Is Kava Healthy? Explained | Botanic Tonics

Is Kava Healthy? Explained | Botanic Tonics

Reviewed by Erin Berthold

Is Kava Healthy? Explained

With kava drink bars popping up everywhere from South Florida to the San Francisco Bay Area, there’s no doubt that the ancient herbal remedy is exploding in popularity. And while it’s credited with promoting a more kicked-back mood, one must ask: Is kava healthy?[1]

The quick answer: For the most part, yes, but it depends on your circumstances. The quality of the kava plant supplement you consume and the presence of an underlying medical condition are just two factors that can influence its effects on your health and wellness.[2]

The long answer? That you will find below. 

Keep reading as we investigate the basics of kava extract, the potential kava supplement benefits, and how to ensure you choose the right kava products when you want to harness an aloha state of mind.

What is Kava?

Kava is an herbal extract derived from Piper methysticum, a shrub in the pepper family that’s native to regions of the South Pacific. Places ranging from Hawaii and Vanuatu to Papua New Guinea and Tonga have used kava for centuries, primarily in:[3,4,5]

  • Religious ceremonies
  • Reunions
  • Welcoming events
  • Weddings
  • Before battles
  • Celebrations of a new leader or chief

Kava use has also been traditionally based in the South Pacific for medicinal purposes. Historically, the root was crushed, either by mouth or hand, and mixed with water or coconut milk—and in some parts, this is how it’s still consumed.

The South Pacific tradition has migrated across the ocean and onto the U.S. mainland and beyond, but today, people are learning how to prepare kava for kava tea, capsules, tinctures, and drinks. Today, it’s estimated that there are more than 100 kava bars across the country, while the kava market as a whole is expected to expand to a $3.41 billion industry in the next handful of years.[6,7]

What’s the Appeal of Kava?

The chill, relaxed feeling that drinking kava may prompt is one of the biggest reasons it’s had such a stronghold in social settings in Pacific Island nations—and why it’s become the libation du jour in the United States. Others applaud all types of kava for helping them get in the flow of whatever task is at hand. 

Because of this, it’s deemed a “self-enhancer."

Is Kava Good for You?

Kava can be good for you, with an emphasis on can. We’re only now beginning to get a comprehensive picture of kava’s potential. What we know so far, however, is that kava contains:

  • Kavalactones – Kavalactones, or kavapyrones, are a cluster of 18 compounds that influence the central nervous system.[8,9] We don’t quite understand (at least yet) how, exactly, kavalactones interact with our nervous systems, but we do know they’re thought to be responsible for the more balanced mood it might provoke. 

  • Kevain – One of these kavalactones is called kavain, and older research on the compound has linked it with positive effects on the sleep-wake cycle.[10] However, more scientific studies, specifically on humans, must be performed before we can understand if kava improves sleep or if it’s a natural side effect of feeling more hang-loose in general.

  • While research on kava is still in its adolescence—so to speak—it has been leveraged by several European countries, who use it to help people manage menopause and urinary tract infections, among other issues. That said, we don’t have a large enough body of evidence pointing to its efficacy on medical conditions (and natural life changes) to make any sort of definitive claims.

    Still, what we do know is that kava can make you feel a little freer while also providing some other positives. Let’s look at them in a bit more depth.

    What are the Health Benefits of Kava?

    Whether you choose to take kava in a capsule form or host a kava party in your backyard, you might quickly understand why kava is booming in popularity among other natural health products. Kava may encourage the following: 

    #1 A relaxed frame of mind and an elevated mood

    Allow us to reiterate here that proponents of kava generally point to the lighter, breezier mood it may evoke. This is thanks to the effect that kavalactones have on GABA, a key neurotransmitter that generates feelings of well-being and “hey, it’s cool” vibes. This isn’t to say that it causes intoxication; rather, kava might just take the edge off. It may also:

    • Soothe feelings of discomfort and uneasiness
    • Give you a boost of social fuel and self-assurance

    Remember where most of kava consumption in the South Pacific takes place? That’s right—in social situations. In this way, kava can act as a social lubricant, only without the tummy woes, parched mouth, and headaches that tend to arrive with a hangover.

    Additionally, kavalactones decrease the uptake of two other major neurotransmitters, dopamine and noradrenaline.[11] This may help settle the occasional bout of anxiety.

    #2 Enhanced concentration

    Thus far, there isn’t much of a proven correlation between the use of kava and improved cognitive performance, but some research points to a slight increase in focus.[12] Anecdotally, the relaxing impact of kava is thought to clear the mind just enough to enrich the ability to zero in on mental and physical tasks.

    #3 Neuroprotective properties

    Preliminary research indicates that the use of kava may have neuroprotective properties that could potentially help with nervous system conditions and cognitive wellness.[13] That said, a great deal more research needs to be performed on this as well.

    #4 Help with inflammation

    Research demonstrates that those kavalactones in kava have anti-inflammatory properties.[14] These anti-inflammatory effects might be minimal, but anything that helps us beat back oxidative stress is a winner in our book.

    Is Kava Healthy? A Word of Caution

    The quality of the kava you choose can be a huge determining factor on whether it’s beneficial for you—or hazardous. 

