After one week of using Kava King Vanuatu Blend daily, I believe that kava kava may be a strong contender with phenibut for the unofficial title of “best OTC anxiolytic.”1 I can’t award it that title just yet without some longer-term use, but kava is liable to become one of my favorites in that category.
I’ve previously covered kava kava tincture, but the tincture is far more pricy than the drink mix, and the instantized drink mix does a fine job. Using the instantized drink mix gave me a better idea of what kava has to offer.
I must disclose that I have no affiliation with Kava King, only their product as sold through the vendor iHerb. Should you find yourself wanting to try kava, please bear in mind that this post refers to my experience with Kava King’s product and not a generic form of kava. Product potencies, preparations and vendor quality may vary widely.
A quick overview of what kava is
Kava is prepared from the root of the piper methysticum plant grown throughout parts of the Pacific.2 Among the cultures scattered throughout, the kava root has been venerated as a libation to help people relax, bond and socialize with one another (not unlike alcohol elsewhere in the world) and has often been incorporated as a major facet of ceremonies and other more official proceedings.
The unique effects of kava
Kava has a markedly different effect on the mind than alcohol or phenibut, two somewhat similar GABAergics. Bear in mind that kava is not a singular compound or substance but an actual plant containing many different potentially psychoactive compounds.
Upon drinking kava, you will feel a harmless temporary numbing sensation in your mouth. Within a half hour you should feel its relaxing effect. Note that some of its effects are dose dependent and are often counterintuitive. The quality of the root is also a factor as older roots (up to four years old or so) tend to be more potent in effect.
Dose and use frequency can also have varying effects, with higher doses causing nausea and a sensation of drunken intoxication. Long-term use can supposedly result in decreased tolerance which is unlike many other substances including alcohol, meaning a daily kava user can take less kava to experience the same magnitude of effect they desire.
My week-long experience with Kava King Vanuatu Blend
Once in a while I pick up some supplements and hard-to-find health foods from iHerb.com. I wanted to get into kava kava again, and I remembered seeing the Kava King instant drink mix on their site some time ago. It comes in a nifty little burlap-esque sack that has a zip-locking plastic bag holding the instant kava powder. Instead of choosing one of the different flavors they offered, I chose the plain Vanuatu mix.
Typically when preparing kava, the pulverized kava kava root does not mix into water very well. Traditionally it’s soaked first then strained. With the instantized mix, you only have to shake or stir it into your water for it to mix. It doesn’t dissolve, but the powder mixes fairly evenly before it settles, making it easy to drink.
The first dose I tried when it finally arrived was the recommended teaspoon serving. Note that some people do not like the flavor. The taste is reminiscent of mild soap, mint, and a sensation of mild numbness like the novocaine your dentist might use. The sensations it brings tend to kick in within 20 minutes. The one teaspoon was noticeable and pleasant and took very quickly to the water with minimal clumping, but its effects were the lower threshold of noticeable. This was fine as I was not looking to experience any more “recreational” doses. This would come later.
That same night, hours after my initial dose, I redosed another teaspoon with a friend. He noted that it was fairly enjoyable. The effect kicked in again with no building of tolerance. I might describe the buzz was like alcohol, but it didn’t twist up the mind as much. Stoners will understand if I liken the effect of kava to more of a “body high.” My friend and I found it easier to converse amongst ourselves for the better part of an hour.
During the week, I would indulge in a couple teaspoons or tablespoon of the kava powder at least once per day. The effects became a little more pronounced with increased dose, the pleasant relaxing feelings becoming more pronounced. I generally did not use more than a tablespoon though.
One night, feeling a little more adventurous, I decided to take two tablespoons of the mix (six teaspoons for you metrics) which is twice the highest dose recommended on the package (done at your own risk). I felt a slight pleasant dizziness of the body not unlike when you kick back a couple shots of liquor or a few beers that tapered off after an hour or so.
Another night I had another tablespoon of kava before going to a bar with some live music. I had one drink, and the mix of the drink and the kava gave a pleasant but more intense intoxication than the two taken alone.
- Definitely do not combine kava, alcohol and/or driving at the same time.
Also, despite this daily use of kava, I have noticed no obvious side effects or hangovers other than a desire to have a scoop of kava just because of how nice it is.
One thing I must note is that it doesn’t handle the “caffeine anxiety” from a strong cup of coffee as well as theanine or even phenibut. However, theanine, caffeine and a mild dose of kava all seem to play nicely together.
Kava Doses (How much should I take?)
The Kava King label says to take 1 to 3 teaspoons. 3 teaspoons is equivalent to a tablespoon. Generally, I find that 1 tablespoon is good for me. As I explained in my experience, I tried two tablespoons which has more of a “recreational” effect rather than any practical effect of anxiety reduction/social lubrication.
As when dosing anything else for the first time, start small (1 teaspoon) and work your way up as you find out where the sweet spot is. You will have to calibrate your dosage to suit your personal needs.
Duration of effect
In my estimation, the peak effects happen after about an hour. Some sources (read: some guy on the internet) say kava lasts for about 8 hours or so. There may be some truth to this as I notice a sense of calm has lingered over me for the past week despite using kava no more than once or twice a day.
Why I’m beginning to favor kava over phenibut
I should preface this by saying that if one used kava or phenibut at a regular dosage, understood the substances, their effects and how to use them responsibly, they can rest assured that taking either one separately can be safe for healthy adults with no negative medical history.
As you may know, both kava and phenibut are GABAergic, that is, they act generally as GABA agonists. These tend to make good relaxants, anxiety reducers and tranquilizing agents.
