Kava is known for a wide range of benefits when drank and even when used externally. We look past the calmness, relaxation, and anxiety relief, and research if additional benefits are on the same level as brain-loving nootropics.
We get to the bottom of it.
What are Nootropics?
Nootropics give our brain a positive boost for productivity, stress relief, or mental alertness to get things done right in the most efficient way possible.
If we want to get technical, nootropics help activate specific neurotransmitters in our brain. Think of neurotransmitters as little messengers that work with our brain to send signals and work in a specific way.
Nootropics activate neurotransmitters to send messages and can improve many aspects of our brain including: focus, concentration, mental clarity and more.
They’re available as capsules or drinks and designed to improve our mental functions in one or multiple ways. The best nootropic supplements cause little to no side effects, so they’re safe for long-term use (months to years).
Is kava kava a nootropic?
Kava can cause various different body and mind responses, but the most notable kava root effect is relaxation without cognitive impairment. Multiple studies have found kava to be effective in treating symptoms related to anxiety. Specifically one study showed kava and diazepam (Valium) to cause similar changes in brain wave activity, suggesting they may work in the same ways to calm the mind. But, is enhanced neurological function one of kava’s benefits?
The most interesting study regarding this was conducted by the Department of Psychology at the University of Hertfordshire in the UK. They found: “The acute effects of the herbal anxiolytic Kava-kava (Piper methysticum) on emotional reactivity and cognitive performance were investigated in a double-blind randomized placebo-controlled trial involving healthy volunteers. Subjects’ reports of mood change were assessed with the state-trait-cheerfulness-inventory, which measures the three concepts of cheerfulness, seriousness and bad mood as both traits and states. Cognitive performance was examined with the Sperling partial report and the Sternberg item recognition task, which were used as an index for visual attention and short-term memory processing. The intake of a single dose of Kava extract (300 mg; p.o.) led to an increase in state cheerfulness, while the phytopharmacon did not influence state seriousness and bad mood. The mood-elevating effects of Kava were most prominent in trait cheerful subjects, indicating that trait cheerfulness moderated the drug-induced increase in cheerful mood. Furthermore, Kava improved the accuracy and the speed of performing the partial report and the item recognition task, indicative of a beneficial effect of the phytopharmacon on visual attention and short-term memory retrieval, respectively. Thus, unlike conventional benzodiazepine-type anxiolytics, which tend to impair cognitive performance and to increase the occurrence of negative affective states, Kava is a potent anxiolytic agent, which, additionally, can facilitate cognitive functioning and can increase positive affectivity related to exhilaration.”
In short, they found kava to be cognitively beneficial in multiple areas while also imparting a better mood and stress relief. With this information we can definitively say that Kava is indeed a natural nootropic.
- Nootropics are defined generally as any type of neuro-enhancing supplement often with a low incidence of side effects. The characteristics of what makes a something a nootropic is somewhat of a loose theory but should improve one aspect of cognition.
- Kava gives us kavalactones. These kavalactones go straight to the section of our brain that secretes worry and stress. They work to muffle those signals, so we can feel more relaxed, happy, and anxiety-free.
- While imparting relaxation, Kava has also been found to improve short term memory, accuracy and speed.
- Kava has other natural nootropic elements. They have the ability to transmit relaxation to the brain, so we feel it throughout the entirety of our body. Relaxation can help us focus better because we can relax rather than be stressed by various factors in our body.
It is important to remember, kava as a whole is still a somewhat complicated herb. There are over 105 different varieties, each with slightly different effects based on the make-up of their 6 main kavalactones. One variety can be stimulating and good for day use while another can be sedative and great for evening use. The most important aspect though is Noble and Tudei Kava. Noble kava has been safely consumed traditionally in the South Pacific for hundreds of years. Tudei kava is what can give kava as a whole a bad rap. These are genetically different plants but most people importing kava into the US have no knowledge or interest in differentiating them for consumption. If you find yourself shopping for kava supplements, make sure to only purchase from a reputable and Noble Certified vendor.
There are other calming nootropic herbs and ingredients out there that may work better or worse for your body; ultimately always consult with your doctor for their recommendation concerning kava benefits and your specific health needs.