For years, chamomile tea has been a light sleeper’s staple. It’s warm and floral in taste, with a mild soothing effects that can help you drift off a little faster than usual.
Then there’s kava.
Kava is like chamomile on steroids. This muddy-tasting little root comes from the Pacific Islands, where people have used it for centuries as everything from a pain reliever to a ceremonial drink. A potent anxiety reliever, kava offers a non-alcoholic way to wind down at the end of the day, especially if you’re working late or you have trouble falling asleep.
The secret lies in kavalactones, the psychoactive parts of the kava plant. The kavalactones in a cup of kava tea, or a few drops of kava extract, can put you into a rare state of relaxed focus. Here are a few ways you can use them to your advantage.
Calm and alert
Anxious? Kava can help you relax without dulling your mental edge. A Cochrane Review of kava looked at 11 double-blind, placebo-controlled studies with a total of 645 participants. It found that kava significantly relieves anxiety, with mild to no side effects .
Several studies have found that kava extract is comparable to antidepressants and benzodiazepines (Xanax and Valium, for example) for improving social and general anxiety disorders [2,3]. Participants who took it daily for up to 24 weeks showed none of the side effects or addiction you can get from pharmaceuticals.
Perhaps the best part of kava is that it doesn’t impact mental clarity. A cup of kava tea will make you feel pleasantly relaxed, similar to the way a glass of wine might, but you’ll be perfectly sharp mentally. Even heavy and long-term kava users show no decrease in cognitive function .
Kava can help you sleep, too. Non-human studies have found that it influences GABA  and serotonin , two key neurotransmitters for helping you wind down. Kava decreases stress and relaxes your muscles, making it easier to fall asleep. It also produces a mild, pleasant euphoria – but again, not enough euphoria to make it addictive.
Try taking kava an hour before bed. Kava tea is a good option for sleep, as tea is relaxing in and of itself. This brand is in most grocery stores and tastes better than straight kava root, although it’s not very strong. You can steep two or three teabags at once for a more potent dose.
Beat sore muscles and pain with a kava rub
You may feel it numb your mouth when you drink it. That’s thanks to dihydrokavain and dihydromethysticin, two natural pain relievers in the kava plant . These compounds relieve pain and muscle spasms when you drink them, and they also make for a great muscle rub.
You can buy kava paste, mix it with a carrier oil that’s good for your skin (XCT Oil is a good option), and rub it on sore muscles, an aching back, etc. The kavalactones will help with pain.
Drink kava instead of alcohol
The combination of social relaxation and mental clarity makes kava an excellent alternative to drinking. In fact, kava bars are a social staple of many Pacific islands, and they’ve been popping up in the U.S. too.
Kava loosens you up socially without the negative effects of drinking. It’s a good way to keep up with the party and wake up feeling good the next morning. Be wary of combining kava and alcohol – the two enhance each other in rodents [8,9].
Downsides to kava?
There are two possible drawbacks to kava. The first one is a hotly debated topic: kava’s effect on your liver.
In 2001, researchers reported that, in rare cases and in long-time heavy users, kava can cause liver toxicity . The FDA and CDC cited case studies and warned people with liver disease about taking kava, and several European countries made kava a controlled substance [10,11].
However, several studies in the last 5 years have challenged the idea that kava is toxic to your liver.
One review found that the people who got liver toxicity were taking other drugs and medications that are rough on the liver .
The New Zealand government concluded that kava is safe both short- and long-term .
The German government reversed its ban on kava after researchers concluded that the liver toxicity was the result of a kava allergy that affects roughly one in 100 million people [12,14].
So for the vast majority of people, kava should be fine.
How to take kava
The second issue with kava is taste. It’s like eating grainy mud.
Pre-made kava teas do a good job of disguising the taste but they’re often not particularly strong. If you want the powerful stuff, kava extract is the way to go. Most research uses kava extract. It’s strong and easy to take… but it may not have the full range of kavalactones that you’d get from kava paste or whole root.
Kava root and kava paste have horrible taste and consistency, but plenty of kavalactones. You can chew/swallow them or mix them in hot water and strain them to make tea. The trouble with them is that, like many tropical crops, including coffee, they’re at risk for mycotoxin contamination.
Tea is a good introduction to kava, and extract is an excellent option if you want something stronger with minimal toxin risk. And if you do try kava, why not make it Bulletproof by adding Brain Octane Oil. It will speed absorption of the psychoactive kavalactones.
In any case, get biohacking now. See what works best for you and talk about your experience in the comments. Thanks for reading and have a great week.
P.S. Strange but True
British explorer James Cook documented the first European use of kava in the 1770s, calling it an “intoxicating pepper.” (It comes from the pepper family and has the scientific name, Piper methysticum.)
According to botanists, how you prepare kava makes a huge difference to its effects.
This report comes from Erica Kipp, phytochemist for the New York Botanical Garden:
“Kava is mainly processed in two ways. One method is to chew the root and rhizome fragments, soak the masticated roots in cold water or coconut milk, and then filter the resulting liquid. A few hours after filtration, the frothy beverage is ready to be consumed. The second method of kava processing is to macerate the root and rhizome pieces in cold water or coconut milk and then filter the substance just before drinking it. The rootstock prepared by the chewing method, enhanced perhaps by salivary enzymes, has a narcotic effect unequaled in the macerated preparation. In small quantities, masticated kava can induce a state of euphoria and increased friendliness. Despite these tranquilizing effects, the mind remains extraordinarily clear… Kava prepared by maceration is given to the sick to ease pain, relieve headaches and migraines, and reduce anxiety and stress.”