Kava vs Alcohol: Kava as an Alternative to Alcohol
One of the most commonly asked questions about kava revolve about how it compares to alcohol. Can it be used as an alternative to alcohol and whether the two can be mixed. We’re going to focus on the idea of using kava as a replacement for or perhaps an alternative to alcohol. What are the pros and cons of both and some personal anecdotes. What are the differences and why you shouldn’t ever mix kava with alcohol.
Alcohol has been used for thousands of years in our shared culture and history in humanity. It has a place in our society and we enjoy it when it’s consumed responsibly. That doesn’t mean that can work for everyone.
Kava can have unique advantages over using alcohol and is a great alternative to alcohol in social situations, or possibly therapeutically. Kava can also assist those who alcohol consumption effectively consumes them. Helping to break a simple bad habit or used as part of a program to conquer an addiction.
Why people use alcohol
There are too many reasons to list. Many of them revolve around social lubricant, ceremonial, or medicinal. Alcohol is deeply ingrained in our society around the world. America tried to abolish it, but there was such a backlash it just created another, more seedy market. Alcohol is used at most party’s like weddings, birthdays, clubs etc. It’s used during dates to loosen the nerves all of us feel when we’re trying to meet someone new. It’s used widely around the world in business to help make more solid relationships. Some use it to dull pain, mentally or physically or to even help fall asleep. In any of these scenarios, if alcohol is respected and used responsibly, it can help. If it’s overused or used irresponsibly, it can have dire consequences.
Drinking kava with, after or before alcohol
Is it safe or desirable to mix kava with alcohol, or even drink alcohol shortly before or after kava?
It’s not healthy, nor desirable to drink kava with alcohol, or to even drink alcohol shortly after kava.
Kava can inhibit liver enzymes that are responsible for alcohol metabolism. Those enzymes create a type of wall and only let a certain amount of alcohol through to be used by your body. Kava can make those enzymes turn into more of a gate. Still blocking some but letting much more through than you body is designed to deal with. This is the same kind of thing doctors tell their heart patients to do with heart medication and grapefruit. A heart medication is designed to work with your body’s liver enzymes to metabolize a specific percentage of the medication. The rest is blocked and passes through as waste. When you eat a grapefruit in that scenario, your body lets more of the medication through, which can be very harmful.
This means that having kava may potentiate the bad side-effects of alcohol (think very bad hangovers and much stronger sedation). It doesn’t mean that having a beer a couple of hours after kava will “destroy” you.
Some people on the islands of the South Pacific do, which is called “washdown”. However, it’s not the safest choice to make. It defeats the purpose of drinking kava (which his also more expensive than alcohol). Alcohol takes over the calming effects of kava and replaces it with a dullness and intoxication that’s completely different from the effects of kava.
How does kava differ from alcohol?
Traditionally, in the islands of the South Pacific, kava is used for many different purposes. Ranging from ceremonial through medicinal to recreational. In many societies across the South Pacific the roles of kava and alcohol are intertwined with those in other cultures. Both are consumed for the same reasons at the same general times (evening to night time). There are some major differences between kava and alcohol which are outlined below:
- The effects kava produce depend on a number of active compounds (kavalactones) and their specific distribution and concentration (that differs from one cultivar to another and whether the kava comes from the lateral roots or stump). Kavalactones and other phytochemicals work synergistically, as well as the form and style in which the plant is consumed.
- Some kavas can be more euphoric and mentally uplifting also known as heady, others are more sedating or mellowing also known as heavy.
- Different kavas act quickly, others slowly creep up.
- Differences in styles of drinking don’t just result in the different intensity of the effects, but also in producing noticeably different experiences.
- Alcohol’s effects, however, are caused by just ethanol. Different alcoholic beverages contain different levels of ethanol and different styles of drinking can result in different levels of intoxication, but we are talking more about quantitative than qualitative difference.
- Reverse Tolerance: Unlike alcohol, many users find the effects of kava will become stronger over time.
- Many first-time users of kava either do not feel anything or just experience very mild effects. This is commonly often referred to as “reverse tolerance” (meaning that the more kava one drinks, the less they need to feel and enjoy its effects). Kavalactones build up in your system and degrade slowly as you body uses them or dissipate. Allowing you to use less kava than you would have earlier with the same effect, or the same amount of kava with more effect.
- With the above being true, kava works differently for everyone. Where you may have a kava that would have great effects, it may not do very much for me. In that case, that particular mix of kavalactones etc, may just not work well for you and trying another mix or cultivar would be recommended.
- Kava creates a peaceful experience. When people consume kava, it is generally associated with a peaceful disposition and interaction. This is related to the fact that kava itself is known to produce a sense of calmness. On the other hand, it is related to the fact that kava is best enjoyed in a peaceful, serene ambiance.
- Whereas alcohol consumption can create loudness, agitation, rage and violence, kava sessions are quiet and peaceful. Conversations are rarely loud, the music (if any) is generally played at low volume and of the relaxing type. The more kava people drink, the more mellow and quiet they appear.
- Kava bars in North America tend to play music louder at certain times to give people that “bar” experience, without consuming alcohol. The nonalcoholic bar scene has been rising in popularity giving those that don’t want or can’t have alcohol a place to have that same party, socially lubricated experience.
- Unlike alcohol, kava is not physically addictive.
- As explained by Dr Lebot: "By pharmacological standards, kava is not classified as a drug, as its consumption never leads to addiction or dependency". What is meant by this is that even those who consume kava over a long period of time and then stop, do not appear to be experiencing any withdrawal effects. Furthermore, one does not seem to be able to develop a tolerance to kava. In fact, kava can be characterized by the so-called "reverse tolerance", where new users require far greater amounts of the plant to feel any effects than those who drink it regularly. We’ve always been rather fascinated and a bit perplexed by kava’s lack of potential for causing addiction and hence contacted a known kava expert, Dr Mathias Schmidt to ask him for his opinion regarding the reasons why kava usage doesn’t’ appear to be causing addiction. In his opinion: With respect to the pharmacology of kava (…) the mechanisms of action are not well known. Obviously, this is a non-standard mechanism, there is one group that showed highly interesting and selective effects on certain ion channels related to the excitability of nerve cells. As there is a highly complex and extremely sophisticated distribution of such channels throughout our CNS, the effect could be self-controlled. This is obviously not the typical addictive mechanism of drug blocking of activating a receptor like the opioid receptors or GABA directly, it may be all about intracellular sodium and calcium concentrations at the right place. Very small concentration changes, huge overall effect, but no addiction. The ion channels don’t multiply, they just open or close. That’s different in typical addictions, where the number of receptors is regulated up- or downwards, which causes a problem the moment the challenge (the addictive drug) is withdrawn.
- Condensed into less words: Physical addiction means if you go off something you have withdrawal symptoms. If you drink coffee for awhile and stop you’re likely to get a headache. That’s a physical addiction.
- I will say, addiction is complicated. Physical addiction and mental addiction are two completely different things and are both very challenging to break if created. A mental addiction can lead to an addiction to anything like being a workaholic. So, just like many other things and activities kava can be habit-forming and that it is important to ensure that one’s kava consumption does not come at the expense of other responsibilities and obligations.
- Kava appears to be facilitating deep and regenerating sleep.
- According to some limited research and anecdotal evidence, kava (especially the heavier cultivars) is likely to have both sleep-inducing and sleep-quality improving effects. It’s not guaranteed so try it for yourself to see if it works for you. Search vendors for reviews for heavy cultivars, not heady. Heady cultivars can uplift your mood and energize you. If you’re already too energized, it is possible those can make you more anxious.