Kava: benefits, uses, and history

Kava Benefits, Uses, and History

Another plant star is on the rise, but is it as good as they say? With a rich history spanning centuries, kava is starting to receive some recognition for its therapeutic benefits. Kava had played a vital role in the South Pacific islands, even eventually imbuing itself into the people’s culture, and now slowly earning its spot in the wellness community with greater support from modern science.

With more knowledge surrounding kava and its effects on people, we can now bring you this information-packed article about kava, its uses, benefits, and history. If you’ve been curious about kava and how it might fit into your wellness routine, FOCL will help you learn everything you need to know about it to make an educated purchase decision.

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The Definition: Kava is a shrub with roots rich in kavalactones that may ease symptoms of stress related to anxiety, insomnia, and premenstrual syndrome. Most people consume kava as tea or a beverage, but you can also find kava capsules, tablets, tonics, and tinctures. 

The Process: Kava roots are often ground or powdered and then made into tea. 

How To Take: Generally, a dose of kava is between 30 to 240 mg of kavalactones, the active compound in Kava. It may be best to start with 30 to 60 mg of kavalactones and gradually increase it until the desired effects are achieved.

History: The South Pacific has used kava for at least 1500 years.1 Many believe kava originated from Vanuatu or Fiji, and its first uses were as an occasion marker, an offering to the gods, and a stress-relieving drink.

The Breakdown: Kava

Native to the South Pacific islands, kava is a shrub often used as a ceremonial, social, and medicinal drink. Its roots are frequently served as a tea during weddings, funerals, religious ceremonies, or home visits and meetings in the South Pacific. It belongs to the pepper family, can grow up to 3 meters in height, and is also known as kava-kava, awa, and sakau.  

In the United States, kava is legally sold as a dietary supplement, often advertised as a natural alternative to sleeping pills and anti-anxiety drugs, after a few studies showed that kava significantly reduced feelings of anxiety.2 In some instances, kava usage may ease symptoms of stress related to anxiety, insomnia, and premenstrual syndrome.3


Cultivation, Extraction, And Consumption

Kava leaves, stems, and roots may be used to utilize kava’s effects, but the leaves and stems result in greater toxicity issues. Kava leaves may be used to relieve headaches, but it contains a high amount of alkaloids that could cause harmful side effects.4 

Meanwhile, kava stems and stem peelings contain huge amounts of kavalactones but shouldn’t be used for consumption as well due to their high alkaloid content. People instead use kava stems to cultivate kava.5 

To prepare kava for consumption, you would need either fresh or dried kava roots. Some people prefer pounding the kava roots to create a powder, while others choose to grind the roots with a blender to produce kava powder. Others might even just soak or boil the roots whole.

Once powdered or mixed in water, kava’s active compounds are then extracted and mixed in the water. The kava and water mixture then needs to be strained using a cloth or sieve, and the resulting beverage is ready for consumption.

There is a potential that kava may cause hepatotoxicity or liver issues. Further studies are needed to fully confirm it, especially because current medical advice is outdated. This is in reference to initial bans caused by a belief that kava caused liver toxicity were not based on direct evidence.3 However, it’s always best to consult a healthcare professional if you’re interested in adding kava or any other supplement to your daily life. 

If you’re interested in kava because it can be drunk as a tea, you can consider adding something like FOCL’s broad-spectrum citrus premium CBD drops to your daily routine as an alternative. Our premium CBD drops are vegan, cruelty-free, and perfect for anyone wanting to use them as an aid against stress or anxiety.


 What is kava?

Why Use Kava?

Kava is often marketed as a sleeping aid, muscle relaxant, and mood regulator.4 Most of kava’s effects come from kavalactones, a set of lactones that’s almost exclusively only existent in kava shrubs. Kava has the potential to give more benefits to its users, but more studies are needed to confirm it.

Kava May Work As A Sleep Aid

Kava’s kavalactones supposedly interact with the brain’s GABA receptors, which results in the reduction of anxiety and more feelings of relaxation. As a natural sleep aid, kava creates a feeling of calmness, which can help its users fall asleep or improve their sleep quality. 

