When considering the best options for stress and anxiety reduction, many people will prefer a natural remedy for anxiety. While herbal remedies are often less effective than their synthetic counterparts, taking kava for anxiety may prove surprisingly effective. So, for first-timers, what is the best kava for anxiety?
Noble Kava is the best kava for anxiety due to its stress-relief properties and low incidence of side effects. This is also the best kava for first-timers for the same reasons. First-time users of kava may require slightly higher dosages than regular users to achieve the same effects due to its “reverse tolerance.”
There are many different ways to use kava for anxiety, even from the comfort of your own home. Toward the end of this article I’ll provide links to some of my favorite types of kava for anxiety and relaxation.
For now, read on to learn everything you need to know about what kava is and how to find the best kava for anxiety.
What is Kava?
Kava, also called kava kava, is a plant native to the Pacific Islands. Polynesian Island cultures have consumed kava for many years for its sedative and euphoric effects. Like alcohol, you can use kava for recreational or medicinal purposes. Consuming kava for anxiety relief can be a healthier alternative to more powerful substances.
Kava is prepared by grinding the root of the plant, mixing it with water, and straining the pulp out. What's left is a sort of muddy water type concoction ready for human consumption.
Today, kava is becoming more popular all around the world as a recreational drink. "Kava Bars" can even be found popping up in many cities throughout the United States.
In fact, I actually stumbled upon kava completely accidentally while exploring a new city, seeing a “Kava Bar” sign, and wondering… what the hell is kava?
My First Time Trying Kava
My first time trying kava was at a random hole-in-the-wall kava bar I randomly walked into.
I sat at the bar and ordered a drink of kava the same way you'd order a cocktail. The kava was served in the traditional way, brought out in a half coconut shell with a pineapple slice for a chaser.
You’ll probably want to finish the drink as quickly as possible, much like throwing back a large shot. It shouldn't take more than a few big gulps for most people, but some people do not like the taste.
Personally, I do not mind the taste of kava. Kava has a very earthy, almost muddy water taste. It definitely doesn't taste good, and I could see how some people could really dislike it. But it's also not powerful enough that the taste should deter anyone from trying it.
You can immediately feel a sort of anesthetic effect shortly after your first sip. Your mouth and throat feel slightly numb; almost like a milder version of the topical anesthetic used by dentists.
I ordered several more kava drinks and waited for the effects of kava to gradually increase.
Slipping into conversation with the bartender, I started to loosen up and feel more relaxed. I began to feel mildly intoxicated. I felt a head buzz similar to the way you might feel after having a small amount of alcohol combined with a small amount of marijuana.
Afterward, I left the bar and went for a walk, listening to music along the way.
I did not feel as though the kava was strong enough to impair me in any way or interfere with day-to-day life. The experience did not make me feel "out of control" or overwhelmed at any point.
Kava made me feel a bit more euphoric and positive. I definitely felt a mild "buzz," and a mild to moderate decrease in anxiety.
How Does Kava Work?
For those of you who aren’t satisfied with my admittedly unscientific description of kava’s effects as being a “mild buzz,” I’ll try to elaborate a bit.
The active ingredient in Kava are compounds known as kavalactones.
Among these kavalactones, kavain, yangonin, and desmethoxyyangonin are responsible for the anti-anxiety and euphoric effects that make kava popular.
Kavain works as a muscle relaxant, helping people to relieve tension in the body. When the body relaxes, the brain relaxes, making kava an effective anxiolytic.
Desmethoxyyangonin works by increasing dopamine in the brain. Since dopamine is one of the "feel good" chemicals of the brain, this is responsible for kava's euphoric effects.
Yangonin, another kavalactone, tends to bind to the cannabinoid receptor CB1. This may also contribute to the anxiolytic effects or the "buzz" that kava can cause.
Benefits of Kava for Anxiety
Science-y details aside, the effects of kava are actually pretty straightforward and consistent. Here’s what most people can expect from kava:
As I’m sure you already know, taking too much of anything is never a good thing. Just as there are benefits of kava, we can also experience some side effects – especially if we take more than the recommended dosage. Typically, when one consumes too much kava, they can experience an upset stomach, dizziness, drowsiness, or headaches.
