Kava vs Kratom: Comparing Important Differences

Nicole Austin

How are kava and kratom different — and what are they, anyway?

You may have heard of kava and kratom. But what are they, how do they compare, and why do people use these plants? We’re here to walk you through the basics of kava vs kratom to give you a better understanding of both.

Important caveat right up front, though — you shouldn’t make decisions about your health based on one article you read on this site or any other.

This piece is meant to give you helpful context to make your own decisions, in consultation with a medical professional or trusted doctor if needed.

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What is Kava?

Kava, also known as “kava kava” and piper methysticum, is a plant native to the South Pacific islands. It has been used for hundreds of years as a ceremonial drink, and is reported to promote a state of relaxation.

You may have heard it mentioned in the media or in supplements as a stress reducer. Studies have shown that kava can help decrease anxiety, and help combat insomnia or restless sleep.

There are various forms of kava, but it is usually consumed in the form of tea, tincture, or capsules.

It is legal for personal use in the United States and is considered a dietary supplement. Some people see it as a natural way to relax, given its reported calming effects.

Your community may even have a kava bar that opened in the last couple years, as popularity has boomed in the U.S., creating a "kava culture" in this country.

What is Kratom?

Kratom, or mitragyna speciosa, is a tropical tree native to Southeast Asia. In low doses, consumption of kratom produces stimulant effects, and in higher doses, sedative effects.

Kratom leaves are crushed, and then can be smoked, brewed into tea, or taken as a capsule.

In the United States, you can also buy kratom in powder form, or consume it in a candy such as chocolate or a gummy. Kratom is not legal in the United Kingdom or in specific parts of the U.S., such as Sarasota County, Florida or San Diego, California.

We strongly recommend checking local laws and regulations where you live (including individual states) as you weigh any potential health benefits, potential side effects, scientific research on kratom's effects, and the significant differences between different types of kratom, as well as potential adverse effects (more on that below) before use of kratom.

Kratom for Pain

Kratom has been used for hundreds of years for pain management.

I am a longtime sufferer of chronic pain, and it’s something I share to let people know that I understand their battle with their own bodies. The CDC reports that one in five Americans suffer from chronic pain in their lifetime, meaning I am far from alone — yet, not everyone feels comfortable talking about their struggle.

Whether it’s injury, illness, or something entirely unknown, chronic pain can disrupt hobbies, healthy habits, relationships, and other aspects of your personal and professional life.

It’s challenging to be faced with managing pain and maintaining a normal lifestyle. Many people modify their diet by consuming anti-inflammatory foods, which are beneficial pretty much no matter who you are. But many people still need to depend on relief from their pain and seek alternative methods.

Kratom may be a good alternative for people searching for a more natural source of pain relief. Prescriptions can be expensive and have undesirable side effects, whereas kratom is natural and generally has no lasting effects.

For the same reasons people turn to alternative medicine for pain, they also seek relief for anxiety. Anxiety affects over 19% of adults and 7% of children in the United States.

Untreated anxiety can leave people unable to function in activities, relationships, or school and the workplace. It can disrupt the ability to enjoy life experiences that improve quality of life.

Treatment for anxiety often involves medication that can be costly or cause troublesome side effects. Users may dislike how it makes them feel, and be reluctant to continue use, but still want relief from their anxiety.

This makes natural remedies such as kratom and kava appealing to many.

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Kratom and Kava for Anxiety

Both kratom and kava have strains known for relief from anxiety and stress. Users of each report that they have experienced a reduction in symptoms without the use of strong medications to assist, making these two plants a good source for natural remedies in many people’s eyes.

