3.8.3 Kava Kava

Kava Kava #

Binomial / Botanical Name Piper Methysticum
Street Names Kawa; Awa; Waka; Lawena; Sakau; Yaqona; Kava
Major Active Compound Kavalactones
Indigenous Source Vanuatu
Form Powdered Kava Root
RoA Oral
Personal Rating On Shulgin Scale ++*


The use of kava root for social and ceremonial purposes dates back at least 3,000 years. It continues to be used in a social and recreational context across Pacific Polynesia to this day, and in recent years, thanks partly to the Internet, it has been adopted by increasing numbers across the world.

Many claims are made about its effects, particularly with respect to its properties as a relaxant, sedative and euphoriant. It is also sometimes cited as an aid to treat addiction to alcohol. Online, there are whole communities dedicated to this plant, so clearly there is something to it.

I sampled kava kava as a tea some years ago. Although vague, and to some degree lost in the past, I recall a sense of disappointment. I didn’t really get off on it, and recorded it as only a + on my adapted Shulgin scale.

Returning to this recently, it is not hard to understand why I struggled. For new users in particular it appears to be temperamental. Factors such as reverse tolerance (the more often you drink, the less you need), variable break-in thresholds (kavalactone build up periods), and multiple preparations, are all in play.

I also found that a significant number of users stated that the quality of the powder itself was a critical factor. Hence, I purchased from one of the most reputable vendors, GKE (now defunct).

For the root itself, I went for what appeared to be the best bet for the passing user in terms the likelihood of success: Quick Kava Powder. I found a multitude of positive reports on this particular product, most of which recommended a dose of between 3g and 6g.

The most frequently quoted time for this to take effect was half an hour, and for duration, about four or five hours is generally cited.

When it finally arrived on my doormat, I found it to be a very fine powder, with a light earthy smell, but with a hint of that appalling kratom odour, which I absolutely abhor. As a consequence, I worried that this might not be the easiest substance to get down the hatch.

As a common recommendation is to consume this on an empty stomach, I abstained from breakfast. By lunch time I was ready to go.

T+0:00 I weigh 6g of the powder. As some users recommend repeated doses throughout the day, I weigh another 5g for potential later use. [11:35am]

I pour warm water into a glass and sprinkle the powder on to it whilst stirring furiously with a spoon. I slug it down in two large gulps. Job done!

First surprise: it isn’t too bad. Indeed, the taste is decent and nothing like kratom at all. It almost feels cleansing in some way, as though there is an antiseptic edge to it, which lingers in the mouth. Drinking it simply isn’t a problem.

I recall that in Vanuatu and dotted around the world there are kava bars, where users can drink this in a social setting. This no longer seems to be particularly strange. The powder I am using, in fact, is purported to have been made using the same process employed by these.

T+0:15 There are minor changes taking place in terms of my headspace. I do feel a very slight buzz.

Is there any body relaxation? I cannot rule this out, but at this stage the main thrust is driven from the head, and it is gentle and pleasant.

T+0:30 There has been no real change since the 15 minute mark, and it does seem to have settled, with no nausea (which is sometimes reported). I therefore consume the other dose (5g) in the same manner as above.

T+0:45 There is absolutely no doubt that there is a light headiness now, which is mildly relaxing.

Clarity of cognitive function remains, so this isn’t an alcohol type of intoxication. It seems to be much gentler in nature.

It is probably a good idea to point out that I am not stoned, or inebriated, or high, in terms of the effects documented for many of the compounds in this book. I am, however, calm, relaxed and content. It seems to take the edge away from anxieties, whilst not clouding mental lucidity.

T+1:00 As I have not encountered any body load at all, and as this is a benign plant with a rich history of safe use, I decide to measure another dose (6g) to keep this rolling and to see where it goes. I gulp it down as described earlier. I have now consumed 17g in total.

By this point the head buzz is quite solid. I remain functionally unimpaired, and it is interesting that visual acuity and focus seem to be, if anything, enhanced, which is not usually the case for compounds which relax. There is no tiredness or drowsiness whatsoever.

T+1:30 I gulp down another 6g, taking the total to 23g. There is now almost nothing left in my 25g pack.

Erowid cites this as a “Depressant; Intoxicant”, which is broadly how alcohol is sometimes described. I can see the similarity, as I do feel intoxicated. However, the operative word is broadly, as this ride is much more refined and subtle than that of alcohol, and to be blunt, it feels less damaging.

I am at ease and relaxed, both in my head and body. Regarding the latter, it also carries a certain physical numbness.

Walking around the feeling of intoxication is more apparent, but in a positive sense. My head has a warm strangeness about it, but there is no dulling of mind, and perceptually vision remains at least as sharp usual.

From my current perspective, its use as a social replacement for alcohol makes every sense.

This is a pleasant experience, and is much stronger than I anticipated. Whilst I stated earlier that I wasn’t inebriated, I couldn’t possibly argue the same now.

T+2:00 I drink the last 2g, so over the previous 2 hours I have consumed the full pack of 25g.

All anxieties are absent, and the tranquil mood lift continues to flow. I am not surprised in the least that this is so popular.

T+3:00 The experience has now settled a little, and has plateaued at a slightly lower level than earlier. I am still very much under the influence, but the effects have stabilised, remaining enjoyable and anxiolytic in nature.

T+4:00 I am slowly edging down towards base, although the general vibe lingers. As this drifts down, I am starting to feel a little tired and sleepy.

T+5:00 At 4:30pm I retire for a nap, as I often do at this time in the afternoon. I have a peaceful and deep sleep for the best part of an hour, and wake feeling refreshed, and, more or less, back to baseline.

Overall, this took me by surprise, largely because it actually delivered the effects which had been widely claimed, contrary to my earlier experience.

It was a nice relaxing but non-debilitating inebriation, which lasted for the hours I engaged, and tapered down in the background throughout the evening.

A picture I paint in my head is of drinking this in a social setting, instead of alcohol, making those kava bars a very attractive proposition indeed. I felt no ill effects, no hangover, and the ride itself of was positive and pleasing. It was well worth the effort I took to repeat the exercise.

This was a really enjoyable experience, and was an excellent way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

The Pacific island of Vanuatu has introduced legislation to regulate the quality of its kava exports