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Kava vs. Kratom: An Analysis

June 01, 2021

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Kava vs. Kratom: An Analysis

Who remembers Pokémon Go? Perhaps the better question is: Who walked around town, dripping in sweat, intently searching for Pikachu, Jirachi, or Charizard? If you are extra lucky, you have had the privilege of following your children around to collect every measly point known to high-pitched-cartoon-voice-loving boys across America.

If you are one of the fortunate, sweat-covered followers, then you probably don’t know the difference between Bulbasaur and Ivysaur or Charmander and Charmeleon. But make no mistake, people. There is a difference. 

It takes time to sort your cards and read through page after page of Pokémon books. (Yes. There are books. Sooo many books.) Whatever it takes to hone your Pokémon skills into a craft, right? Whatever it takes to know every tiny detail that differentiates a Pidgey from a Pidgeotto … Education is key.

While education about paper cards may not be life or death, it can definitely be the difference between making money from your cards or losing money on your cards. A big difference. You need to know exactly what you’re getting yourself into before diving in head first.

The same is true with things we put in our bodies. As Americans, we can sometimes find ourselves swept up into a new fad originating exotic places. We try oils and extracts, juices and powders … and quite often we do it without educating ourselves first.

Don’t do that. 

Kava and kratom are two completely natural elements that are known throughout many cultures. As anxiety and other ailments grow in the world, more people are trying to find alternative ways to treat them. Kava and kratom are two such things that people turn to.

But ... We sure hope people educate themselves before they buy. We have good news. You are in luck because that’s what we’re going to do. The research on kava and kratom is spelled out for you. So keep reading and learn for yourself!

Kava

The origin of the kava craze is about more than just a beverage. What many do not know is that kava comes from a plant—piper methysticum which means intoxicating pepper. Its linguistic origin comes from the Tongan word ‘awa’—which translates to “bitter.”

Kava is consumed socially in its countries and regions of origin, comparable to alcohol, coffee, and tea in the U.S. It is also often used in ceremonious practices and as a traditional herbal medicine. Its spread to the West has marked the realization of its sedative, calming properties. 

The active ingredients found in kava are called kavalactones. In the West, kava bars and restaurants promoting the infusion of the plant into their products are relatively popular and gaining traction. 

Preparation and Uses

The kava culture in the Polynesian and Pacific region is steeped in its original uses, not only for its sedative properties but also for its ceremonious uses. There are several simple methods used to prepare kava.

The first method of preparation is grinding it with mortar and pestle fashioned from the grinder’s hand and the coral against which it is ground. This particular method is traditionally performed in the Pacific region. 

Kava rituals are popular and culturally ingrained in the people of the Pacific—cultures that deeply respect the plant as sacred and beneficial to the human system. Kava is often gifted in various milestone rituals of a religious connotation. 

That being said, Christian missionaries to the various islands of the Pacific, upon which kava is regularly used, have frowned upon not only its usage in general but also its preparation and spiritual connotations. Missionaries have seen the practice of its preparation as unhygienic. 

Kava bars have seen a massive boom in recent years. These bars are especially common outside of the Pacific region where kava infused in food and drink has gained traction and popularity. Oftentimes, the displeasure amassed with the concept of kava bars and restaurants is that these institutions tend to disrespect and dilute the cultural significance that has been so heavily preserved in their places of origin.

In other words, kava is held sacred in its indigenous regions and using it strictly for social purposes is basically degrading in their minds. 

Matt Masifilo, a former NFL player who is half-Tongan, says that “Americans are starting to discover the wonderful aspects of our culture. The best thing about kava is the communal aspect, the gathering, the talanoa, the discussion, the relaxed feeling of community that kava brings.” Masifilo would, in his time with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, use kava to relieve injury-related pains.

Other methods include simply chewing it or moistening it, so that the root and bark is easier to grind. That said, the bark does produce its own moisture a lot of the time, so only a bit of water to soften it is necessary.

The extract that seeps from the bark is a kavalactone. The extract is mixed with other products, most notably buttermilk and starches, so that it isn’t consumed on its own. It’s often used as an ingredient more than it is a foundational product. The most effective way to gain all of the sedative properties that kava has to offer is by simply chewing it. 

Kava properties are much more potent when chewed because the direct ingestion of it allows the user to reap the finest, most beneficial particles of the plant more directly. It is often culturally common to enjoy a meal or a drink once the kava itself has been consumed because the psychoactive properties of the plant do require a bit of time to settle into one’s system and actually begin to work.