However, note that kava should not be used with alcohol, sedatives, and other substances that may affect sleep, including caffeine. Certain kava products, however, may be mixed with other supplements like ashwagandha. Make sure to understand how added substances may interact with kava and if they carry any potential risk prior to taking them.

Kava May Promote Muscle Relaxation

Kava’s exact mechanism of action to promote muscle relaxation is unknown, but some studies have shown kava’s potency in reducing muscle tension and improving overall relaxation. 

One study found that kava greatly reduced the tensions connected to muscle cramps while providing overall relaxation. Another study showed kava may effectively reduce the severity of muscle spasms and even improve one’s range of motion.6

Hence, kava is generally seen as a safe muscle relaxant, provided that you are not taking any prescribed medications. Kava may interact with certain medications, so always speak to your healthcare provider before taking any dietary supplements.

Kava May Aid In Mood Enhancement

Proper kava dosage may regulate and improve mood or even enhance cognitive performance.7 Based on the study, a single dose of kava may lead to a drug-induced increase in cheerfulness as well as better accuracy and speed in performing item recognition tests. 

Of course, always consider that kava’s effects may vary from person to person. For instance, some may find that kava relaxes them, while others may realize that kava increases their excitement about life or overall cheerfulness. 



How do you use and consume kava?

People often consume kava as a beverage, mostly as tea. You may add water to kava powder and then strain it and drink it plainly, or you may add coconut milk or sugar to the strained mixture. You may also chew, boil, or steep the root itself, as well as create a kava paste blended with other ingredients.

Kava capsules, tablets, and tinctures are now available as alternative consumption methods. Kava tinctures are made by soaking the root in alcohol or vinegar and then straining it. The resulting liquid is then taken in small doses, usually with water.

Read the instructions carefully when taking kava in any form, as different forms may require different dosages. Additionally, consult with a healthcare professional before taking kava as it may interact with certain medications.

If you’re interested in kava because it’s promoted as a stress-relieving natural supplement, you may also consider trying CBD products for the same potential benefit. CBD can come as drops, gummies, topicals, or capsules, and you can find them right here at FOCL!

Are there any drug interactions with kava?

Kava may interact with certain medications, including benzodiazepines, antidepressants, antipsychotics, and anticonvulsants. It is important to speak with your doctor before taking kava if you are taking any of these medications.

Kava may also interact with alcohol, and should not be taken in combination with alcohol. Additionally, kava may interact with other supplements, such as St. John's Wort (although some sources state that they work together to offer enhanced benefits), and you should exercise caution when combining kava with another supplement.

What is the right dosage for kava?

The right dosage of kava depends on various factors, including the type of kava used, the desired effects, and individual body chemistry. Generally, a dose of kava is between 30 to 240 mg of kavalactones, the active compound in Kava. Most kava products come in standardized doses, so always read the label and follow the instructions. 

It is important to start with a low dose and work your way up to find the ideal dosage for your body. It may be best to start with 30-60mg of kavalactones and gradually increase it until the desired effects are achieved. You should also note that the effects of kava can take up to an hour to kick in. 

If you’d like to explore other natural therapeutic options, visit FOCL’s shop and see which products may suit you based on the effects you’re after. You can also contact us with questions, or subscribe to our mailing list to get 15% off on your first order.

How does kava work in the brain?

Kava interacts with the brain’s neurotransmitters. Specifically, kava affects GABA and serotonin receptors, which then promote feelings of relaxation and an overall sense of well-being. 

What are the social and cultural uses of kava?

Compared to a few other plants used as alternative medicine, kava boasts quite a rich history. Kava was not simply drunk for its potential therapeutic effects but also for a few social and cultural benefits. Throughout the years, South Pacific islanders believed kava could enhance relationships with one’s self and others.

