Kava vs CBD: What’s the Difference? Which One Should I Use?
Kava and CBD (cannabis) are both popular natural health supplements for a variety of applications.
While there’s no direct connection between either of these two plants, they share a lot of the same benefits towards anxiety, sleep, muscle tension, chronic pain, and more.
So which one should you use?
There are a few key differences between these herbs that determine which option is best for certain symptoms.
In this guide, we’ll compare and contrast CBD and kava. We’ll cover the benefits, origins, safety profiles, legal status, and nitty-gritty details about how each of them work. We also cover a few common health complaints and discuss whether CBD or kava is the best herb for the job.
Table of Contents
Overview: Understanding CBD & Kava
Both kava and CBD are plant-based health supplements. Kava refers to the root of the Piper methysticum plant, while CBD refers to a non-psychoactive extract from the cannabis plant (hemp).
In order to discuss the similarities and differences of these two valuable plants, we have to briefly discuss some details of each supplement. If you’re already familiar with each of these plants, feel free to skip to the next section.
What is CBD? How Does it Work?
CBD is one of the primary ingredients of the cannabis plant (Cannabis sativa). It’s classified as a cannabinoid — which is a complex molecule that mimics a special chemical messenger naturally-produced in mammals (called anandamide).
CBD and related cannabinoids (such as CBC, CBG, CBN) interact with anandamide and other chemical messengers in a system called the endocannabinoid system. This system is extremely complex — researchers are still seeking to understand its many important roles in the human body.
In basic terms, the endocannabinoid system acts as a messaging system for the body — it works like an instant messaging service for the organs of the body. When a message is sent, the endocannabinoid system works like a “read-receipt” so the sender knows the message has arrived.
This may sound strange and unnecessary, but it’s actually very important for different organs of the body to work in unison together.
In this way, the endocannabinoid system is important for regulating homeostasis — which essentially means balance.
Everything from our blood pressure to hormone levels needs to be kept within a specific range of values.
When something starts to fall out of balance we start to become ill. CBD and other cannabinoids work to stimulate the endocannabinoid system, which in turn pulls the body back into the ideal range.
CBD and hemp products are used to improve general health and wellbeing by leveraging the important and widespread effects of the endocannabinoid system. It’s useful for conditions such as insomnia, anxiety, chronic pain, arthritis, autoimmune disease, and more.
You can buy products made from pure CBD (CBD isolate), or whole-plant extracts (full-spectrum extracts). Full-spectrum products contain other compounds produced in the hemp plant on top of CBD, such as other cannabinoids (CBC, CBG, CBN, THCV, etc), terpenes (bisabolol, limonene, lavandin, humulene, etc), plant sterols, fatty acids, and much more.
In a similar fashion to kava, the products that contain the “full-spectrum” of compounds found naturally in the plant tend to provide much stronger, more well-rounded benefits than individual extracts (such as CBD or a specific kavalactone).
Summary: What is CBD?
- Plant extract from the Cannabis sativa plant
- Completely non-psychoactive (won’t make you high)
- Primarily works by regulating the endocannabinoid system
- Available as an oil, capsules, gummy candies, topicals, or raw hemp flower
- Has relaxing, pain-killing, anti-epileptic, anti-inflammatory, and muscle-relaxant effects
What is Kava? How Does it Work?
Kava (Piper methysticum) is a plant species from the islands of the pacific ocean. The whole root is traditionally used as medicine and for social or ceremonial purposes.
The active ingredients of kava are a group of compounds called kavalactones. There are roughly 18 different kavalactones in the kava plant. Just 6 of these compounds make up more than 96% of the total kavalactone content — so the remaining 12 are rarely considered relevant.
All six of these primary kavalactones have a direct impact on neurotransmitter function in the brain. Rather than working through the endocannabinoid system like CBD, these compounds work directly on neurotransmitters such as serotonin, GABA, epinephrine, norepinephrine, dopamine, glutamate, and more (we’ll discuss all of this in more detail in section 5).
