A lot of people rely on coffee and tea for energy, relaxation, and uplifting their mood. It might surprise you to learn that there are other natural herbs that promote these benefits even better – kava and kratom. These herbs can help with anxiety, stress, lethargy, and restlessness. Amidst their similarities, they both have key differences.
There are certain facts you should know when comparing kava vs. kratom. It’s good to understand how the plants are different, how they’re similar, and their specific uses. By taking a look at the pros and cons of each, you can decide which one fits your lifestyle.
Kratom Plants Vs. Kava Plants
Did you know that kratom is related to coffee and kava is in the pepper family?
People sometimes get the two terms mixed up, but it’s important to know that kratom and kava are separate plants that grow in different regions of the world.
Just like tea vs. coffee, they work in different ways in your body to produce their beneficial effects. Let’s take a look at these differences.
What is Kratom?
Kratom comes from the leaves of Mitragyna speciosa. It’s is a tropical evergreen tree that grows in Southeast Asia, in countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Myanmar, and Papua New Guinea.
There are six other species in the Mitragyna family, most of which are indigenous to Asia while a few come from Africa. There are multiple strains of Mitragyna speciosa that produce slightly different effects.
Both Mitragyna speciosa and coffea, the coffee plant, are members of the same family of flowering plants, Rubiaceae. In addition to providing coffee, this family contains several plants that are used in traditional medicine.
Another genus in the Rubiaceae family, Breonadia, is an important plant in traditional African medicine. Its bark is used to treat stomach/digestive tract problems such as diarrhea and E. coli.
Like other plants in its family, kratom has medical benefits. In Southeast Asia, kratom is used in traditional medicine as a cough suppressant, anti-diabetic, antidiarrheal, an intestinal deworming agent, and a cataplasm for wounds. It’s also used to help wean addicts off opioids.
Workers who labor in fields, build structures or have other jobs that require physical labor or monotonous tasks often chew kratom leaves to give them energy, boost mood, and reduce body aches.
Mitragyna parvifolia plays a large role in traditional medicine in India. Many tribes have immense knowledge of their surrounding forests, including specialized knowledge of the flora, fauna, and herbs. They use this species of kratom to treat jaundice, alleviate pain and swelling, and help heal wounds/ulcers.
Online you can find a wide range of medical benefits people get from kratom. Here are some of the things people use kratom for to help manage:
- Chronic pain and muscle soreness
- Heroin/painkiller addiction
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
- Obesity/body weight
- High blood pressure
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
In smaller doses, kratom can be compared to the effects of caffeine from matcha. It’s energizing and uplifting and can suppress the appetite. In larger doses, it acts more as a sedative or pain killer.
The quality of kratom is really important to experience the best effects. Reading these reviews can help you understand what to look for when buying kratom.
There is an unfortunate lack of research on kratom’s effects and many uses; more extensive studies should be done to raise awareness. Kratom is not FDA-approved, which contributes to a lot of the misinformation on the internet.
What is Kava?
Kava comes from the roots of Piper methysticum, a plant indigenous to the Pacific Islands. It was originally only grown in Hawaii, Fiji, the Samoas, Tonga, Micronesia, and Vanuatu. Due to its history as a crop, it no longer produces seeds.
Indigenous cultures keep the plant alive by cutting parts of the roots and replanting them. All kava has the same genetic profile. Not every plant is exactly the same, however, due to epigenetic differences.
Kava grown in different locations can have different properties, making them different strains. Like kratom, these different strains can have varying types of effects.
Kava plays a large role in various cultures in the countries that grow it.
Pacific Islanders ground the root and stump of the shrub and produced a drink from it by soaking it in cold water. This drink was a part of ceremonies and other cultural practices. Kava Bars are common in numerous countries; people go to them to socialize while drinking kava.
Aboriginal people in Northern Australia use kava as a substitute for alcohol, to reduce the negative effects alcohol can have on a community. They use it for similar sedative effects, in order to relax and socialize.
