Kava vs Kratom: The Important Differences You Need to Know

Kava and Kratom are increasingly being sold alongside each other at kava bars and in stores online. While they maybe similar in name and drink appearance, truth is, they are worlds apart. In this post we look at some the similarities and differences and explain why it is important for buyers and consumers not to confuse the two.

Kava leaf vs. Kratom leaf comparison

East vs West: Cultural Traditions

Kratom is a tropical, evergreen tree in the coffee family, botanical name Mitragyna speciosa. It is native to Southeast Asia, (Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Borneo, etc.) where it has been a part of traditional culture for thousands of years. There, it is traditionally chewed, in raw leaf form, by workers to stave off exhaustion, relieve pain and as a mood enhancer.

Kava is a plant of the pepper family, botanical name Piper Methysticum, indigenous to the Western Pacific (Vanuatu, Fiji, Papau New Guinea, Micronesia, and Hawaii). In these Pacific island communities Kava is consumed before the beginning of any important religious ritual or ceremony. Most commonly though it is used as a beverage to relax and unwind from the day. Often served at Nakamals (Kava Bars), it is drunk socially instead of alcohol.

Similarities: Prep, Uses, & Effects

Varieties of Kava Root in different color bagsThe leaves of the Kratom tree can be chewed but more frequently they are dried, then crushed to create a powder that is mixed with to water to create a drink or added to another drink to mask the taste. Dried leaves can also be used to make a tea. Similarly, the traditional preparation of a Kava drink includes mixing ground kava root with water then steeping and straining to create a murky brown tea. Both can also been found in pill form. These similarities in preparation and appearance are another reason it is easy for consumers to confuse Kratom and Kava or assume they are similar in nature. Adding to this confusion is the fact that the two drinks are now being sold side-by-side in some Kava bars across the country.

Kava and Kratom both have
stimulant and/or sedative effects.

The effects of drinking Kava have been well documented and with increasing scientific research, better understood. Kava can be used to reduce stress or temporary bouts of anxiety, to help manage pain, and relieve muscle tension and to promote overall emotional and physical relaxation. Drinking Kava can reduce social inhibitions and induce a sense of euphoria and happiness akin to other nootropics. With kava, there are 3 categories a variety will fall into: Heady - which are varieties for daytime use that create a clear headed calm and slight boost of energy, Heavy - which are varieties that are better suited for evening use and act with more of a sedative effect, and Balanced - which are a good balance of both.

Kratom has somewhat similar effects depending on the dosage. It is a psychoactive drug, that when consumed at a low dosage makes people more energetic, talkative, agitated and socially hyperactive. On the other hand, a higher dosage creates a sedative effect, pain relief, and a euphoric experience or dream like state.

These unique effects mean that both Kava and Kratom can be consumed for the purposes of recreational relaxation and to treat the same physical and psychological conditions.

But that’s where the similarities end.

bags of raw and unprocessed kava root in VanuatuDistinct Differences

In truth there are two key differences between Kratom and Kava that everyone needs to know.

1. The Pharmacological Difference -
    Kratom is addictive, Kava is not.

Where Kava and Kratom diverge is from a pharmacological perspective and how they react with the brain.

Kratom contains alkaloids. The alkaloids in Kratom interact with the opioid systems in the brain, the systems that play key roles in modulating how we respond to pain. The alkaloids in Kratom act as opiate receptor agonists in the same way that morphine or other opiates do. From a pharmacological perspective, though Kratom is not an opiate itself, its’ effects are very similar to those of opiate drugs and it comes with the same risks of addiction.

While, there has been little scientific research on Kratom, the main psychoactive ingredients in Kratom are believed to be the alkaloids mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine. The latter is known to be orally active in animals as an analgesic. These alkaloids produce normal opioid side effects. This explains why Kratom can be addictive.  Opioid side effects include the development of tolerance, where tolerance means that the effect of a drug lessens over time, and there is withdrawl syndrome upon abstinence.

The unique chemical make-up and effects of Kratom has resulted in the plant being used by people previously addicted to heroin or pharmaceutical opioids as a means to wean themselves off these drugs. It has also shown promise as a natural pain reliever for these same characteristics but much research is still needed on the plant.

The pharmacology of Kava is very different from Kratom. While scientific research into Kratom is in its infancy, there is a growing body of scientific data on the chemistry of Kava and its’ effects. The main active ingredients in Kava are kavalactones with six alone being more important than others and responsible for over 90 percent of the active natural ingredients in the plant. Active ingredients vary depending on the variety of the plant and these are identified by a plant chemotype. Read more about the science of Kava.

Kavalactones interact with the limbic system, the part of our brain most associated with emotions, emotional behavior and motivation. Kavalactones are responsible for the positive effects gained from kava root consumption. Unlike the alkaloids in Kratom, the Kavalactones in Kava are not opiate agonists and do not pose the risk of opioid side effects such as the risk of addiction.

2. Legal Differenceskava-root-raw-traditional-bowl

The second main difference between Kratom and Kava is related to legality. Kratom is currently undergoing a heated and complicated legal battle that could make the plant and it's active constituents banned in the US - Kratom Ban

In Thailand where the plant grows in abundance and is widely used, Kratom has been outlawed for over 70 years since 1943. The original ban was linked to Kratom reducing Thai government tax revenues from opium distribution. And while in recent years there have been calls to decriminalize Kratom and remove it from the list of banned narcotics in Thailand, this has yet to happen. One reason for this could be the connection between Kratom and crime in the country. In Thailand in 2011, more than 13,000 people were arrested for kratom-related crimes (5% of all drug-related crimes in that country). The use of Kratom is also prohibited in Malaysia where users can be penalized with a maximum imprisonment.