Kava is measured by kavalactone content. Daily kavalactone intake should not exceed 250 mg. An effective dose of kavalactones in most people is 70-250 mg.
While easy to measure kavalactone intake when taking kava in capsule form, it may be more difficult if you are drinking kava the traditional way. Despite this fact, I still vastly prefer drinking kava the traditional way; I just enjoy the ritual of it and find it to be a cool, even social, experience.
If you decide to drink kava, just approach it with the same sense of personal responsibility that is advised when drinking alcohol. Take one drink at a time and pace yourself until you can assess your personal tolerance level; you don’t want to overdo it and ruin the experience.
Like with alcohol, everyone's body and tolerance are different. You may see the desired effects after one drink, or it could take several. In fact, first-time users may need to drink a bit more than regular kava users in order to achieve the same effects… let’s talk about that a bit.
Kava's "Reverse Tolerance"
One of the most interesting features of kava is what many long-time regular kava drinkers refer to as its “reverse tolerance.” Interestingly enough, if it’s your first time drinking kava, you may not actually experience the full effects.
In my own case, I definitely did feel kava my first time drinking it (although I did have several of the “stronger” kava drinks available). Yet, for whatever reason, some people may not feel the effects right away. My guess is that this might have something to do with needing to build up a certain level of kavalactones in your body.
Frankly, it sort of reminds me of the old rumor you used to hear in grade school about marijuana, how “no one really gets high their first time.” Frankly, I’m still not sure whether this is truly the case for either weed or for kava.
In any case, it’s really not a big deal, just something to bear in mind. If you don’t feel anything the first time drinking kava, you may need to drink a bit more at first (responsibly, of course). Your 5th or 6th time drinking kava may also be a far more enjoyable experience than your 1st time.
Over time, thanks to kava’s reverse tolerance, you may be able to achieve the same results while drinking less kava. For me, this is definitely preferable to the increasing tolerance experienced with alcohol. Talk about a cheap date!
Is Taking Kava for Anxiety Safe?
In the past, there has been some controversy regarding kava's effects on the liver.
In the early 2000s kava was banned in several countries after apparent liver damage and even a few deaths linked to kava use. Later studies would poke holes in these findings, showing no link between long-term habitual kava users and liver problems.
Many believe that the past issue of liver issues linked to kava use may have been due to a poor supplier; having blended in other, toxic, parts of the plant beside the root. Overall, it appears to me as though most of the concern surrounding kava’s liver toxicity has been overblown if not completely unfounded. It’s also interesting to me that such a negative focus would ever be placed on kava in the first place, seeing as alcohol is known to be liver toxic and we regularly imbibe anyway.
In my own experience, I have found no adverse side effects or reactions to kava – but I have also always consumed kava responsibly and never on a daily basis.
Kava is generally considered to be non-addictive, so it can be an excellent over-the-counter alternative to more powerful and addictive medications. While not quite as potent as some synthetic options like phenibut, it is a better alternative for those who are looking for an anxiety supplement to use on a more regular basis.
For some people, kava can be a great supplement to help them wean off of stronger anti-anxiety medications.
The only caution I would put forward with regard to kava is that, while it is not technically addictive, it can be habit forming. Because it makes people feel euphoric and relaxed, people can form an emotional attachment to kava. If you are someone who tends to have an addictive personality, this is something to be aware of. My personal advice is simply not to overdo it; drinking kava daily is probably not the best idea.
*Important – Kava should not be consumed in conjunction with alcohol or anti-anxiety medications. This can intensify the feelings of both drugs in a bad way and make you very sick.
Where to Buy the Best Kava for Anxiety?
The best kava for anxiety is going to vary a bit from person to person, depending on preference and circumstance. While there are several types of kava, Noble kava is the most popular cultivar and the best kava for anxiety. Generally speaking, this is what you’ll be getting when you purchase kava unless otherwise specified as Tudei kava (a stronger and longer-lasting kava strain that is not recommended for first-time kava users).