I need to note that one of the kavalactones (yangonin) does work through the endocannabinoid system — but instead of acting like CBD, it works more similarly to THC — the psychoactive component of marijuana plants. This is part of what makes kava a euphoric and provides mild psychoactive effects in high doses.
Every kava cultivar you order is going to have slightly different effects. The overall effect profile of a particular cultivar depends on the ratios of each kavalactone present in the root.
Some kavas produce a mild, “heady” sensation (euphoria, sense of peace and wellbeing, clarity of thought). Others provide a stronger “heavy” feeling (body relaxation, mild stone, sedation).
Kava use can be split into two different groups:
- Therapeutic applications involve promoting sleep, reducing stress and anxiety, supporting a healthy mood, and releasing muscle tension.
- Social applications involve promoting conversation with friends and family, or supporting creative thought processes while you work or practice creative hobbies.
Kava is available in powdered form which can be made into a traditional kava brew, instant mixes, pre-made drinks, tinctures, capsules, and concentrated pastes.
Summary: What is Kava?
- Made from the root of the Piper methysticum plant
- Non-psychoactive, but has some mind-altering effects in high doses
- Primarily works by regulating neurotransmitter function
- Available in the raw-powdered root, premade drinks, capsules, and concentrated pastes
- Has powerful relaxing, euphoric, and anxiolytic effects
At a Glance: Kava vs. CBD
|Category||Kava (Piper methysticum)||CBD & Hemp (Cannabis sativa)|
|Benefits||• Induced feelings of euphoria|
• Promotes a sense of peace and wellbeing
• Relaxes the muscles
• Improves sleep quality
• Mild pain-killer (especially muscular or ligament-related pain)
• Relaxes the muscles
• Reduces inflammatory response
• Strong natural pain-killer
• Strong anti-anxiety support
• Improves sleep quality
• Stress or anxiety
1. Benefits of Kava & CBD
Kava and CBD both have very similar benefits — but with some key differences.
Both of these natural substances are considered to be non-psychoactive — though very high doses of kava and extracts made from marijuana (instead of hemp) have some mind-altering effects.
Normal doses of kava and CBD products made specifically from hemp (the most common form) will not make you high.
The main similarity in terms of benefits between kava and CBD is their powerful relaxing effects. This makes both supplements a great option for supporting sleep, chronic stress, anxiety, and other conditions involving excess mental stimulation.
The differences between the two are that CBD has a greater effect on balancing homeostasis overall (offering effects to the immune system, digestive system, metabolic system, and cardiovascular system), while kava primarily focuses its effort on the central nervous system.
This makes kava better for specific neurological symptoms, while CBD is better for more widespread complaints.
• Supports stress and anxiety
• Regulates immune function
• May reduce the severity of epileptic seizures
• Improves poor mood
• Promotes creative thought process
• Relaxes the muscles
Summary: CBD is better for pain, inflammation, and immune health — kava is better for mood, anxiety, and creativity.
2. Origins & Traditions of Kava & CBD
Kava and CBD have completely different origins and have nothing to do with each other from a botanical or sociological point of view.
The Origins of CBD
CBD supplements have only been around for about a decade. Prior to this, most of the focus was on the marijuana or hemp plants as a whole, or the psychoactive cannabinoid — THC.
The cannabis plant on a whole has had a very long history alongside human beings — dating back at least several thousand years. Humans have likely been using cannabis as a medicine long before we invented written text. Hemp seeds have been found inside the tombs of Egyptian royalty, as well as in graves or monuments in other parts of the world, and the practice of smoking marijuana for spiritual purposes have been reported throughout Asia, South America, and the Middle East for thousands of years.
There are two main types of cannabis plant we need to be aware of — both are the exact same species (Cannabis sativa), but have morphological (growth-pattern) differences that determine the effect profile, and legality.
The first type is referred to as marijuana. This is the plant commonly smoked for its characteristic high. The active ingredient in this plant is THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), but these plants also produce various other constituents such as CBC, CBD, CBG, CBN, THCV, and dozens of terpene compounds.
