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The two may look and sound the same but in reality they’re very different. If you’ve read our post on ‘What is Kratom’ you already know that Kratom, comes from the leaf of the tropical evergreen plant Mitragyna Speciosa. Traditionally used throughout Southeast Asia as a natural herbal remedy, now-a-days, Kratom is being praised by many for its ability to effectively manage pain symptoms among much more. At low dosages Kratom acts as a stimulant while at higher dosages, the herb responds more like a sedative.
You’ve also most likely heard of Kava, botanically known as Piper Methysticum, and may have even confused it for Kratom due to its name and visual appearance. So what are the differences between Kava and Kratom? If you’re curious to dive in and know what exactly differentiates the two herbals, you’re in the right place. We’re going to break down the differences by looking at the geographical location each are grown in, their chemical makeup, the healing status of each, consumption form and effect of both herbs. At the end, we’ll wrap up with the legal status of both herbs.
Most commonly used in the past for its healing abilities, Kratom was used to treat various conditions. It was also used for its energy boosting characteristics and calming effects. For centuries, Kratom has been utilized as a way to increase the productivity of workers as well as fight fatigue. The herbal was found to increase the level of focus of the individual using it, providing them with a greater ability to concentrate and complete tasks with a high accuracy. Kava on the other hand, has a reputation for providing intoxicating and euphoric effects; it is often used more for recreation and appeals to many users for its therapeutic effects. Kava was made popular as a social drink throughout the South Pacific, even though it too had great healing effects, it was more recognized in the social realms. During the colonial periods, Kava extracts began making their way into Western medicine and for this, many people say that Kava has a longer history of research to back up its health claims.
Comparing the Differences
The main differentiating areas between Kratom and Kava are its geographical origins, chemical makeup, and healing status. Take a look below for more details.
Both Kratom and Kava are grow in Southeastern Asia, and historically have been used to make tea, referred to as Kratom tea or Kava tea, the most common method of consumption.
- Rubiaceae (Coffee) family
- From the leaves of a tropical Evergreen tree
- Grows anywhere from 4-16 meters high
- Piperacae (Pepper) family
- From the root of a tropical shrub
- Average height is 6 feet
- Produces heart shaped leaves
- The leaves of the plant can grow up to 10 inches wide
The makeup of Kratom and Kava are not only chemically different but they also have unique mechanisms of action.
- Contains 40+ alkaloids
- Main active ingredients producing psychoactive effects are Mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitagynine
- Percentage of active ingredients differs depending on strain and maturity of the plant
- 15 Kavalactones have been identified, although many online sources, not scientific, claim there are up to 19
- 6 of the identified Kavalactones are known to be active ingredients that are responsible for the effects on the brain and central nervous system. These identified Kavalactones are: Desmethoxyyangonin, Dihydrokavain, Yangonin, Kavain, Dihydromethysticin, Methysticin.
Each Kavalactones has unique characteristics, thus producing its own effects
- Desmethoxyvangonin- Dopamine and serotonin increase
- Dihydrokavain – Enhances GABA chemicals in the brain.
- Yangonin & Kavain – Affect the central nervous system
- Dihydromethysticin & Methysticin – Work by increasing serotonin chemicals
Depending on the type of kava chemotypes, you will experience feelings anywhere from that of slightly sedated and deep sleep to a relaxed socially happy effect.
Take a look near the end of the article for more on effects of Kava
Kratom works by stimulating the mu and delta opioid receptors along with influencing activity at the norepinephrine and serotonin receptors. Kratom is commonly used as a herbal remedy for its ability to manage pain symptoms. Taken on a regular basis, many opioid addicts also say the herb has helped them with their withdraw symptoms from other opioids.
Kava influences activity at the GABA receptors and stimulates the dopamine receptors to calm anxiety, increase the socialness of the user, and improve the overall mood of the individual. The mildly intoxicating properties of Kava put the user in a state of calm and without worries. These effects are a result of the interaction with the receptors that regulate fear and anxiety.
Now that we’ve looked at the differences between Kratom and Kava, take a look at a few of the basic similarities; you’ll see quickly why the two herbals may be mistakenly confused.
When looking at the both herbs, one is clearly a leaf and the other a root, but what about the form it arrives in for the consumer? When buying Kratom or Kava, how can you really know the difference if there was no label on them? Take a look below at the most common forms the two are sold in, many appear in the same form.
- Dried or crushed leaf
- Dried root
- Instant Mix
- Micronized (fine ground)
- Kavalactone pastes
Both herbs act as a stress reducer, are able to induce euphoric effects and improve on your general state of happiness.
As mentioned earlier, due to the fact that both herbs have differing methods of action, some say that taking them together will produce more potent effects.
- Activity at the serotonergic, dopaminergic, and adrenergic receptors sites result in a variety of positive effects; notably, calming properties, elevates your mood, and minimizes pain.
- Used to help those with opioid addictions
- Cognitive stimulant
- The affect on Gaba receptors enhances immunity in the body, helping ensure you’re defences stay up and protect you from developing an illness. Specific kavalactones in Kava, that activate these receptors, produce calming effects during moments of overwhelm.
- Kava has been used to relax and calm before sleep, often providing a deeper and more revitalized rest.
- Used by many as a natural form of cancer treatment
- Natural anxiety medicine
With a longer history of use and research, Kava has managed to claim a legal status whereas Kratom on the other hand, has come under fire and has been labeled as a dangerous and controversial drug. There is a major grey area that exists on whether the consumption of Kratom is safe and until more research is conducted, the conversation will remain the same. Kratom is being controlled in a few European countries, while in the USA regulations as per state are being put into place. Countries such as Thailand have actually made the possession of Kratom illegal, a law that has been around since 1943. In Malaysia, Myanmar, Bhutan, and Australia, they have listed Kratom as a controlled substance that continues to be monitored closely.
Many people in support of Kratom, like to compare it to Kava and say that it to should have the same legal status. The difference with Kava, and one of the main reasons why it remains legal for human consumption is because it hasn’t been classified as a controlled substance in Canada. There seems to be more evidence and research around Kava, and despite a Health Canada recall and ban in 2002 on imports of the herb, it has remained legal for personal possession and consumption. Kava too has been under plenty of fire in the past as many questioned its possible effect of causing liver damage but following more research, these claims were removed.
The legal status of both Kratom and Kava is a complex one. For more information on the legalities of Kratom in Canada, see our post on ‘Is Kratom Legal in Canada’
Let’s Wrap Up
As you now know, after reading this, Kratom and Kava are two completely different herbs and although they exhibit similar effects and both can be found growing in Southeastern Asia, these are where the similarities stop. Their method of action on the receptors in the brain, cannot be compared with each other. Chemically the two differ quite a bit. Visually they appear unique as well; one is a root that comes from a tropical scrub while the other, Kratom, is obtained from the leaves of a tropical evergreen tree. So, there you have it… we hope that we’ve brought some clarity to the main differences between Kratom and Kava and have provided sufficient information for you to know what sets the two apart. Of course, there are more differences then we’ve listed however, these are the main differentiating factors that you must be aware of.