Taki MaiTaki Mai

By Zane Yoshida

Kava and Kratom: Similarities and Differences

Kava is often compared to, and sometimes confused with, kratom. You also see kava and kratom next to each other on health food stores the world over.

But there are some important differences between the two…

Location of origin

First things first; kava and kratom originate from different geographical locations and cultural backgrounds.

Kava hails from the Western Pacific islands like Fiji, Vanuatu, and Hawaii, where it has been interwoven into the fabric of the culture since the beginning of the region’s recorded history.

Kratom, on the other hand, is found in Southeast Asia. It is native to Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia etc., where it has also been used by the native populations for many years.

Plant of origin

Kava (Piper Methysticum) and kratom (Mitragyna speciose) come from different families of plants – and different parts of the plants are used in their preparation.

Whereas the kava plant is part of the pepper family of plants (its name means ‘intoxicating pepper’), kratom comes from a tropical, evergreen plant in the coffee family.

The preparation of kava is from the roots of the plant, whereas kratom is prepared from the leaves of its plant.

Traditional and modern usage

Kava was traditionally used as a beverage in important ceremonies and to greet visitors, as well as for various health purposes. It was used in religious ceremonies where the village chief might contact the ancestors. Nowadays it is drunk in social gatherings to relax and unwind; it is usually taken either in traditional beverage form, as a pill supplement, or mixed with water from a powder.

Kratom leaves are still sometimes chewed but are more commonly taken in their dried and powdered form, mixed into water to create a cold beverage or the leaves are made into a tea.

Effects of taking it

Both kava and kratom can induce a sense of euphoria, and may boost energy levels; however, kava may also induce feelings of sleepiness, depending on the type and dosage of the kava taken.

Kratom is a psychoactive drug that can boost energy and make people more socially active; larger doses may also act as a sedative.

Health benefits

Kava and Kratom both have effects that lead to recreational use and use for health purposes. Both have long been used as medicine in the native populations, with workers using kratom as a stimulant to relieve exhaustion and pain, and kava being taken as a relaxant, sedative, pain reliever, and to aid sleep.

Nowadays, kava is well proven to relieve stress and is an alternative anti-anxiety treatment; other uses include treatment for muscle pain and it may even be used in cancer treatment in the future.

Potential dangers and health risks

Kava is gaining more widespread acceptance around the world as its health benefits are increasingly being shown to outweigh the risks –  especially as an anti-anxiety treatment. Dangers to the liver have been well-publicised but are greatly dependent upon the type and amount of kava taken; the vast majority of people who take high quality kava in moderate doses have no problems.

Kratom, on the other hand, is generally more frowned upon and, in many places, regulations are tightening. In the U.S., there is currently a legal battel over a ban. There is less scientific study on kratom than kava, but it is known that Kratom interacts with the brain differently to kava. It behaves more like an opiate drug, whereas kava works on the GABA receptors; it also stimulates the serotonin and norepinephrine receptors, whereas kava stimulates the dopamine receptors.

This means that kratom can be addictive, unlike kava. It has even been used to wean people off heroine, which may be one of the reasons why it has a more negative reputation than kava.

There you go – kava and kratom in a nutshell! As you can see, there are quite a few similarities, but a couple of important differences to bear in mind.

By Zane Yoshida

Health Benefits of Kava: More Proof On Its Way

Kava’s health benefits are one of the main reasons for its growing popularity in the West; but kava has always suffered from a lack of evidence supporting its claims. While Pacific islanders have been espousing the health benefits of kava for many centuries, the West has been much slower to embrace the claims.

However, with more overdue proof on its way about the effectiveness of kava in treating anxiety, sentiments towards our favourite root are changing.

More results about kava and anxiety

Radio New Zealand reported recently that, within the next year, we can expect more results about the effectiveness of kava in treating anxiety.

There have been past clinical trials on the benefits of kava, most notably from Universities in Australia; in 2013, the lead researcher in one of the most recent studies, Jerome Sarris, reported that a significant reduction in anxiety was observed for kava users and a more recent study confirmed the benefits of kava for people with chronic anxiety.

Another benefit of kava is that it does not have the negative side effects or threat of dependence that some anti-anxiety medications have.

Sarris is expecting further evidence of the effectiveness of kava in this respect.

Proving kava’s safety

Another major challenge for the kava industry, apart from proving its health benefits, is proving its safety.