The second type is referred to as hemp. These plants produce all the same cannabinoids as marijuana except for the psychoactive THC. In order to classify as hemp, a cannabis plant needs to contain less than 0.3% THC (0.2% by European law). Most CBD products are made from hemp plants because they don’t have psychoactive side-effects and are considered legal in most parts of the world (more on this in section 4).
Cannabis is thought to have originated from Asia but now grows all over the world
The Origins of Kava
Kava has also been used for thousands of years but has less of an international footprint than CBD.
Kava is a tropical plant species that requires intense sunlight, high humidity, and plenty of annual rainfall in order to grow. This is very different from cannabis which can thrive in virtually all climates. As a result, kava is exclusive to the equatorial islands in the pacific ocean — such as Vanuatu, Fiji, Hawaii, Papua New Guinea, The Solomon Islands, and Tonga — to name a few.
The true origin of kava remains unknown, but it’s clear that kava spread throughout the pacific ocean with the help of early human explorers. Voyagers would set out on makeshift boats with samples of kava roots so they could establish plantations when they reached new, far-away islands to colonize.
The kava plant is unable to spread across oceans on its own and doesn’t even produce viable seeds. Humans are a necessary step in the life cycle of kava by taking cuttings of a mother plant and replanting it in new soil. The root cuttings will then grow into a new kava plant.
This makes all kava plants alive today a clone of the original kava plant harvested several thousand years ago.
Kava has a rich history of tradition in Polynesian cultures. It’s used as a medicine and for spiritual and ceremonial use. It’s mashed into a paste and combined with water to make a strong brew.
Only recently has kava become popular outside Polynesia.
Kava originated from the tropical islands of the pacific ocean
3. Safety of Kava & CBD
Both kava and CBD are regarded as being very safe substances with little chance of negative side effects.
Interestingly, both plants also have a long history of misinformation related to negative health concerns that forced governments to ban their consumption, and subsequently unban after the safety concerns were proven incorrect.
Safety Status of CBD
CBD has been studied extensively — including dozens of high-level clinical trials involving thousands of participants over several years or months. None of these studies have reported any significant side effects from using CBD or other non-psychoactive hemp-extracts — however, there are some potential side effects some users may experience. Most of these side effects are directly related to its benefits which can be too strong at times, leading to negative or unwanted side effects.
The most common side effects of CBD include the following:
- Fatigue or sedation
- Dry mouth
- Low blood pressure
CBD Products & Manufacturer Error
Manufacturer error is a common cause of issues for CBD products as well. The dramatic rise in popularity of this supplement, combined with the lack of regulation in the industry has allowed a lot of companies with poor integrity to sell cheap CBD products that either lack the CBD concentration advertised on the bottle, contain harmful contaminants, or both.
The hemp plant is a bioaccumulator — which means it has the unique ability to absorb and concentrate compounds from the air and soil in which they grow. This means that hemp plants growing in areas with contaminated soil and air-pollution (which is becoming increasingly common) will yield plants with potentially toxic levels of these compounds.
This effect makes hemp useful for cleaning contaminated soils. The hemp pulls toxic compounds from the soil, which can then be removed and disposed of. If the hemp is consumed, the toxic compounds come along with it.
Common hemp contaminants include cadmium, lead, mercury, arsenic, pesticide sprays, nitrites, and more. All of these compounds can lead to severe side effects in humans — especially over long durations of use.
Some companies choose to order cheap hemp flowers grown in regions like India or China where soil contamination is very high. They then extract the active ingredients (along with these contaminants) and bottle it up for sale. When you use these products, you’re consuming these harmful contaminants as well.
The only way to avoid this is to order from reputable CBD manufacturers only. Look for evidence of contamination testing before you order.
CBD & Medicine Interactions
CBD can also interact with certain medications:
- Benzodiazepines — can cause excessive effects from the medication
- Immunosuppressives — immune-boosting effects may counteract immunosuppressive drugs
- Blood pressure medications — CBD lowers blood pressure and may interfere with prescription blood pressure drugs
- Sedatives — CBD may compound the effect of sedative medications
When to Avoid Using CBD
- If you suffer from low blood pressure or lightheadedness
- Alongside certain prescription medications (speak with your doctor)
- If you’ve recently undergone, or plan to have an organ transplant
Safety Status of Kava
Kava has also been well-studied in clinical trials, but not nearly as much as cannabis. However, from the research we have available today, kava has been shown to have a high-degree of safety, even with high doses and long-term use.
