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Kratom and Kava: What’s the Difference?

If you’re new to kratom and kava, you may be wondering What’s the difference? 

In short, kratom is a traditional medicinal tea made from the leaves of the Mitragyna speciosa tree, while kava is a Fijian ceremonial drink made from the ground roots of the Piper methysticum shrub.

Kava tends to bring about a more relaxed feeling while kratom has both energizing and relaxing qualities, depending on the strain and the amount used.

Here’s a more detailed description of each:

What is Kava?

Kava is a tall evergreen shrub in the pepper family native to the South Pacific Islands. Traditionally, kava has been used as a ceremonial drink, consumed to reach a state of relaxation during rituals and social gatherings. These rituals were believed to strengthen ties among groups, reaffirm status and enhance interaction with spirits.

Kava is typically prepared by mixing crushed kava root with water or coconut milk. Many say kava has a strong “earthy” taste. Kava actually means “bitter” in the Tongan language.

What is Kratom?

Kratom is a tropical evergreen tree native to Thailand and the nearby countries in Southeast Asia. The plant has been consumed for thousands of years in traditional medicine and in social and religious contexts. 

Kratom belongs to the Rubiaceae family, which includes coffee and gardenia plants. 

What are the traditional uses of each?


In the South Pacific Islands, kava has long been used in important ceremonies and social occasions, including weddings, funerals and graduations. Kava is also consumed in village meetings for conflict resolution and in welcoming newcomers. 

Kava is highly valued for its therapeutic qualities as a sedative, muscle relaxant, diuretic, as well as its anti-anxiety and anti-insomnia properties. 

There is some debate as to the exact origin of kava but many experts believe it was first grown in Vanuatu, a South Pacific Ocean nation made up of about 80 islands. Kava from Vanuatu is usually much stronger than kava varieties found in Fiji, Tonga, and Hawaii. 

In traditional kava ceremonies, like the ones in Samoa, people gather in a circle around a large bowl. The leader strains the kava liquid from the bowl into a cup — typically a coconut shell — and then drinks from the cup and claps once. Then the next important person in the group drinks and claps. This continues until everyone has consumed kava.

In Fiji, kava is consumed at all times of day in both public and private settings. The drink is a form of welcome and is used in important socio-political events. 


Kratom has been used for various purposes in Southeast Asia for centuries, including as a household remedy for various ailments, as a recreational drink (primarily among men), and in some Thai villages, it was used as part of religious ceremonies. 

Farmers, fishermen and other manual laborers in Southeast Asia would also chew the fresh or dried leaves to combat fatigue and improve work productivity. The leaves could also be smoked or brewed or steeped into tea.

In traditional use, rural populations would ingest kratom leaves to treat common medical problems, such as diarrhea, fever, cough, anxiety and pain and even used it as a wound poultice. It is still popular in Asian village communities during social gatherings. 

Unlike drug or alcohol users in these villages, kratom users, particularly males, haven’t faced any stigma. This is because kratom is widely accepted in these areas as an aid for hard work to support one’s family. In fact, village kratom users are typically seen as hard-working individuals, while those who consume alcohol, cannabis or tobacco have experienced a certain level of stigma.

How is each used therapeutically?


The active compounds in kava are called kavalactones. These account for 3-20% 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 — are believed 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.

Kava may help with insomnia, often with fewer side effects than pharmaceutical drugs or over-the-counter sleep enhancers. It is believed that a specific type of kavalactone, called kevain, may be behind kava’s sedative effect.

In a pilot study of 24 patients struggling with stress-induced insomnia , researchers looked at the effectiveness of kava and valerian separately. Stress was measured in three areas: social, personal and life events. Insomnia was measured in three areas also: time to fall asleep, hours slept and waking mood. 

According to the findings, total stress severity was significantly relieved by both compounds individually, with no significant differences between them. There was also improvement with the combination, significantly in the case of insomnia.

“These results are considered to be extremely promising but further studies may be required to determine the relative roles of the two compounds for such indications,” write the authors.

Many people report that kava helps with anxiety. 

Research is promising in this area. In a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study, researchers looked at the effectiveness of kava on patients with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). A total of 75 participants were enrolled in a 6-week trial of a kava extract versus placebo. The findings revealed a significant reduction in anxiety for the kava group compared with the placebo group. 


Kratom contains at least 37 different alkaloids, a class of naturally-occurring compounds that contain primarily nitrogen atoms. However, the two main psychoactive components in kratom that are responsible for its effects are called mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine (7-OHMG). 

Both of these active components are found only in Mitragyna speciosa, but other analogues have been identified, including speciogynine, mitraphylline, paynantheine, and speciociliatine.

As the kratom plant matures, different levels of alkaloids build within the leaves which ultimately impacts the kratom’s overall effects. The particular harvesting and drying process can also affect the alkaloids. For example, sun exposure levels can impact the final color and alkaloid content. 

The vein color is an indicator of the overall effects of the kratom tea, but even two batches of the same vein can differ in color. This is because it is organically processed and never artificially colored.

  • White vein kratom, often relatively pale or yellowish in color, is derived from young leaves and is typically linked to more stimulating and energizing effects. 
  • Green vein kratom, which tends to come in a more vibrant green color, is derived from middle-aged leaves and is associated with a more balanced, euphoric effect. 
  • Red vein kratom, a darker reddish-brown color, is made from the most mature leaves and is typically linked to more relaxing effects. 


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