Tips for Using Kratom and Kava Safely

  • Purchase from a legitimate, reliable retailer. Do your research, search for product reviews from real people, and ask around. Look for third party oversight. This means that an independent source has reviewed the product for safety and accuracy. Many people familiar with alternative medicine will have a trusted source for their products and can recommend a reliable business or retailer. Use caution when taking any medication or substance from others. Well-meaning friends or family may not have purchased from a reliable source.
  • Start small. Start with a lower than recommended dose to see how you feel when taking kratom or kava. This will reduce the risk of using more than necessary, and help you determine how kratom or kava works for you. If you do not feel the desired effects after two hours, take a little more. It is important to wait for a period of time to pass before taking more, as this allows your body to metabolize what you have already consumed. If you find that you do not like the effects of kratom, activated charcoal supplements can help remove excess kratom from your system. Carbonated beverages can also speed up the time it takes for your body to process kratom, but stay away from alcoholic carbonated beverages.
  • Do not mix with other substances. When using new products, especially all-natural herbal remedies, it is important to not mix them with other substances. The use of alcohol or other medications may interfere with the effectiveness or strength of the natural product. It can also be dangerous or have unwanted side effects. Ask your doctor or pharmacist if your medication will negatively interact with kratom or kava before trying it if you are using prescription medication.
  • Use in a safe, supervised environment. Try it for the first time when you will be in the presence of others in case you have unexpected side effects. It is recommended to try a new natural remedy, especially one that may influence or affect the mood, around another adult. They can monitor you for signs and symptoms of an allergy or other negative side effects.
  • Know what kind you need. Kratom and kava come in many varieties. The kind you use will depend on the results you are seeking. You may be wondering which one is best for you. Here’s a helpful list:

Red, White, and… Green? Finding the Right Kratom

The colors of kratom may sound confusing, because kratom is green, but there’s actually a reason for the variations.

The stem and vein colors on kratom leaves vary based on the origin and age of the leaves. This color places the product into color families, and each of these families have unique benefits and uses.

Red vein kratom

Red vein kratom is used for pain relief, depression, anxiety, and insomnia. The effects are generally more desirable, as they provide mild, uplifting, calming feelings for users.

Many people report feeling mental clarity and wellness on this strain of kratom.

  • Yellow kratom: This variety comes from the fermentation of the red plant for two days. It is reported to help with anxiety and also boosts mood and relieves pain.

  • Gold kratom: Gold kratom is fermented for three days. It is reportedly helpful for a boost in energy levels while also assisting in anxiety and stress relief. Therefore, it creates mental calm yet provides the ability to be efficient.

  • Chocolate kratom: Chocolate kratom is fermented the longest. It is the most sedating form of kratom, often used to help with insomnia and stress.

White vein kratom

White vein kratom is used for its stimulant effects. It can help provide energy, stamina, focus, and a sense of well-being. Many users will indulge in white vein kratom to replace stimulants such as coffee, or to prepare for a gym workout.

Green vein kratom

Green vein kratom is a middle ground between white and red kratom. Strangely enough, it can provide many of the opposing results between the two strains in a balanced way that makes it unique.

You may find that you feel less pain, are more pleasant, and have sustained energy while using green vein kratom.

What Are the Types of Kava?

Kava comes in a few main strains, which, like kratom, are used for different purposes and may give very different results.

  • Borogu: Known for its minimal side effects, this kava takes effect quickly and many people in the Pacific Islands consume it daily. This comes in white — which is what you will typically see in the U.S. — and red, which is rarely used outside of the Pacific Island of Vanuatu.
  • Borongoru: This was designed for sleep and can reduce nausea and anxiety.
  • Eva: Eva kava is used to promote creativity. This is because it is considered to improve mood, visual attention, and short-term memory.
  • Melo melo: Mellow, it is. This kava is known to be a lighter strain that boosts mood and has limited aftereffects.
  • Noble kava: This is the most popular type of kava, and contains a higher percentage of active ingredients than other varieties, making it more calming and relaxing.
  • Tudei kava: “Two-day” kava is known for effects that can last up to two days. This is not for new or light users of kava, as the risk of undesirable effects is present and could leave one feeling off for hours. Tudei kava can produce a stronger “high” sensation than other types, which may be uncomfortable for some. We do not recommend this for new users.

How to Prepare Kratom

Kratom can be consumed in many forms.