There are a few exceptions of kava cultivars that have well-known side-effects.
Always Avoid Tudei Kava
It’s important you always use “noble” kava — which is a term used to describe kava that has ideal effect profiles. There are dozens of individual noble kava strains available today.
The other form of kava, which should be avoided unless you’re under the care of someone experienced in the use of non-noble kava strains is referred to as “tudei” kava (pronounced two-day). These kava strains can cause unwanted side effects such as intoxication, nausea, dizziness, fatigue, and sweating — sometimes lasting up to two days straight (hence the name).
Most of the common issues with kava come from a manufacturer error. Some companies are selling tudei kava strains, but marketing them as noble varieties. Others are selling kava that’s been contaminated during harvesting, production, or storage. This is why you should always order your kava from a reputable supplier and avoid cheap or unknown brands at all costs. Look for companies that have been tested for contaminants, and list the kava chemocode — which is a system of analyzing the active ingredients in order to determine whether a particular strain is a noble or tudei variety.
Side Effects of Tudei Kava (Not Recommended):
- Severe fatigue
- Nausea and vomiting
- Skin rashes
Even Noble Kava Has Some Side Effects
- Fatigue and sedation
- Visual disturbances
Kava May Interact with Certain Medications
- Benzodiazepines — these medications work through the same pathways as kava, which can lead to compounding effects and may lead to overdose on benzodiazepine drugs
- Sedatives — non-benzodiazepine sedatives may also result in compounding effects and overdose
- Alcohol — alcohol also shares similar pathways to kava and may lead to excessive drunkenness, nausea, or liver damage
- Antidepressants — kava has been reported to interfere with certain antidepressant medications, particularly tricyclic and SSRI medications
When To Avoid Using Kava
- If using benzodiazepine, barbiturates, or other sedative medications for any reason
- Avoid mixing with excessive alcohol consumption
- Consult your doctor if taking prescription antidepressants or anxiety medication
- Some people experience allergic skin reactions when using kava, stop taking kava if a new skin rash occurs after kava consumption
- Avoid kava if you have a preexisting liver disease
4. Legal Status of Kava & CBD
Cannabis and kava have both had a rough history legally. Over the last 100 years, kava and cannabis have both gone from completely legal, to strictly illegal, and back to legal again.
The Legal Status of CBD
The cannabis plant is separated into two different groups (as briefly discussed in section 2). Marijuana plants contain psychoactive concentrations of THC (the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis), while hemp is completely non-psychoactive. This is an important distinction when discussing the legal status of CBD products.
Today, most parts of the world consider CBD to be legal as long as it was made from hemp plants and is proven to contain less than 0.3% THC by weight (0.2% in Europe and 1% in South America).
Products made from marijuana plants (including CBD oil) will highly depend on the laws of individual countries — even individual states.
Marijuana is legal in only 11 states in the US, as well as countries like Canada and Uruguay.
Most US states allow marijuana under medical licenses only, and most countries in Europe have similar medical laws.
There are also plenty of countries around the world that consider marijuana illegal — though some have decriminalized it, others punish marijuana possession with jail time.
The United States, Mexico, and most of Europe and South America consider CBD products that have little to no THC completely legal.
There are plenty of exceptions, so always check your local laws before ordering or using CBD products.
The Legal Status of Kava
Kava doesn’t produce the same psychoactivity as marijuana and therefore, hasn’t been placed into the same category of schedule I drugs as cannabis products.
However, in the late 90s, a group of researchers in Germany suggested that kava caused liver damage — which eventually led to a sweeping ban across Europe, The United States, Australia, and many other countries around the world.
