Chemistry of Kava

The Chemistry can be a touch overwhelming, but it doesn't have to be. Here's what you should know:

The mild psychoactive (think caffeine - but quite the opposite!) ingredients found in kava are called kavalactones. There are 18 different kavalactones in kava that we know of which help provide that subtle psychoactive positivity.  Of these, six constitute approximately 95% of the extract derived from the rootstock. The exact mechanism of action is postulated to enhance ligand-binding to gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA) and reduced re-uptake of norepinephrine (fight or flight hormone) [1] to name a few. This is responsible for the calming and relaxing properties of kava. Numerous clinical studies have shown kava to be a strong anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) and antidepressant in treating people with low to moderate general anxiety disorders [2][3]*. Every different type of kava plant however, can give different effects, and this has to do with the kavalactone concentrations present in the specific type of kava.

The six most commonly attributed active ingredients are as follows: 1 Demethoxy-yangonin (DMY), 2 dihydrokavain (DHY), 3 yangonin (Y), 4 kavain (K), 5 dihydromethysticin (DHM), 6 methysticin (D). 

Now I'm sure this all sounds like fun!  But why does it even matter?

Well, one thing you should know is that kava is asexual and produces no seeds.  Therefore the many varietals of kavas that exist today are based exclusively on farmer selection over the past couple thousand years.  In other words, they copied the kava plants that made them feel the best, and didn't bother growing the rest.  This is one way to distinguish between "noble" kava and other types of kava. It is because of this kava cloning that researchers today, aside from morphological characteristics, can distinguish between "Melomelo" from Ambae Island and "Kaolik" from Tanna.  Each of these is identified mainly by the balance of those six funny little ingredients we are talking about.

Each of these particular kavas, including "Melomelo", has what's known as a specific chemotype.  It's like looking at a nutritional label for kava; the ingredients are listed in order of content.  In the world of kava, the chemotype can be listed for example: 1,2,3,4,5,6.  In this case, the kava has a highest percentage of 1 Demethoxy-yangonin, and the least amount of 6 Methysticin.  Every noble kava has its defined mix. 

What's interesting about kava is the synergistic value of these ingredients.  Scientists have isolated  most of these kavalactones, and when consumed independently, the resulting "effect", no matter the dose, will never be as good as finding the right combination of these six ingredients.

Some kavas grown in Hawaii and Fiji tend to be a little richer in (5) Dihydromethysticin, and some in Vanuatu have a higher concentration of (4) Kavain. This matters for a couple of reasons (5) might make you feel a little better, but you might also feel a little full and funny. In this authors mind, kavas that typically have a higher concentration of (4) leave you more relaxed, without that "heavy" feeling.  The kavas that have a higher concentration (4) can more typically be found in Vanuatu, our main source of kava. It is obvious then that some combinations are more desirable than others, and our partnership with the growers in Vanuatu have enabled us to provide you with nothing but the best noble cultivars.