Kava is, in some ways, the opposite of caffeine. The mild psychoactive 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). 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. 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).