Several years later many of these laws were revoked after several independent research groups were able to provide sufficient evidence to prove that these claims were unfounded. Most of Europe, the United States, Canada, and Australia revoked these bans to varying degrees. Some countries allow the sale and use of kava completely, others stipulate how much kava can be ordered or where it can be used.
Some countries have yet to update their laws around kava and remain illegal for purchase or consumption — examples include South Africa, Thailand, and many other Asian countries.
Always check your local laws before ordering or using kava products.
5. Mechanism of Action (How it Works): Kava & CBD
While kava and CBD have many of the same effects on the body, the ways in which they achieve these results are completely different. This topic can get complicated if you’re not interested in biochemistry, but for those who want to know the specifics, let’s dive into some biochemistry.
Mechanism of Action for CBD
There could be entire books written about how CBD works, it’s very complicated and doesn’t rely on just one pathway. This unique molecule has many different mechanisms that provide the effects it’s become known for, but we’ll try to break most of them down as much as possible here.
The main mechanism of action for CBD is a modulation of the CB1 and CB2 endocannabinoid receptors.
These receptors are located in nearly every organ in the body and are intimately involved with the organ’s function. CBD doesn’t directly activate these receptors, rather it modifies them to make the ability for other endocannabinoids (such as 2-AG or anandamide) provide a stronger action. Comparatively, the psychoactive THC molecule directly activates both the CB1 and CB2 receptors — some of which are used to control serotonin which causes the psychoactive effects known for marijuana.
An important secondary action of CBD involves an inhibition of the FAAH enzyme — which is responsible for breaking down anandamide. Anandamide is a naturally occurring endocannabinoid that helps regulate homeostasis. By slowing the breakdown of anandamide, it remains in the system for longer periods of time — thus increasing its effects.
These are the main two effects of CBD, but there are many others also affected that contribute to the overall effect profile.
Other receptors targeted by CBD:
- Inhibits the reuptake of adenosine (A2)  —relaxing and sedative effect
- Activates vanilloid receptors (TRPV1, TRPV2, and TRPV3) —anti-inflammatory and analgesic effect
- PPAR-gamma receptor activation  — maintains energy homeostasis and metabolism
- Inhibits 15-lipoxygenase and 5-lipoxygenase  — anti-inflammatory effects
- Increases glutathione peroxidase  —antioxidant activity
Other cannabinoids in the hemp plant interact with other pathways in the body. The compounded effects of all these individual cannabinoids, as well as other chemicals like terpenes, are what provide the wide range of benefits associated with cannabis.
General Effect Profiles of other Cannabinoids:
|Cannabinoid Name||General Effect Profile|
|CBC (Cannabichromene)||• Anti-anxiety|
Mechanism of Action for Kava
Much like CBD, kava works through the combined effort of several different pathways to achieve the end results. Describing the mechanism of action for a herb, which contains dozens if not hundreds of active ingredients, each with their own interactions is much more difficult compared to pharmaceutical drugs that push one specific receptor.
Most of the benefits of kava come from six key kavalactones:
- Desmethoxyyangonin (DMY)
- Dihydrokavain (DHK)
- Yangonin (Y)
- Kavain (K)
- Dihydromethysticin (DHM)
- Methysticin (M)
These kavalactones work by interacting (either inhibiting or stimulating) different receptors in the central nervous system to cause a change. Below is a chart highlighting the main benefits of each kavalactone — pulled from our guide to interpreting kava chemocodes.
• Nausea & vomiting (Emetic)
• Loss of muscle coordination (Ataxia)
• Nausea & vomiting (Emetic)
The effects of one kava cultivar to the next can be dramatically different depending on the ratio of each kavalactone. Some will increase dopamine while others reduce dopamine activity — so it’s not as simple as suggesting kava can increase or decrease a specific neurotransmitter.
It’s interesting to note that some kavalactones (yangonin in particular) can even activate endocannabinoid receptors similarly to CBD and THC — though to a much lesser extent than cannabis products.
6. When To Use Kava or CBD
So what are the practical takeaways from all of this? Should I use kava or CBD?