    The Cleveland Clinic asserts that one of the biggest risks in using kava—or any other herbal extract for that matter—is opting for an unregulated product. There are 200 kinds of kava plants, and some might produce more exaggerated effects than others. Aim to purchase and use only kava that’s, well, pure kava, and from a reputable retailer who puts its products through third party testing to boot.

    What Impacts Kava’s Physical and Mental Effects?

    Kava might do wonders for your best friend’s uneasiness at parties, but it might spur another to curl up on the sofa for a long nap. This is another way of saying that kava may have different effects on different people. [15] This is influenced by your:

    • Physical frame and body weight
    • The strength of the kava—and the amount consumed
    • Whether you have a tolerance to kava (e.g., you’ve taken it before)

    How you feel on kava is also influenced by the presence of other substances which, all in all, are discouraged by medical professionals. 

    How Can You Use Kava Wisely?

    The World Health Organization (WHO) states that kava, in its unadulterated, traditional form, presents only a low level of health risks.[16] And while kava may be derived from nature, you should nonetheless exercise a few precautions before consuming it. In addition to always selecting quality kava from an esteemed, trusted manufacturer, consider tackling the following before you pour yourself a kava-infused, alcohol-free concoction:

  • Receive approval from your healthcare professional – To dodge the possibility of experiencing a negative effect from kava, you may want to check in with your doc before agreeing to a Hinge date at your local kava bar. Kava may interact with some medications, including:
      • Certain anti-anxiety medications, including benzos, barbiturates, and Xanax 
      • MAOIs and SSRIs
      • Parkinson’s medications
      • Diuretics[17]
      • Medications that affect the liver
  • Avoid mixing kava with alcohol – Whether you're in Austin or San Diego, you might note that most kava bars you come across are alcohol-free and that the kava cocktails they serve are prepped with coconut milk or juice. There’s a reason for this: Because of both alcohol and kava’s effects on the nervous system, consuming them together may exacerbate cognitive impairment and potentially render you vulnerable to liver toxicity, and leave you worried about a kava hangover.[18]

  • Start slowly – Kava isn’t without possible side effects. Headaches, lethargy, nausea, skin issues, restlessness, tremors, and indigestion are all possible reactions to kava.[19] With this in mind, experiment with a small amount and monitor how your brain and body respond.

  • Order an Uber – If you’re experimenting with kava outside of your home, be sure to avoid driving and operating heavy machinery: Kava may cause fatigue and drowsiness and delay your reflexes.

  • Further, if you’re pregnant, breastfeeding, or planning on becoming pregnant, you should avoid kava completely. 

    The same goes for those with underlying health problems and medical conditions like depression, Parkinson’s disease, blood disorders, kidney disease, and liver disease. Your best bet? Stick to the recommended dosage and monitor how you feel safely.[20]

    Bask in a Brighter Mood with Botanic Tonics

    Asking the question—is kava safe and healthy—is important whether you’re heading to a kava bar for the first time or thinking about weaving kava into your self-care routine. Kava has some promising benefits for the right candidates.

    If you decide to give kava a try—or want to level up your private kava bar at home—give Botanic Tonics a spin. We take the necessary precautions to ensure we provide our customers with only the highest quality products. To this end, we put our feel free kava capsules and kava tonic, made with kava kava extract, through rigorous testing so that what you receive is clean and effective.

    No contaminants. No heavy metals. Just plant-based ingredients and a dedication to exceptionalism. Check out Botanic Tonics today.


    1, National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Kava.

    2,18, Cleveland Clinic. When it comes to kava, ‘natural’ doesn’t mean safe.

    3, University of Hawaii at Manoa Library. Traditional Pacific Island crops: kava.

    4, Encyclopedia Britannica. Kava.

    5, The University of Texas at El Paso. Kava.

    6, The Guardian. The great kava boom: how Fiji’s beloved psychoactive brew is going global.

    7, Fortune Business Insights. Kava root extract market size.

    8, Nature Plants. The biosynthetic origin of psychoactive kavalactones in kava.

    9,11, UCLA Health. Ask the doctors-what are the risks and benefits of kava?

    10, Journal of Pharmacological Sciences. Hypnotic and sleep quality-enhancing properties of kavain in sleep-disturbed rats.

    12, Science Direct. The impact of traditional kava (piper methysticum) use on cognition: implications for driver fitness.

    13, Neural Regeneration Research. Neuroprotective properties of kavalactones.

    14, Practical Pain Management. Can kava supplements kill your pain?

    15, Alcohol and Drug Foundation. What is kava?

    16, World Health Organization. Kava: a review of the safety of traditional and recreational beverage consumption.

    17,19 Mount Sinai. Kava kava.

    20, Healthline. Kava kava: benefits, side effects and dosage.

    About The Author

    Erin Berthold Botanic Tonic

    Erin Berthold, PhD

    Erin Berthold is the R&D Director at Botanic Tonics. She holds her PhD in Pharmaceutics from the University of Florida. There she studied the interaction potential between mitragynine and cannabidiol, two compounds from complex natural products. She is passionate about developing creative and alternative options for individuals suffering from substance use disorders.

    Erin earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Illinois at Chicago in 2011. Prior to going back to obtain her PhD, she worked in manufacturing, quality control, engineering, and quality assurance roles across regulated industry at pharmaceutical, medical device, and dietary supplement companies.

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