At the same time Kava is gaining worldwide acceptance as a natural and safe herbal product. While kava was banned in Germany and Switzerland for a number of years ago a result of research suggesting that drinking kava caused liver problems. That ban was lifted in 2015 after further research revealed the liver issues were related to other contributing factors. Learn more.

Kava has been available in the US for over 20 years now and in recent years has been gaining in widespread popularity. Many Kava Bars have opened up across the nation. Countless people are giving up their nightly glass of wine, beer or cocktail and turning to this interesting tropical root as a more natural means of relaxation.

bottles of the Kalm with Kava concentrate drink mix

Know the Difference

While Kava and Kratom may be offered alongside one another at your local kava bar and online, it’s important to know the differences. Kratom has shown to be highly beneficial for certain individuals and uses, but can be addictive and could face a future ban by the FDA. Drinking Kava on the other hand has no addictive properties, is ingrained in cultural and ceremonial traditions of the countries and islands where it is grown and is gaining in acceptance and popularity as a natural way to relax throughout the U.S.

22 Responses

  1. Chris
    | Reply

    Great write up! I’ve been drinking kratom tea for over 2 years now due to chronic pain. It has been a godsend for me and would highly recommend it to anyone suffering from any kind of debilitating pain. I drink kava as well, and it helps me with anxiety and to calm down. To each their own though and hopefully both of these plants will remain available for those who want to use them.

  2. Frank Parman
    | Reply

    This is actually very useful. Thanks 😀

  3. Chantell T
    | Reply

    Thank you for this write up. It has been helpful in my quest for natural relaxation.

  4. Norman B
    | Reply

    I would like to give a thumbs up for the great kava you offer. After getting into kratom without doing much research it started to become too habit forming for me. Kava on the other hand provides me the relaxation I was looking for and if I don’t take it for a few days or weeks, doesn’t cause any issues. Thank you again, ordering the Borogu now!

  5. Darrel G
    | Reply

    Thanks for the great post. I’ll stick with Kava.

  6. Sunshine Gal
    | Reply

    I’ve been enjoying Borongoru Kava for about a month now, as a sleep aid. I had been using kratom for this purpose, but quickly built a tolerance to it. I’m no longer taking kratom, as it was addictive for me. A friend suggested I try this Kava, and I’ve been drinking it nightly for about a month now. After a few sips, I notice a nice relaxing effect, followed in an hour or two by pleasant sleepiness. I awake refreshed and ready to face the next day. I highly recommend this product. I’ve received excellent customer service and guidance, fair prices, and speedy delivery.

  7. Jermaine W
    | Reply

    Hi there, I definitely agree with your points about the differences having consumed both over the past year. Ultimately I recommend kava to my friends because kratom was helpful at first but you quickly build up tolerance and it’s no fun when you quit taking it. Kava on the other hand helps all the time without tolerance and no worries of feeling like crap when you stop taking it.

  8. DOUGLAS E DAVIS
    | Reply

    I ordered my Kava and it will be arriving today. I hope to be able to update this post with my results. As I suffer from anxiety back pain and headaches, and my wife has lupus. This will be a good test. Actually accidentally ordered this when trying to get kratom. I believe I made the good choice accidentally… More to come…

  9. Sergio
    | Reply

    I will be trying Kava for the first time today! Will report back 🙂

    • Sara
      | Reply

      So what’s the verdict? I’m dying to know for myself please. Would you suggest switching from Kratom to Kava? I’ve been a regular Kratom user for about 4 years now and this recent salmonella outbreak apparently is linked to 2 different companies I make weekly online purchases through 😨😞Id live to hear your thoughts before I spend my limited money.

  10. Octavia
    | Reply

    Insightful article. Many thanks for providing the detailed information as I’ve never really heard of either herbs until about a week ago when I stumbled across a kava bar.

  11. Stella Evans
    | Reply

    Very nice article! Thanks for this important information.

  12. Manny
    | Reply

    Very god information, but I like to know if I have Kava plants growing in my backyard in Florida, would it be safe for consumption, and does kava normally grow in Florida?

    • Mike
      | Reply

      Hi Manny,
      It is unlikely you have actual kava (piper methysticum) plants growing even in Florida as they are not very hearty outside of the South Pacific. Often times temperatures below 60 degrees will kill them off. It is more likely that the plant would be Piper Auritum https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Piper_auritum also known as “False Kava” since they look very similar. I definitely wouldn’t recommend consuming the plant without a qualified person positively identifying it first.

  13. Marcus
    | Reply

    Kratom grows wild here in the Philippines…
    Many years ago I chewed on wild Kratom leaves and wow it tasted so awful so bitter… Yes it gave me energy and relaxation but never again!
    Two cups of strong kava gives me the same relaxation and is not addictive or illegal. Thank you

  14. Ella
    | Reply

    Hi all, I have been experimenting with various forms of kava and kratom for a while now and have recently come across your products which are really making a difference in my anxiety and stress levels. The typical relaxed & happy kava state happens within about a 5 minutes of drinking your micronized kava. Thank you!

    • Amber Lett
      | Reply

      I just started doing my research and have VERY high levels of stress, anxiety and neuropathy…what advice could you give me???

  15. j
    | Reply

    Kratom is alright for occasional use. Wouldn’t recommend daily use unless you’re using it to lessen withdrawal symptoms

  16. Luis
    | Reply

    kratom tastes really bad…and if is not a strong strain, you must have stupid great ammounts of it…aaargh…

  17. Tommy
    | Reply

    Great info.

  18. curtis
    | Reply

    Thank you I have been trying to figure this out myself. I was given some kratom and wasn’t sure I wanted to try it. I am a big Kava fan and I found very little actual research on kratom.

  19. Phantom's Girl
    | Reply

    Thank you. Been trying to figure this out for an hour now.

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