While the answer largely depends on which one works better for your body individually, there are a few specific symptoms or conditions where one option may be better than the other.
Special Note: Kava as a Social Beverage
We’ll get into some specific situations and whether kava or CBD is the better option, but first we have to address the elephant in the room — the consumption patterns around kava and CBD are completely different. CBD is purely a health supplement that is used to support a specific symptom or condition.
Kava has this application as well but is primarily used for ritualistic and social applications. This is similar to how marijuana is used — something not shared by the non-psychoactive CBD products.
You can’t sit around with a group of friends and socialize over a few drops of CBD like you can with kava. The mild euphoric and relaxing qualities, combined with the ritual involved with preparing shells of kava with friends and family is what makes it so special. If none of this matters to you and your sole motivation for using these substances is to support a specific condition or symptom, read the section below that applies to you.
I also want to note that you should try both to see what works best for your body. Everybody is different and what works for one person may not be the best solution for someone else.
The strain (cultivar) selection for both CBD and kava matters as well. There are CBD oils that are better for pain, clothes better for sleep — and the same goes for kava.
1. Sleep Support
Verdict: Kava is generally considered better for sleep.
While both substances are helpful for improving sleep, kava is the stronger choice here. This includes support with all aspects of sleep (falling asleep, staying asleep, and waking more refreshed). It works the same way as pharmaceutical sleeping pills (GABAergic) but without all the nasty side effects. Just make sure to take your kava at least an hour before bed, and look for a heavy or balanced kava for this instead of the more stimulating heady cultivars.
CBD is also a useful sleep-supportive, but the mechanism of action for this effect is less direct.
2. Pain Relief
Verdict: CBD is the better choice for pain relief.
CBD is the obvious choice for pain-related symptoms. It targets the underlying inflammation involved with pain, as well as the pathways involved with transmitting pain to the brain.
Kava has pain-killing qualities as well, but these are much milder and generally only work reliably on muscle or neurological-related pain. Kava and CBD both work for psychosomatic types of pain, but due to the complex nature of this type of pain, neither are completely reliable for this either.
3. Anxiety & Chronic Stress
Verdict: Kava is generally considered the better option, but some prefer CBD.
The best option for stress and anxiety really depends on the individual. The underlying cause of anxiety can rely on many different factors.
With that said, kava tends to have stronger effects on anxiety-related pathways than CBD, and a lot of the people I’ve worked with who use kava for supporting anxiety (including myself) have also tried CBD and found it to be less effective when compared to kava.
Verdict: CBD is a stronger anti-inflammatory than kava.
CBD is a potent anti-inflammatory and is the best option for most forms of inflammation. In fact, many of the benefits of CBD directly relate to its powerful anti-inflammatory benefits. This compound works on stopping the inflammatory process through multiple different angles — such as inhibiting rate-limiting inflammatory enzymes, T-cell modulation, and mimicry of various leukotrienes and eicosanoids that regulate inflammation.
You can use CBD internally for inflammation of the gut, arterial system, or other organs, or apply topically to sore or inflamed joints.
5. Muscle Tension
Verdict: Kava has stronger muscle-relaxant effects — especially heavy kava cultivars.
In general, kava is a better option for muscle tension, but with some caveats.
The first caveat is that heady kava and many balanced kavas don’t have nearly as much muscle relaxant benefits as the heavy kava cultivars.
The second caveat is that some full-spectrum CBD oils that contain a rich supply of muscle relaxant terpenes may provide slightly better muscle relaxant effects as kava. This effect really depends on the individual cultivar of kava, or preparation of full-spectrum CBD oil — but ultimately both supplements will work.
Can I Mix CBD & Kava Together?
Kava and CBD can be mixed together safely as long as you’re careful with the dosage of each one.
The effects of CBD and kava are similar in a lot of ways, so taking them at the same time could cause too much of a good thing. The most common issue people report when combining these herbs is that it can be overly sedating. This is especially problematic if your goal for using either substance wasn’t for putting you to sleep.
Additionally, CBD and kava both lower blood pressure, so taking them together could cause blood pressure levels to drop too much — making you feel dizzy or lightheaded.