With the reputation of kava damaged by reports of liver toxicity in the early years of the millennium, it’s been a long road back for kava to clear its name.

Sarris believes that proof for kava’s safety in the question of liver toxicity is not far away, as current ongoing research (double-blind clinical studies) looks closely at the effects of kava:

“Hopefully the results will be available in the next year or so, and we can see whether kava is truly truly effective, as we believe it is, to reduce anxiety in people with chronic anxiety disorders, as well as being safe or not for people in regards to liver function.”

When asked whether the Pacific Islanders use kava for anxiety treatment, Sarris observed that most of them have never even heard of anxiety.

What does this tell us? (Clue: they drink a lot of kava!)

By Zane Yoshida

‘Tainted’ Kava Exports Dispute Highlights Importance of Elite Kava Standards

A recent dispute about ‘tainted’ kava exports from Vanuatu has highlighted the need for developing regional kava standards and for focusing on the development of elite forms of kava.

As regular readers of this blog will know, these are two initiatives that South Pacific Elixirs has been backing in the past 12-24 months; indeed, they are very important to the future of the Fijian kava industry and to our own business.

So what is all the fuss about?

Vanuatu company accused of exporting ‘tainted’ kava

As covered in the South Pacific regional press last month, a kava exporting company in Vanuatu was accused by an American importer of sending almost 60 tons of non-noble, inferior quality, tainted kava to the U.S., via New Zealand.

‘Tudei’ or ‘Two-day’ kava is a stronger, less consistent variety of kava. In this case, it was claimed that it was contaminated with kava leaf and stalk, whereas traditional, safe kava only contains the root extract.

Garry Stoner, founder of Pure Kava in the U.S., lodged the complaint. This included a chemical analysis supposedly derived from a 2015 test of retail kava powder provided by a Vanuatu-based supplier that showed ‘aerial matter’ and ‘chloropyll (from leaves).

The damaging complaint was made to Dr Mathias Schmidt in Germany, who alerted the Vanuatu Ambassador to the European Union, Roy Mickey Joy.  They have both been instrumental in defending the reputation of Pacific kava-producing countries’ exports in Europe, since the kava ban in 2001.

The Sarami Plantation at the centre of the dispute is owned by Peter Colmar, who initially caught the sharp end of the tongue from the Minister of Agriculture in Vanuatu, who said:

 “I strongly recommend that the Vanuatu Commodities Marketing Board (VCMB) terminate his export licence forthwith”.

Ambassador Joy even implied that Vanuatu customs officials must have been complicit to allow non-noble kava to leave the country:

“I am lost for words but can only compel the way and the easy manner by which the ‘Sarami Plantation’ has continued to effectively trade its kava shipment against all odds and without any sense of regularity control or SPS from our authorities.”

In response, all kava growers and exporters have been given until the end of February to comply with the new Kava Export Standard in Vanuatu. They must clean up operations and cease the sale or export of ‘two-day’ or ‘adulterated’ kava, or face being blacklisted.

The Sarami Plantation owner hits back

The owner of the Sarami Plantation, however, has hit back at claims that he is exporting tainted kava. Peter Colmar has submitted scientific analysis of his kava exports, showing no ‘tainting’ or ‘adulteration’ of kava materials, no evidence of ‘two-day’ varieties, and demonstrating that the kava he provided to American suppliers is, in fact, ‘noble’.

He asserts that the complaints leveled against him are either false or historical – dating from 5-7 years ago.

Further follow-up has caused the Minister of Agriculture in Vanuatu to revise his initial assessment:

“I am not a scientist to evaluate the results provided. However, my position as minister for MALFFB, if the exported kava is of good quality then there is no need for VCMB to cancel his/her licence.”

Furthermore, the Daily Post issued an apology to Colmar for running its initial story and reported the following:

“ Colmar is a supplier with a sterling reputation, whose products test “clean” on a consistent and regular basis. Any suggestion that his operation is not operating to a high standard is not supported by the evidence now in our possession.”

Developing kava standards that everybody abides by

However this case ends, and it may well be that the Sarami Plantation clears its name, the episode demonstrates the need for laws to be updated as soon as possible, adequately enforced, and for kava export standards to be upped and maintained across the region.

Tainting kava’s name does not just harm the reputation of one company or one island nation; it damages the kava industry as a whole, putting the livelihoods of the many people who work in it in danger.

