people long term.
A total of 75 participants were enrolled in a 6-week trial of a kava extract versus placebo. The findings show a significant reduction in anxiety for the kava group compared with the placebo group.
How does kava work?
The active compounds in kava are called kavalactones. These make up anywhere from 3 to 20% of the root’s dry weight. So far, 18 different kavalactones have been isolated and identified. However, six of them — kavain, dihydrokavain, methysticin, dihydromethysticin, yangonin, and desmethoxyyangonin — have been found to be responsible for about 96% of the plant’s pharmacological activity.
Research has shown that kavalactones may help reduce anxiety and pain and improve insomnia. Kavalactones appear to work by impacting the brain’s neurotransmitters, primarily GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid), which decreases nerve activity.
How does kava taste?
Many people say that kava has a strong “earthy” taste. Kava actually means “bitter” in the Tongan language. As a general rule, people don’t drink it for the taste — but for the effects. You can always add a little bit of strawberry milk to mask the taste.
Preparing Kava at Home
- Ground kava root.
- A strainer bag (A muslin bag, cheesecloth, or even an old T-shirt)
- Warm to hot water (tap hot is perfect)
- Bowl to prepare the kava in.
Directions: Traditional kava preparation involves steeping similar to how you would brew tea. First, measure out the right amount of kava root — 2-4 tablespoons per serving — and put it in your strainer bag. Tie up the bag and place it in your bowl. Measure out 8-12 ounces of hot water per serving, depending on how strong you want your kava. Next, pour the hot water directly into the bag with the kava powder. Steep for 5-10 minutes.
Finally, knead and squeeze the kava root in the bag, pushing the water out into the bowl. Make sure no kava powder escapes from the bag. After 5-10 minutes of kneading, wring the straining bag tight to remove all liquid. The kava should look similar to chocolate milk.
What are the side effects of kava?
As with any substance, overdoing kava can lead to problems. Extensive long-term use can result in dry scaly skin in some people. Some side effects of kava may include mouth numbness (common), drowsiness, headache and indigestion. It is highly recommended that alcohol use be avoided when consuming kava.