Whenever combining CBT with kava, especially for the first time, make sure to start with a very low dose and increase over time.
It’s also recommended that you try both herbs on their own first before mixing so you get a feel for how it affects your body individually.
Final Thoughts: Kava vs. CBD
Kava and CBD are both popular health supplements these days — primarily for their relaxing effects. While both herbs have similar uses, their similarities end there.
In general, CBD is going to offer better all-around support — affecting everything from the central nervous system to the immune system. Kava is more specific for the central nervous system and offers stronger sleep-supportive and anti-anxiety benefits.
What really sets the two apart is how they’re used.
CBD is purely used as a health supplement, while kava has added use in social environments. It’s a common practice throughout Polynesia, and recently in the Western world for people to gather together and prepare kava as they socialize and enjoy each other’s company — very much like going to a bar for a couple of drinks.
Choosing which herb you want to use will depend on your motivation for using it.
Kava and CBD are both popular health supplements with similar benefits. Learn what makes each one different and when to use each one to get the best results.
Can You Smoke Kava?
Kava has similarities to two commonly smoked herbs — marijuana and damiana. Some of the active ingredients of kava even work through the same mechanisms.
This has a lot of people asking the question “can you smoke kava”?
Despite similarities with some popular smoking herbs, you can’t smoke kava plants because the heat of the flame will destroy many (but not all) of the active compounds.
There are numerous plant medicines smoked by Polynesian cultures — kava is not one of them. If kava could be smoked, the traditional cultures that have been using the plant for thousands of years would have figured this out.
Keep reading to learn about some other similar herbs you can smoke instead of and alongside kava.
Table of Contents
First of All, What is Kava?
Kava is a tropical herb from the islands of the pacific ocean. It’s common in places like Vanuatu, Fiji, Solomon Islands, and Tonga.
The kava plant is a member of the Piperaceae family (pepper family), which makes it a relative of plants like kawakawa, black pepper, and others.
This herb has a long history of use. It was used as a medicine, but more commonly as a social beverage at gatherings, important meetings, ceremonies, weddings, and more. It’s still used for much of the same applications today as it was over a thousand years ago.
Outside Pacific island cultures, kava is used to reduce anxiety, promote more restorative sleep, relax the muscles, and as an alternative to alcohol at social gatherings.
There’s something unique about kava that makes it an ideal beverage for use in groups to talk and enjoy each other’s company. The relaxing effects of the herb seem to dispel any stresses of the day and provide a mild feeling of euphoria — both of which are conducive to socializing with friends and family.
How Does Kava Work?
There are 6 primary active ingredients in the kava plant — known as the kavalactones.
Each kavalactone has a unique effect on the body. It’s the combined effects of all these ingredients that give kava its characteristic benefits.
Most of the kavalactones work by activating neurological pathways in the brain — such as serotonin, GABA, dopamine, norepinephrine, and others.
Without these kavalactones, the kava plant has little else to offer. There are a few sterols, flavokawains, and chalcones that also offer some benefit — but these compounds pale in comparison to the effects of the kavalactones.
This is important because these powerful bioactive compounds are also very heat-sensitive. This is the primary reason why you can’t smoke kava plants.
Can You Vape Kava?
The heat when burning a cigarette or joint reaches approximately 900 degrees Celsius (1650 F). This is more than hot enough to destroy any heat-sensitive compounds in kava — leaving behind only the most robust compounds. These compounds tend to have little psychoactive effect.
Some people suggest smoking kava does have some effects, which are different from the effects of drinking kava the conventional way (milder and more stimulating). However, most people who have tried smoking kava agree it doesn’t offer much benefit at all and is more than likely a total waste of the kava root.
However, there may be a case for vaping kava roots.
A vaporizer is a device that allows users to precisely control the temperature of the heating chamber. They’re used to heat herbs like marijuana enough to vaporize the active ingredients, without causing combustion. The same may be possible for kava.