In Samoa, people drink kava (called ‘ava) at all important gatherings and ceremonies. It’s served in a polished coconut half.
In Tonga, kava is tied in with culturally significant club (kalapu) culture. People drink the kava in rounds, often while joking, bonding, playing music, or watching sports. This often lasts 8-9 hours.
Kava’s effects on the central nervous system are the main reason for use in traditional medicine. It’s also used in Pacific medicine for urogenital conditions, reproductive and women’s health, gastrointestinal discomfort, coughs, and topical wound treatment.
There are specific methods of preparation and different strains that depend on the intended purpose.
The benefits of kava often help people with things such as:
- General Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
- Muscle pains
- Depression (such as Major Depressive Disorder)
- Premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
Kava is really good at boosting your mood and relaxing you at the same time. Its effects can be compared to alcohol, although it’s much better for getting quality sleep.
How Do Kratom and Kava Work?
Kratom and kava contain different compounds that your brain responds to in differing ways. Let’s take a look at (a condensed version of) the science behind it.
The main benefits of kratom come from its alkaloids. In coffee, caffeine is the alkaloid responsible for your increase in energy/mood. Kratom contains many more kinds of alkaloids (and it does not contain caffeine).
The main active ingredients are mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine. Kratom’s alkaloids attach to your opioid receptors. These receptors are abundant in the nucleus accumbens, the part of your brain that’s heavily involved in releasing dopamine. When the alkaloids bind to the receptors, your brain releases dopamine, hence the mood-boosting qualities of kratom.
These receptors are part of our opioid system, which extends from the brain to the spinal cord. This system regulates the pain signals that travel from the body to the brain. When you active the receptors, you experience less pain.
The more opioid receptors you activate, the less pain you feel. When you take small doses of kratom, it’s energizing and mood-boosting. Larger doses of kratom bind to more receptors, producing a more sedative effect that reduces your pain.
The active ingredients in kava are referred to as kavalactones. There are many different kinds of them in the plant, but 90% of the total kavalactone content comes from 6 main kavalactones.
The kavalactones attach to your GABA receptors, to make them more receptive to the GABA already in your system. The GABA system is an element of your nervous system that regulates the speed of neurological activity. It slows the transmission of your nerves’ electrical signals.
This effect on the nerve reduces your “fight or flight” stress response. It decreases anxiety, stress, and muscle spasms. This promotes calmness and relaxation and can help reduce your racing thoughts.
This is why kava can work as natural sleep aids. In addition, certain kavalactones can promote higher dopamine levels.
What Do the Different Strains Mean?
Kratom and kava come in different strains. These produce different effects due to different balances of alkaloids and kavalactones.
There are four main strains. The different strains of kratom are as follows:
1. White Vein Kratom: stimulating; good for energy and alertness, most stimulating in smaller doses
2. Red Vein Kratom: sedative effects, for relaxation, pain relief, natural sleep aids, more sedative in larger doses
3. Green Vein Kratom: middle road between green and red; relaxing and energizing, good for anxiety
4. Yellow Vein Kratom: contains a mix of strains, more subdued effects
All of these strains still provide kratom’s benefits in general, but they have different alkaloid combinations. This makes different types produce more of a certain kind of effect.
There are 103 different cultivars of kava, with different effects. Here are the three main category groups:
Heady kavas: daytime use; energy and euphoria
Heavy kavas: nighttime use; relaxation and sleepiness
Balanced kavas: use anytime; in-between effects
When you choose a strain of kava, you’ll want to read the description. It will tell you which category it falls into.
Kava vs. Kratom: The Verdict
When deciding between kava vs. kratom (or both), you’ll want to picture how you want these natural herbs to fit into your day. Do you want energy or relaxation? Do you have chronic pain or anxiety?
Even if you have no specific need for their medical purposes, both kava and kratom can boost your mood and help you relax. If you found this article informative and would like to learn more about other natural remedies, check out our blog.