Phenibut however seems to act more powerfully on the GABA-B receptors3 which also may have a profound effect on sodium-potassium electrolyte balance.
For myself, I have chosen to restrict my use of phenibut due to a personal history of low blood pressure and an effect I can’t seem to find easily online. I do believe that for what it’s worth, phenibut is still a great one-of-a-kind anxiolytic drug, but this one problem just adds to the evidence that it’s not for everyone, and as I’ve recently learned, it may not even be for me.
I haven’t quite figured out what causes this problem, but one source (on a reddit comment; nothing scholarly) suggests it may be phenibut’s effects on sodium-potassium exchange. This is not for certain as the user was also concurrently using many other supplements whereas I was using little more than caffeine and theanine.
I had been experiencing effects of low blood pressure when taking phenibut after acquiring more recently, and I finally narrowed these side effects down to the phenibut. I will cover these in potential phenibut side effects, as the major ones most people have complained about are related to withdrawl and high dosage. When I figure out the problem I will cover it in its own article.
When taking higher doses of the instantized kava kava even on a daily basis for the better part of a week, I experienced no such adverse blood pressure effects, and get similar effects to what I expect out of phenibut. The duration of effects for kava are not as long lived as phenibut, (it peaks within the hour) but in my experience can be controlled simply by having more kava after an hour or two.
Unlike phenibut, kava lends itself to recreational use. Phenibut however is not safe to use recreationally or to abuse by taking wildly different doses; tolerance does build, and withdrawl effects can occur. High doses of phenibut can be dangerous.
Kava on the other hand seems to be forgiving in regard to dose. You don’t really want to abuse it by taking a heinous amount of the powder because that would be a stupid waste, but you will at the worst experience some nausea and dizziness, not unlike drinking too much alcohol. I have not experienced these negative side effects.
How about combining kava and phenibut?
No. I have no intention of combining the two and neither should anyone else. They are very strong on their own and already have similar effects to the point that I believe a combination would be a waste, but I’m not going to play with fire. I strongly recommend that nobody try this. Don’t be that idiot that screws it all up for everyone.
Kava Side Effects (and other things you should know)
You know that saying “there’s no such thing as a free lunch.” With very few exceptions, most substances come with a certain set of side effects.
The number one thing that kava has been accused of is liver or kidney damage from regular use. Many sources contradict these negative claims, showing that kava is largely harmless, and that the liver and kidney damage could just be a myth used as an excuse to build public outrage and put on some legislation against it.4
- Nonetheless, if you have a history of liver or kidney disease, you should probably avoid using kava or any other supplement, herb or drug that could negatively affect those organs anyway, at least not without consulting your doctor first. Better safe than sorry.
A reported long-term side effect of serious, heavy, chronic kava users is something known as kava dermopathy. Supposedly, high sustained doses of kava can interfere with cholesterol metabolism, leading to scaly, dry skin.5 People with pre-existing skin conditions like eczema may want to be wary of this one. It can supposedly be reversed after quitting for two weeks.
Though kava tends to be forgiving in terms of dose, higher doses of kava could cause nausea, dizziness and a kind of intoxication similar to alcohol.6 I have not yet experienced these, and I do not intend on taking a high enough dose to induce these effects.
The warnings on the Kava King instantized kava drink mix label says that you should not be operating heavy machinery under the influence of kava. At substantial doses, it really can impact your motor reflexes.
- In certain jurisdictions you can actually be punished by law for driving under the influence of any intoxicant, and this actually happened in a part of California where kava is regarded as a sacrament in the Pacific Islander communities.7
I do believe that kava can contribute to a state of dehydration. It doesn’t seem to have a really strong diuretic effect like caffeine, but in the morning following a night where I’ve had a dose of kava or two, my urine will be a decent yellow color. If you plan to use kava, make sure you are already drinking plenty of water.
What about chronic kava usage?
Many recommend not using kava more than a couple times per week. Though I used it daily with no problem, and others have used it for a longer time with little issue8, I do intend on reducing my kava intake should I begin to encounter any problems with it. Others hold that regular usage does not cause any issues.
Legality of kava
Kava seems to be totally legal to purchase, possess and ingest in many jurisdictions with a few exceptions:9
- Australia (banned)
- Britain (banned)
- Canada (banned; may be imported for private use)
- Sweden (banned; may be imported for private use)
- European nations in general (varies; some regulations involved)
This is by no means a comprehensive list, you will need to double check the legality for yourself.
Used responsibly and judiciously and with respect for the plant and its effects, kava is a safe, effective anxiolytic and recreational substance similar to alcohol in some respects. I’d place kava and the Kava King instant drink mix somewhere at the top of my list of most useful substances, at least after I see how it affects me in the long term. Remember, I only used it for a week.
(Thanks to Erowid.org for their wealth of information on this lesser-known herb.)
Erowid.org – Clinical Efficacy of a Kava Extract in Patients with Anxiety Syndrome/Double-blind placebo controlled study over 4 weeks. ↩
Wikipedia – Kava ↩
Erowid.org – Phenibut (beta-phenyl-GABA): a tranquilizer and nootropic drug ↩
Erowid.org — Kava and Liver Health ↩
Erowid.org – Kava Dermopathy ↩
Erowid Psychoactive Vaults – Kava General Comments ↩
MercuryNews.com [ARCHIVED] – Drivers drunk on kava new target for police ↩
Erowid Experience Vault – Alternative to Alcohol and Cannabis ↩
Erowid Kava Vault: Legal Status ↩