In recent times there are many kava bars opening everywhere in the US. Kava’s popularity is rising, and many individuals are starting to go to these places instead of regular bars to enjoy their free time. However, the plant is still relatively unknown to most people. So, there are many questions to be answered when referring to kava: Are kava and alcohol interchangeable? What should you expect when drinking kava? What makes kava so popular and what do kava users find so appealing? Keep reading to learn kava vs. alcohol differences and similarities below.
What is Kava?
Kava or Piper methysticum is a plant from the pepper family native to the Pacific islands. A decoction of its roots has been used in ceremonies in areas like Fiji and Hawaii for centuries. In fact, it is still offered to people who visit the islands nowadays. Traditionally, the beverage is served in a coconut shell. Kava is not only used in rituals, but also in social events and as a way to bond with other individuals.
Additionally, native people from other areas such as Papua New Guinea use kava for its medical properties. Today, kava is becoming popular in Western countries where it’s used for many purposes that we’ll see below.
Kavalactones are the main compound of kava (or kava kava). These components act on some receptors of the brain and the nervous system. Thanks to these kavalactones, kava has many properties, and it is not only used in social events. Some of the most typical effects of kava include:
- Relaxing and sedating properties
- Mood elevation and feeling of happiness and well-being
- Helps relieve insomnia
- Muscle relaxation
- Mental clarity and improved cognition
Additionally, thanks to its relaxing some studies have found the potential use of kava to treat or ease conditions such as anxiety. However, due to these properties, you should also avoid taking kava if you are currently using any anxiety treatment of medication.
Kava Side Effects
Kava can have an impact on the liver, so you should never take kava if you suffer from a liver condition. Aside from this, kava doesn’t have many important side effects, and these will disappear after you stop drinking kava. Some of the kava’s side effects are:
- Stomach upset
- Allergy to any of its components
However, most of the time these side effects are very mild and will only arise with high dosages of the plant. Nevertheless, if you experience any side effects, you must discontinue the use of kava. Additionally, you shouldn’t take kava if you are taking any medication or treatment as it can interact with it.
Additionally, to avoid liver problems, the FDA recommends not to exceed a dosage of 290-mg of kava per day.
As most people know, alcohol or ethanol is the drug that is present on alcoholic beverages. It can be obtained in two ways:
- Fermentation of fruit, vegetables, or grains. This is the case with wine and beer.
- Distillation of fermented drinks, which is an artificial way to increase alcohol concentration in a beverage. This happens in whiskey, vodka, and rum to name a few.
After drinking any amount of alcohol, it will reach the brain after a few minutes and you’ll typically feel a sense of euphoria, relaxation, confidence, and disinhibition. That’s why most people drink alcohol as a way to socialize and reduce social phobia.
Alcohol Side Effects
Although drinking alcohol occasionally is ok for most people, alcohol drinking can lead to many problems. Alcohol side effects are well-known. After drinking alcohol, you’ll typically feel the following side effects:
- Stomach upset
- Nausea and vomiting
- Short-term memory loss
The above is what we commonly know as a hangover, and it usually lasts for a few hours after alcohol consumption. But alcohol has many more side effects that arise after prolonged use. These include:
- Alcoholism or alcohol addiction
- Liver disease
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
- Weakened immune system
- Brain damage
Additionally, alcohol consumption can lead to psycho-social problems such as poor judgment, relationship issues, low performance at work or school, which can end up in unemployment, etc.
Kava Vs. Alcohol Differences and Similarities
As we already mentioned, many individuals are going to kava bars instead of regular alcohol bars for social interaction. But, does this mean that alcohol and kava are somehow similar? Let’s see their main differences and similarities:
Regarding their similarities kava and alcohol are:
- Euphoric: in small doses, both can produce a sense of euphoria
- Relaxing: relaxation is one of the main properties of kava, on the other hand, alcohol can be relaxing when drinking small amounts
- Socializing: drinking alcohol and kava in small doses can help reduce social phobia
- Hepatotoxicity: both substances can damage the liver
However, alcohol and kava have many differences, including:
- Addiction potential: Whilst alcohol may lead to addiction after prolonged use, kava is not an addictive substance
- Hangover: although some individuals have reported a kava hangover after drinking large quantities, most people agree that noble kava won’t give you a hangover
- Effects on health: whilst it is true that kava can affect your liver, it doesn’t have the rest of alcohol side effects, i.e.: heart and brain damage, cognitive issues and psycho-social problems
So, in summary, is it kava a good alcohol substitute? For many individuals the answer is positive, but this will depend on personal preferences.