Ceremonial Drink

People believed that when consumed as a drink with others, kava brought people closer together and even created a sense of unity. Hence, kava was often used in traditional ceremonies to honor occasions like weddings, funerals, and religious rites. It is frequently served in a cup or bowl, shared, and believed to symbolize the group’s communal bond.

Ritual Offering

In Fiji, people would gather and use kava as a form of sacrifice.8 At other times, kava may also have been used as a sort of medium for communicating with deities or the supernatural. Kava’s physiological effects had often been connected with why it was used this way.

When drunk as a group, people would gather and arrange themselves by rank. The chief would first drink kava served in a coconut shell or wooden bowl and then pass it on to the next person, and the next person would pass it on, and so forth. 

It was believed that alongside honoring deities and ancestors or communicating with them, kava could also promote peace and unity among its people and even showcase gratitude and respect. People also believed that having a large group participate in drinking kava yields the best results. 

Cultural Celebration

Kava had been imbued in Oceania’s culture throughout the years. Besides kava consumption during gatherings or social events, people also used kava when preparing for journeys or ocean voyages, welcoming distinguished guests, validating titles, and even as a prelude to tribal wars. 

Old men would also drink kava in the morning, and senior family members often had a cup of kava before a meal. At times, visitors would be offered kava roots as a sign of hospitality or to promote reconciliation.9 

Traditional Medicine

As a traditional medicine, people would boil kava roots and strain the resulting liquid to be consumed as tea or beverage. Sometimes, people may also grind or pound the kava roots into powder before mixing it in water and straining it.

Kava had been widely known for its calming effects, so one of the first traditional medicinal uses of kava had been as a relaxant. It was used as a drink to calm someone down or to decrease someone’s anxiety. At times, it was also used as a sleep aid to promote drowsiness or better overall sleep quality.

Historically and traditionally, however, kava usage mainly focused on the social and cultural aspects of things rather than its medicinal properties. Kava may cause dermopathy when used over a long period, although the effect may eventually be reversed through less consumption.10 

Despite some documented benefits, kava will still need more studies to fully confirm its effects. So, if you were thinking of using kava for anxiety but are still unsure whether it’s right for your needs, why not browse FOCL’s CBD products for anxiety instead? You may also look at our CBD products for sleep or CBD items for pain, all of which contain plenty of details to help you see how our products should and could affect you.

What is the traditional kava method?

The traditional method for consuming kava involves grinding the root into a powder and mixing it with water. This mixture is then strained and consumed as a beverage. In some cultures, the root is chewed and the juice is spit into a bowl of water. This mixture is then consumed as a beverage or used as a topical treatment.

Why is kava banned in some countries?

Kava has been banned in some countries due to its potential to cause liver damage, but some of these bans have been lifted in recent years. Although there is no definitive evidence that kava is toxic to the liver, it is recommended to consult with a healthcare professional before consuming kava.

Is kava a medicinal plant?

Kava has been used in traditional medicine for centuries. It is believed to have a variety of therapeutic effects, including reducing anxiety, enhancing sleep quality, and improving mood. It may also have the potential to reduce pain and enhance cognitive performance.

Is kava a mood booster?

A few studies have shown kava to have a positive effect on mood. It is believed to interact with the brain’s neurotransmitters to reduce feelings of anxiety, stress, and depression. It also has the potential to improve sleep quality, reduce pain, and enhance cognitive performance.



  1. IARC Working Group on the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risks to Humans. Some Drugs and Herbal Products. Lyon (FR): International Agency for Research on Cancer; 2016. (IARC Monographs on the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risks to Humans, No. 108.) 1, Exposure Data. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK350450/
  2. Drug Enforcement Administration. (n.d.). Kava (other names: Ava, Intoxicating Pepper, Kawa Kawa, Kew, Sakau, Tonga, Yangona). Diversion Control Division. https://www.deadiversion.usdoj.gov/drug_chem_info/kava.pdf 
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  8. Turner, J. W. (1986). "The Water of Life": Kava Ritual and the Logic of Sacrifice. Ethnology, 25(3), 203-214. https://doi.org/10.2307/3773584
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