All that to say, grabbing a bit of kava and chewing it will give you the best results. It’s not gum. There will be no bubbles blown. You will not have icy breath and be thrown into a wild kissing frenzy. It’s more like chewing on roots and leaves.

Of course, you could just purchase Ü Relax and take the best Noble Kava in a quicker, easier and tastier way!

 

Effects and Precautions

In terms of its effects, it all boils down to not only the specific strain of kava consumed but also the way it is prepared. Noble kava (or really, those strains of kava that are widely seen as consumable en masse) is seen as the safest form of kava consumption, the most reputable, and the most pure. This is the ONLY Kava we use in Ü Relax.

Kratom

Kratom is a plant that is similar to kava, but before discussing differences or similarities, let’s take a look at what it is on its own. For one thing, kratom comes from a different region of the Eastern hemisphere and is a totally different plant than kava. Kratom is an evergreen tree that is similar to the coffee plant. It is found growing natively in Southeastern Asia—more specifically in Thailand and Indonesia, as well as the surrounding areas. 

Kratom is the most widely used drug in Thailand. It is known for having effects similar to those associated with opioid products. Research surrounding the plant’s effects, usage, and safety tend to be few and far between, and often not well fleshed out in research. As a result, more precaution exists around the usage of the plant. 

Origins and Uses

Kratom is used as a form of herbal medicine (traditional medicinal care stemming from the usage of plants in various consumed forms). It has been used this way since somewhere around the nineteenth century. The leaves are mostly chewed to exorcise its effects, which are suspected to include the relief of pain in the muscles and joints, as well as to increase sexual libido. 

The kratom leaves have also been found to assist in curing gastrointestinal issues, such as infections located in the stomach and intestines, as well as slowing diarrhea. Got a lil tummy trouble when you’re lost in the woods somewhere in Thailand? Just grab a few kratom leaves and get to chewing. 

It is also used medicinally as a numbing agent and for healing wounds, gashes, and lacerations. Kratom doesn’t stop there. It has also been found helpful when curing opioid addictions, although studies on this tend to be slim. 

When ingested, kratom’s effects tend to settle within five to ten minutes and peak around the two to three hour mark, depending on the dosage. Kratom is often mixed with other agents that have similar reactive properties—including coffee, sodas, and ice. Such mixes have gained popularity among youth in Thailand where it goes by recreational names. 

Kratom tends to have a negative reputation, especially when directed towards its users. While the Thai population specifically tends to frown upon regular consumers of the plant, they are not regarded in such a negative light as those who use narcotic drugs and other drugs that have heavier effects.

In 2019, the American Poison Control Center stated that kratom use had not only increased, but that it had done so fifty-two-fold in the six year period from 2011 to 2017. The largest fraction of the population exposed to its effects were mostly men, and those who had experienced adverse effects required an admission to local hospitals and health centers.

The hospital, people. They were sent to the hospital. That is a big deal.

Further, a fraction of the aforementioned men admitted to hospitals were found to have needed not only admission and care at the hospital, but long-term hospital care as well due to kratom’s effects being so severe on their systems. They required long-term treatment for medical issues with which the kratom’s adverse effects mingled.  

Holy smokes. This isn’t a few hours in the ER. It isn’t even an overnight visit to the hospital. We’re talking long-term, ongoing treatment. Woah. 

Precautions

Kratom has been found to have specific benefits according to users, but scientific studies tend to tell a bit of a different story when it comes to its adverse effects. In essence, the bad outweighs the good. The FDA put out an advisory in 2019 regarding the drug, stating that its side effects could have a negative weight on public health. 

For all of its opiate-esque effects and sedative properties, it tends to cause its users to have an increase in appetite, an uptick in insomnia and other sleep related issues, as well as weight loss. Hyperpigmentation (darkness in specific areas of the skin; overconcentration of melanin) is also a side effect, especially in those of Asian origin or with darker skin complexions. 

When used, kratom tends to dilate and contract the pupils (at a normal dose level and consistent rate of ingestion). What’s more, users often find their faces reddening and their cheeks beginning to blush and warm. It has similar side effects to those of opioids—including dizziness, profuse sweating, headaches, and constipation. 

Wowww. Kratom sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? 

Kratom used for prolonged periods of time in increasingly large doses can cause a certain dependence on the plant and its opioid-like effects as well. Withdrawal symptoms also tend to be very heavy and difficult to navigate—these include those we just mentioned, as well as a sharp plunge in sexual drive, hot flashes, and a proneness to depression, anxiety, and overall sadness, and dejection. 

Yep. A highway to what feels like gut rot and menopause on steroids can be all yours with regular use of kratom.