I have several recommendations for the best kava for anxiety. Each provides a unique and different experience, so I actually recommend trying each before deciding which – if any – is right for you. Here’s what I’ve got:
Trying Kava at a Kava Bar
For first-time users I highly recommend getting the full experience by going to a local kava bar near you. I’ve been to a handful myself and they’re typically very cool spots. They usually follow some sort of Polynesian theme and drinks are typically served in a way that’s meant to honor the traditional rituals.
If you’re trying kava for the first time at a kava bar you should definitely let the kava bartender know that it’s your first time trying kava. Kava is still a novelty to a lot of people who have never tried it before, so the bartenders are pretty well-versed in teaching people the history and the basics of kava. A good kava bartender will have no problem walking you through what to expect and how to take the drink.
Kava is usually served in a half-shell coconut with a pineapple slice for a chaser. You say “Bula!” (sort of like a cheers) and then slam the drink back in (ideally) one go. It’s a very cool and authentic-feeling experience.
While you may not be aware of any kava bars near you, if you live in or near any major city it shouldn’t be difficult to find one. Just pull up the GPS on your phone and type in “kava bar” – you’ll probably find a spot or two nearby. If not, my next recommendations will point you toward the best kava for anxiety that you can prepare yourself from home.
*Tip – This is also one of the coolest date ideas, in my opinion. Most people have their minds blown when they discover that there’s a legal, natural alternative to alcohol. And they’re even more shocked to realize there are entire bars built just for serving this plant. Take your date to a kava bar, I guarantee they'll be impressed. 😉
Preparing Kava at Home with a Kava Shaker Bottle
While the experience of an authentic kava bar is definitely worth the trip, kava bars are not always the most financially practical method of consuming kava. Like bars that serve alcohol, prices are often inflated to cover the overhead of running the business. If you plan on using kava long-term, it can be far more cost effective and practical to prepare it at home.
At bare minimum, all you really need to do this is powdered kava root, water, and a strainer. My personal recommendation is to invest in a kava shaker bottle. If you’ve ever made a protein shake before, you’re probably already familiar with shaker bottles. A kava shaker bottle is pretty similar, except you actually put the powder inside of a ball that serves as a strainer. You shake it up a bit and, in a few minutes, you have a fully prepared kava beverage.
The one I bought online, which is probably the most well-known and popular of the kava shaker bottles, is this kava shaker starter kit by AluBall. I actually love everything about this shaker bottle from the color to their patented design of the strainer ball. AluBall sells their own kava powder online as well, and it's quite good. The previous link will take you to a nicely priced starter kit that includes both the shaker and some kava powder. Frankly, the cost of this starter kit is about the cost of two kava drinks at a kava bar so... you will definitely save a lot of time, money, and effort by preparing your kava at home.
Check out my full AluBall Review here.
Give Kava Candy a Try
Totally different from the previous methods, kava candy is one of the best ways to take kava for anxiety. Kava candy is convenient and discreet, because they are literally just pieces of candy containing kava that dissolve on your tongue. The awesome thing about this is that you can just keep a package of kava candy in your pocket and, if you start to feel stressed out, you can eat some kava candy. Best of all, this is a far more natural and conservative option than popping an anti-anxiety pill.
I personally recommend this Kava Stress Candy by Ozia Originals. Steve, the owner, was even kind enough to provide us with a coupon:
Use Coupon Code DONTPANIC at checkout for 15% off your purchase!
I prefer the orange flavor, but they also have a ginger mint option. However, before you get too excited, let me set some expectations – just because it says “candy,” don’t expect it to taste incredible. They do a decent job of masking the kava taste with orange flavoring, but the bitter, earthy kava taste is absolutely still present; as is the numbing feeling that kava can create on your tongue and throat. With that said, it’s not that bad, and it’s certainly not as bad as drinking kava straight. It’s still absolutely worth a try, as it does work to decrease stress and feelings of anxiety for me.