  • Powder: Some people prefer to measure out the desired amount and place it in their mouth, washing it down with water or another preferred beverage. Kratom has a slightly sour, earthy flavor. While it does not pair well with orange or grapefruit juice in that regard, orange juice can increase effectiveness. Be mindful of this when deciding what to drink, as you may not want your kratom to feel stronger. Smoothies: Some people prefer to add kratom to smoothies or other mixes. A protein shake or a fruit smoothie can help hide the flavor of kratom for those who struggle to power through it.
  • Capsules: Kratom comes in capsule form and can be taken as a pill. Capsules are easy to use, mess-free, flavorless, and can be transported easily for use on the go. They are more expensive, and take longer to start working due to the body having to break through the gel coating.
  • Kratom tea: Kratom tea is another way that people choose to consume kratom. For the best results with kratom tea, you will want to use hot but not boiling water. Boiling water will reduce the alkaloid content, which is what makes kratom work. For this reason, kratom tea is not stronger than kratom powder. A dash of lemon juice in your kratom tea will help make it more potent and counter the possible weakened effects from the use of hot water. A sweetener can make kratom tea taste better so it is more enjoyable.
  • Edible kratom: Kratom comes in gummy, candy, and tincture forms for easy consumption. Many people prefer edible kratom as it is usually flavored or sweetened, making it more palatable.
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How to Prepare Kava

Kava is also available commercially in many forms. To have a stronger kava with any of these methods, use a stronger variety of plant.

  • Tea: Kava tea is the most common method for taking kava for anxiety. It is readily available and can be sold alone or blended with other complementary herbs.
  • Edible kava: Tinctures and sprays deliver a faster-acting result, as they come in a higher concentration and the body can absorb liquids faster. It’s important to take small doses at a time and wait a significant amount of time before consuming more, to be certain you are not suddenly hit with the effects.
  • Capsules: Capsules are easy to use, can reduce or prevent undesirable flavors, and are pre-measured. It’s easy to bring capsules with you on the go, making this a great solution for people who experience stress, anxiety, or restless sleep away from home.

Kratom vs Coffee

As we mentioned, white vein kratom often replaces the need for a morning cup of coffee for many users.

Coffee is an extremely popular breakfast beverage because the high caffeine content helps wake people up and lets them feel refreshed, even with little to no sleep under their belt. Kratom does not contain caffeine.

This makes it complementary to coffee, as you can balance the pick-me-up feeling with a reasonable consumption of caffeine. For this reason, people may choose to alternate between the two.

Caffeine is a stimulant. It works by increasing activity in your brain and nervous system. It also increases cortisol and adrenaline circulation in the body.

Kratom can have a stimulant effect on the body as well, but can also be used to give a sense of well-being, an enhanced mood, anxiety and stress management, as well as sleep and pain relief benefits.

Taken in small amounts, kratom will likely be stimulating, and in larger doses, more of a sedative.

The Down Side of Kratom

There are some concerns about the safety and effectiveness of kratom. Kratom is not approved by the US FDA for medical use. In fact, some dispute the validity of claims surrounding its use, while others recognize the reported benefits.

I personally have tried kratom for pain, and found relief without any unpleasant side effects. However, I want to emphasize that I’m not a doctor, and neither is anyone on staff here! Nothing in this article should be considered medical advice. And I was careful to moderate my intake.

When used in large amounts, it can cause withdrawal symptoms that people may find unpleasant.

Kratom does affect the nervous system, making it unsafe for use when driving or operating heavy machinery.

There have been reports of seizures, comas, and death that have been linked to kratom use, though these occur when kratom is misused, or used in conjunction to other substances that may be the root cause.

Long-term use of kava may cause breathing difficulties, visual changes, and altered blood cells. It may have mildly intoxicating effects and cause a slower reaction time and impaired motor skills.

When used for long periods of time or in high doses, kratom can cause issues such as liver damage, failure, and has been associated with exceedingly rare deaths.

But, the same or more can be said for alcohol, which many people widely accept as a means for relaxing or feeling less stress.

The Takeaway

It is up to each individual to determine, based on their circumstances, current medical conditions, and advice of a trusted doctor or medical professional whether or not kava or kratom (or neither) are right for them.

While many people report relief from troubling symptoms, there are also health concerns to take into consideration. Nothing in this article should be construed as advice.

Kava and kratom are natural remedies that have been used for centuries, and will likely continue to be part of a regular alternative medicine lifestyle.

Hopefully this offers you a better understanding of what both are and how they work!

Nicole is a self-published author of fiction novels, and a lover of food and spending time in the kitchen with her six children. She lives in coastal Maine where she loves exploring new recipes especially those that can save time, money and wow a crowd.

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