The Difference Between Kratom and Kava

A large, sprawling tree.

Kratom and kava are two plants that have caught the attention of the Western world in recent years. However, despite their apparent similarities, the two plants are actually quite dissimilar.

History & Regions of Origin

Kava, or Piper methysticum, is a small shrub that grows in the Pacific Islands, including Hawaii, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, and elsewhere. As a member of the Piper genus, the plant thrives in wet, hot, humid environments and can reach heights of 6-7 feet. Kava was supposedly first discovered by British explorer Captain James Cook in the 1700s.

Kratom and kava both grow natively in tropic and subtropical climates, but Kratom is indigenous to Southeast Asia. Kratom trees are generally much larger than kava shrubs and can surpass them at heights of 50-82 feet.

Cultivation

Unlike mitragyna speciosa, hundreds of kava plant variants exist as the result of cloning. Researchers have placed these kava plants into “noble” and “non-noble” categories, with the non-nobles including the tudei, medicinal, and wild kava variants.

Kava plants are typically harvested at about four years maturity, and the roots of the plant are then are brewed to create a drink with sedative, anesthetic, and anxiolytic properties. The quality of kava is not consistent across both families, and the consumption of non-noble kava is associated with greater health risks. For these reasons, noble kavas are generally preferred over non-noble kavas.

Kratom and kava differ in that Kratom variation is the result of deliberate cultivation and harvesting techniques. While the characteristics of the kava plant are generally pre-determined by the type of cultivar planted, the resulting color and alkaloid composition of Kratom leaves is dependent on several factors, including the time of harvest and the amount of sunlight received.

Regulation

The dichotomy between kava families has lead various government agencies and NGOs to regulate and control the kava industry with the intention of reducing user harm. Research has indicated that non-noble kava species contain aberrant concentrations of dangerous compounds like flavokavains which pose a risk to user safety.

White concrete government building

By comparison, noble kava species appear to contain little to no amount of these detrimental compounds, which has created a regulatory preference for the production and exportation of noble kava over non-noble varieties. Still, as of this writing, kava is legal to possess in most countries.

On the other hand, Kratom is strictly controlled across many countries and states/provinces. Although most of the western world seems unconcerned with the risks of kava consumption, American legislative bodies have struggled to define Kratom’s legal status within the United States.

Quality Makes the Difference

While Kratom and kava share many similarities and dissimilarities, the histories of these ancient plants do reveal one mutual consensus – quality matters. With proper cultivation, harvesting, and processing, both plants will have the opportunity to exhibit their full potential.

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