We should note, vaping kava may be possible, but it’s still going to be less effective than simply drinking the tea. This is because despite reducing the loss of active ingredients, the heat will still destroy a large portion of them before they ever reach your lungs.
If you want to try vaping kava, make sure you keep your vape below 140 C (284 F) to limit the breakdown as much as possible.
Is Smoking Kava Safe?
The short answer here is no. Any byproducts of combustion will be present no matter what you smoke — including kava. Smoking produces harmful hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, and more.
Secondly, there’s virtually no research on what additional byproducts are produced when kava is burned. There’s no way to safely recommend smoking kava without understanding exactly what compounds are produced during the process.
Herbs You Can Smoke Alongside Kava
While we don’t recommend smoking kava specifically, there are a number of other herbs with relaxing benefits you can smoke instead. Many of these herbs pair well in a smoking blend alongside conventional kava tea.
Damiana has a lot in common with kava, and is often combined with kava to boost its relaxing and euphoric benefits.
You can smoke damiana for many of the same reasons. In fact, people throughout Central America have been using damiana in this way for hundreds of years.
Smoking or vaping is actually a great way to combine damiana with kava. You can brew your kava the traditional way, and roll cigarettes with damiana to use alongside it.
Passionflower is another popular relaxing herb that can be rolled into cigarettes. While some of the active ingredients are destroyed by the heat, many will survive until they reach your lungs.
Passionflower is a great companion plant for kava, but can be harsh to smoke. Experts recommend mixing passionflower with other smoking herbs like damiana, mullein, or tobacco to reduce the harshness.
This is the quintessential smoking herb — and for good reason. High-quality tobacco has a relatively clean smoke (no harshness), great flavor, and a powerful effect profile. It can make you feel euphoric, relaxed, and mildly stimulated.
While tobacco smoking is certainly not a healthy option, it’s relatively safe in small doses. People have been smoking tobacco for thousands of years. This herb is considered to be a powerful teacher in a lot of unrelated traditional medicine systems and pairs well with herbs like kava.
Tobacco has stimulating qualities which may counteract the sedative effects of kava, but works well when using kava for social gatherings.
4. Hemp or Marijuana
Cannabis was not combined with kava in traditional cultures. However, the reason for this is that the two plants don’t grow in the same regions. Some could argue that kava is the Pacific Islander version of marijuana as both plants serve a similar role in their respective regions.
While there’s a lot of debate around whether or not kava and marijuana should be mixed, I fall on the argument that the combination can be very beneficial if used in the right dose. Whenever mixing any psychoactive plants or substances with kava, you should always start with a very low dose of each and build up over time once you know how it affects your body individually.
You have two options for smoking cannabis plants — hemp or marijuana.
Hemp plants are completely non-psychoactive but offer all the same health benefits otherwise. It’s relaxing, anxiolytic, and uplifting.
Marijuana is the same as hemp except that it also includes the psychoactive molecule, THC. This gives marijuana additional euphoric and psychoactive effects.
Mullein is one of the best base ingredients for a herbal smoking blend. It’s non-psychoactive but provides an excellent flavor and soothing action to the smoke. This is perfect when using herbs like passionflower which are notoriously harsh to smoke. Even herbs like damiana and cannabis can be quite harsh if they’re too dry — so adding mullein is always a good idea to tone down the harshness and make the smoke more enjoyable.
Final Thoughts: Can You Smoke Kava?
While technically speaking, you can smoke literally anything, I don’t recommend you smoke kava root.
Some people on forums like Reddit have suggested that smoking kava provides some of the relaxing and euphoric effects of kava, it’s much weaker than simply brewing it as a tea. Most of the active ingredients will break down under even mild increases in heat.
Look at the traditional cultures that have been using kava for centuries. None of them smoke the plant, and none of them even use boiling water to brew it. All kava is brewed using cold, or lukewarm water to preserve the potency of the roots.
If you’re interested in relaxing herbs you can smoke, try something like damiana, passionflower, or hemp instead.
Polynesian cultures have been smoking various species of plants for millennia — kava is not one of them. The active ingredients quickly breakdown when exposed to heat, rendering them useless.