Two deaths were reported in 2019 by the American Poison Control Center as a direct result of kratom usage, however, nine more were reported as deaths that involved the concurrent usage of kratom in combination with other substances. The other substances involved tended to include opioids and fentanyl. 

It is possible to overdose on kratom, and its symptoms do resemble those associated with opioid overdoses. Thus, they are similarly treated, most often with naloxone, a medication that counteracts the slowed and reduced impulse to breathe.

Are you afraid of kratom yet? You probably should be. It will literally take your breath away.

 

Kava vs. Kratom: Comparison and Contrast

 

Similarities Explained

Kava and kratom do have similar appearances, effects, and are often sold together in bars in the West. They’re similar products, sure, but they do have differences that users should familiarize themselves with before considering the usage of either. This is a case of East vs. West.

 

Differences Explained

 

Culture

As we stated, they come from two different places: kava from the Western Pacific region, kratom from the Southeast Asia region. Both have culturally significant uses, but the reasons behind their consumption and usage differ. Kava is used in ceremonial practices, whereas kratom is used for pain relief and for its sedative properties. 

Pharmacology of Kava and Kratom

Kratom itself is not an opiate, but its effects surely resemble those of such a group of drugs—and the risk of addiction still remains. Alkaloids found in kratom tend to produce the side effects associated with opioids, whereas kava tends to not entirely have such an effect. 

Kratom is an addictive substance, whereas generally, kava is not—the latter lacks the compounds that cause its users to become physiologically hooked upon it. Kratom is far less researched, in all aspects. Kava, however, has an expanding body of scientific literature surrounding it.

Kavalactones are far, far more researched, and also do not pose the same risks that the opioid-esque reactants found in kratom do. The active ingredients and associated reactions have more substance, scientifically speaking, behind the understanding of them and their usage. 

Kava is considered a safe herbal product for its users and is generally gaining traction toward acceptance.

Legality of Kava and Kratom

Kava is legal across the United States, but kratom is currently illegal in seven states: Colorado, Arkansas, Alabama, Tennessee, Wisconsin, Indiana, and Vermont. This does not include specific regions of Florida and California that have banned the substance.

There is an ongoing and uphill push for the ban of kratom and its products in the United States, so there is certainly legal tension regarding the plant and its usage within the U.S. and the world over. It has been outlawed in Thailand since the early 1940s. This was mainly due to the Thai government taking issue with the opium industry and how it affected the Thai economy, but recent outcries heralding the hope that kratom will one day find itself decriminalized are abundant. 

Kratom has been linked to a large fraction of Thailand’s crimes—and made up five percent of drug-related crime. It also sees prohibition in Malaysia—and the punishment for possession and use includes lengthy prison time, in some cases, the maximum possible amount of time.

Are you following? Kratom can land you in the hospital … or prison. Mmm hmm. 

How Kava & Kratom Affect the Body 

Kava and kratom rely on different internal mechanisms and functions to produce their effects. Kava is largely better for all things anxiety related, as well as mood disorders. It is also purported to have mood-enhancing effects, as well as causing an uptick in creativity and imaginative qualities. Kratom is mainly supposed to be used for pain relief.

In small doses, kratom tends to stimulate far more than kava does. Many people even go so far as to mix the two, which is fine in small quantities and when one is well-informed of the effects of both on their own and when mixed. 

Kava’s receptors are GABA-related, which is the same mechanism that certain drugs operate under to provide their effects, but kava tends to be less of an addictive substance due to its multiple effects. Kratom, however, operates under opioid receptors—which is how addictive drugs also provide their effects.

It’s important to understand how addiction works. Substances to which we are not accustomed make their home in the body in such a way that we begin to tolerate not only them, but their effects. When we stop the intake of any substance, our body must relearn what it is like to live without something in the same way it had to develop a tolerance to it. 

With kava and kratom, withdrawal does exist (kratom is more likely to present heavier withdrawal symptoms and likelihood for addiction) and it does show its signs, albeit in a lesser manner than, say, pharmaceutical drugs—which target and tackle only a single effect on the body at one time. 

The effects that are common with pharmaceutical drugs on the market today are far, far more than any herbal treatments, but it is still important to exercise caution and be wise about usage. Neither kava nor kratom are excessively addictive, but the effects do remain and the possibility is always there. 

 

Final Thoughts

Like with any popular product that affects our bodies, it is important to be well-informed and to have a complete comprehension of what it is made of, what it does, what its long-term effects are, and how it can either benefit or negatively impact you, your system, and those around you.

Ü Calming Co. will never use any Kratom in our products and will only ever use the highest grade Noble Kava.