Photo by Thought Catalog
1. Know the science: Not all kava is created equally
The most important distinction that will immediately separate some retailers from others is whether the kava they sell is noble or tudei. Vanuatu only allows for the export of noble kava. If it is unspecified on their website or product page, you can, alternatively, look at the active ingredients inside the kava they sell to make your own distinction. Flavokavains are found in small concentrations in all kava powders, but flavokavain B is found in high concentrations in tudei kava.
The active chemicals in kava that give it is psychotropic effects are called kavalactones. Some companies will just say that there are high concentrations of kavalactones in their product, which doesn’t tell you much. It is more important, rather, to look for companies that list the specific kavalactones that are most present in the product they sell. Importantly, each kavalactone has unique properties that determine kava’s effect on the body.
2. Know how to read kavalactone concentrations
In some kava packaging, you will find either a list of specific kavalactones, or a number. There are 6 kavalactones with different properties that are most prominent in kava products, each given a corresponding number:
Desmethoxyyangonin - Helps to influence the increase of dopamine and serotonin levels to help boost attention levels and mood
Dihydrokavain - Sedative properties that often make the user feel relaxed and sleepy
Yangonin - Stimulant properties that give the user energy and mental stamina
Kavain - Euphoric properties that help to elevate mood or improve overall self-image
Dihydromethysticin - Responsible for kava's analgesic effect, reducing pain and tension
Methysticin - Blocks the re-uptake of norepinephrine, thought to increase energy levels
Because this way of labeling is widely used, on packaging you will often find a number: 43621. In this particular powder, for example, kavain is found in the highest concentrations, while desmethoxyyangonin is the lowest. Knowing these numbers is vital to purchasing the proper kava for your needs.
3. Know the plant
The biggest red flag to look for are companies that don’t specify which part of the plant they use in their product. Kava stems and leaves have harmful chemicals that are not otherwise found in the roots, so stick with companies that only use kava root and kava root extract in their products.
Additionally, a company that does not hide where their kava comes from is likely being honest about the kava they sell. Ethically and sustainably farmed kava will be the most reliable, while products with an obfuscated origin are more likely to be hiding something.
4. What will you use kava for?
Kava is often classified as heady, heavy or balanced. These classifications are due to the different combinations of kavalactones in the particular blend. Kava low in #5 and high in #3 are heady, blends high in #2 and #5 are heavy, with other combinations representing balanced blends.
For anxiety, a heavier balanced kava blend would be preferred to slow down intrusive thoughts and relax the body and mind, while a headier kava would help increase energy levels and mental clarity. If you plan to use kava to help you sleep or to mitigate pain, a heavy kava would serve you best.
5. Determine your desired frequency of use
A healthy and safe daily dose of kava is around 250 mg/day. Make sure the product you are looking to buy has an easy way to determine kava dosage and, more importantly, the means for consumption is conducive to your lifestyle. Typically, heady kavas are better for use during the day, while heavy kavas are better for use at night.
Additionally, some companies do not specify how to prepare a kava drink. Some powders require you to squeeze it through cheesecloth, while some tinctures can just be added to juice. Be sure to seek out this information in order to get the kava product that best matches your lifestyle.
6. Make sure other ingredients added in come from plants
When looking at kava tinctures and pastes, ingredients are often added for various reasons. Commonly, added ingredients are other roots and herbs, flower and seed extracts and various vegetable sugars that often look familiar. Any chemicals with complicated names deserve a bit of extra research. If these chemicals take up a lot of room on an ingredients label without any justification or explanation, you might want to look elsewhere.
7. Read reviews!
When all else fails, check out other peoples’ experience. Be sure to check out the good and the bad, giving yourself the best breadth of information to make your final decision. Things to look out for include:
Large presence of people presenting nausea symptoms--noble kava should not make you nauseous!
If someone notes that the powder contained stems, their product is likely mixing the root with other parts of the plant, which is dangerous
8. Ask questions!
This is the best and most efficient way to test a company’s knowledge and to ensure your kava use is what is best for you. Contact the company by email or phone with some questions that keep them on their toes. Here is a list of questions to ask and answers to look out for that sum up this hack:
Where does your kava come from?
Sometimes knowing where the kava comes from can help you determine the truth in their answers below. If there is no clear answer, the trustworthiness of the company may be in jeopardy. A company committed to quality kava will know where it comes from.
Is the kava you use noble or tudei?
Noble is the correct answer! Tudei is too strong and quite dangerous to ingest. This is an easy way to tell the good retailers from the bad.
What part of the plant is used in your mix?
The only correct answer here is roots! Anything else is harmful to health and that company should be immediately written off.