Kava comes from the roots of Piper methysticum, a plant that is a member of the pepper family. It’s a traditional drink in many Polynesian cultures. It’s a social drink that could be seen as a South Pacific version of alcohol.
Unlike alcohol, however, there’s no negative cognitive impact. In fact, many people report their mind feels more alert after taking kava.
Dr. Jerome Sarris, Senior Research Fellow at the University of Melbourne, talks to us about why you should take kava, what’s going on in your brain, and a surprising benefit.
The Benefits of Kava
One of the major therapeutic uses of kava is as a treatment for generalized anxiety disorder. A large percentage of people with anxiety will experience reduced anxiety after taking kava.
If you’re not struggling with anxiety, kava boosts your mood above baseline. You’ll feel more relaxed, content, and loquacious. Dr. Sarris says it’s generally a very pleasant experience.
These effects sound a lot like those of alcohol, but there’s an important difference: kava doesn’t negatively affect cognitive ability, unlike alcohol.
Kava also has an analgesic effect, relieving pain and relaxing muscles.
And there’s a final, slightly salacious benefit — studies indicate that kava seems to increase women’s sex drive. Of course, as Dr. Sarris points out, this is a common sense finding. If you’re feeling anxious and stress, no matter your gender, your sex drive is going to plummet. If you can reduce anxiety, you’re more likely to feel “in the mood.”
How Kava Works
Coming from a plant, kava contains a huge number of substances. The major active compounds you should know about are the kavalactones. Kavain seems to particularly responsible for the analgesic properties of kava.
What’s happening in your brain? Kava is a reuptake inhibit of noradrenaline (also known as norepinephrine) in the prefrontal cortex. That’s why it doesn’t impede cognition, and you actually feel more alert and “buzzy” mentally.
It also has a strong gabaergic effect, which is responsible for making users feel more relaxed and decreasing anxiety.
How to Take Kava
There are two ways to take kava: in a pill or in a drink. Most people taking kava for therapeutic purposes take it as a pill, since the drink tends to be very bitter.
Dr. Sarris recommend taking 60-120mg of kavalactones twice a day. You can take a higher one-off dose as a pain killer, but you should not take more than 250mg kavalactones per day.
Who Should Not Take Kava?
Kava is generally very safe. Unlike substances like alcohol, kava has no physical addiction potential, since it has no dopaminergic effects. That’s not to say that psychological addiction isn’t possible, however.
Most people should be able to try kava and see if they like the effects. However, some people should avoid kava. Don’t take kava if:
- You have severe depression
- You’re taking alcohol or benzodiazepine at the same time
- You have pre-existing liver issues
You may have heard about potential liver damage caused by kava. We still don’t know why kava may cause liver damage. The good news is that only a handful of people who take kava will develop liver damage. It could be due to poor quality kava or some genetic predisposition.
Whatever the reason, to be on the safe side, avoid kava if you have any problems with your liver.
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Plant-based ceremonial drink kava
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The audience interaction section
What is kava?
Intro to Dr. Jerome Sarris
How kava is used
Kava versus and antidepressants and psychological techniques
Is liver damage a worry?
Kava’s mechanism of action
Why would someone want to take kava in pill form rather than in drink form?
How well-known is kava?
Who should and shouldn’t use kava?
Kava versus alcohol
Anxiety levels and kava use
Increase in female sex drive
Dr Sarris’ current research
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