By Zane Yoshida

Taking Kava With Mental Clarity

One of the greatest things about kava is that it relaxes you without impairing mental clarity. That’s not just a throwaway remark; it’s been shown in a study, which we will talk about below.

The fact that kava is not associated with mental ‘fogginess’ sets it apart from many of the better known substances people take for recreation.

Used in moderation, kava is ideal for a range of situations – not only socially as a replacement for drinking alcohol, but as an aid for performance anxiety for those suffering stage fright; for studying before exams; to aid with fear of flying; as a supplement for yoga and spa treatment enthusiasts; to help soothe aching muscles and bones after a heavy workout; as herbal medicine for a range of conditions; it may even help with your sex life.

These are just a few examples that I’ve covered in previous articles, but here I’d like to delve a little deeper into the science behind kava.

Australian study on kava and mental clarity

An Australian study on kava and mental clarity from 2002 found that even habitual kava use does not impair cognitive function.

Kava is well known in the north of Australia and is a popular supplement for members of the indigenous populations there. In fact, they are reportedly some of the heaviest kava users in the world, outside of the Pacific islands.

The study authors note that kava induces “muscle relaxation, anasthesia, and has anxiolytic properties” because of “alterations on neuronal excitation”.

Their study focused on over 100 current, ex, and non-kava users amongst these populations and concluded the following:

“We found no impairment in cognitive or saccade function in individuals who were currently heavy kava users (and had been for up to 18 years), nor was there any impairment in individuals who had been heavy kava users in the past but had abstained for longer than 6 months.”

The authors also note previous studies that have found that “small doses of kava can improve attentional function”, which is perhaps why it’s popular amongst students.

While the study focuses only on mental cognition, and of course does not conclusively prove that kava is safe, it is useful to have scientific evidence to back up some of the claims that Pacific islanders have been making for many years: in this case, that people can still think clearly and make good, informed decisions when using kava.

It is worth noting that, in Fiji, kava has been present at all important ceremonies and meetings for millennia; these are not just social gatherings but often in meetings where important decisions need to be made.

So you can enjoy your kava that it’s not harming your brain – in fact it may just be helping it!

By Zane Yoshida

Who Should Avoid Kava?

Most of you reading with this will enjoy the occasional Taki Mai shot or even regular kava sessions with friends, without having to worry about safety or whether you need to avoid kava.

But there are still the ‘naysayers’ out there who continue to focus on the isolated negative incidents involved with kava rather than the millennia of safe kava use in the South Pacific.

Now kava is becoming more global and is taking its place alongside other herbal supplements and beverages in health stores and supermarkets across the world, it is inevitable that kava is coming under more scrutiny.

This is a good thing – let’s consider it a way for kava to clear its name.

But there are some people who certainly should avoid kava. Below we briefly consider who should NOT be sitting by the kava bowl.

Avoid kava if you…

Let’s first make it clear that kava is non-addictive, has proven ability to relax and de-stress you, and has been used safely for millennia to treat a wide range of ailments and at social gatherings and ceremonies in the South Pacific.

Kava is well-known for its treatment of mild anxiety but those with severe depression should avoid taking it.

While it is worth noting that no study has ever proven a link between liver toxicity and kava, rare cases of liver problems have been reported, as you are probably aware from the so-called ‘European kava ban’ from previous years. Kava is best avoided totally if you have pre-existing liver problems.  It is not known precisely why the cases of liver toxicity in Europe occurred, but it is suspected that sub-standard kava was used.

Putting this problem into context, the amount of people with liver problems as a result of kava usage would be a dot on the landscape of those who suffer liver problems from alcohol usage.

…which brings us to another category of people who should avoid kava. It’s best never to mix kava with alcohol, benzodiazepine, or SSRI usage. It’s also best avoided if you are taking prescription monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs).

Pregnant or nursing women are also advised to avoid kava altogether, as are children under the age of 18 and anyone who is due to have surgery.

Kava is sometimes associated with dry, yellowish, scaly skin, but this is usually only in users who take large amount of kava, or indulge in particularly strong, low-grade strains of kava.

A few shots of elite Taki Mai kava are very unlikely to cause any problems. So enjoy!

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Kava and Kratom: Similarities and Differences
Health Benefits of Kava: More Proof On Its Way
‘Tainted’ Kava Exports Dispute Highlights Importance of Elite Kava Standards
Taking Kava With Mental Clarity
Who Should Avoid Kava?