The man who drinks kava is still a man, but the man who drinks liquors becomes a beast.
Traditional Hawaiian proverb
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know what you drink
Myths about Kava Testing - Why some Kava Sellers refuse to test their kava
Many kava consumers have seen the great benefits of consuming only kava that has been tested and proven pure and noble, yet some vendors are resistant to testing. They question the usefulness of testing in many ways; here are some of the most common objections I've experienced:
"Kava is too inconsistent to reliably test, it varies a lot from batch to batch."
Kava is only inconsistent when you buy from inconsistent suppliers. It really is that simple; large exporters buy from hundreds of farmers and don't control what they buy. Other exporters buy from specific farmers, and choose their kava with care. Vendors themselves are a huge factor here; several actually fly to Vanuatu and source the kava themselves, because they know of these potential problems and want to be sure their kava is top quality. Kava is not inconsistent - exporters and vendors are.
"The tests don't prove anything."
Consumers disagree. For one, tests proves that the substance is actually kava, which is a rather important point. For another, they show the kavalactone balance of the product, which is a good indicator of the type of effects you can expect. They also show whether or not a kava is noble, which is very important to most informed consumers. Experience has shown beyond doubt that noble kava gives the most desirable effects, where two day kava generally causes nausea and hangover. And 3000 years of Island experience shouldn't be overlooked either, that's how long native kava consumers have been choosing noble kava for regular consumption. Testing provides the information you need to know for a positive kava experience.
"Testing is inaccurate and unreliable."
This may have been true thirty years ago, when no standardized methods were available. But beginning with Dr. Lebot's early tests in 1987 and continuing today, test methods have advanced exponentially. Today, comparable results are seen between labs worldwide. We now have the methods and means to determine both chemotype and nobility with excellent accuracy and proven results, substantiated by leading kava scientists and the experiences of countless kava consumers. Accurate and reliable testing is widely available.
"I trust my exporter, so why test?"
While this may have been valid twenty years ago, the situation has changed drastically. Two day kava was planted in huge quantities before the 2002 ban, and when demand stopped those plants were left in the ground. The Islanders knew better than to drink it, they planted it only at the request of Western pharmaceutical buyers. With the ban now repealed, these plants are being harvested in record numbers, and many exporters, eager to make a dollar, are simply turning their heads and mixing all kava together. Because of this, much of the so-called "noble" kava on the market today is actually heavily adulterated with two day kava. Many suppliers are no longer reliable.
"Testing is too expensive."
The average lab charges about $300 for HPLC testing of a kava sample. While this may seem expensive, it generally breaks down to less then two dollars per pound in added expense. Given the choice, informed customers would gladly pay this difference for the assurance of reliable kava. There's another alternative, too: True Kava offers free testing, so you really can't afford not to test.
"My customers don't care about testing."
More obsolete thinking here. While vendors may think they have a reliable customer base, the market is changing rapidly. Kava is becoming more popular than ever, and this is largely due to informed customers telling others about their experiences. Those vendors who are satisfied with their sales and who have little interest in sharing the benefits of kava may not care about testing, but I can assure them that most potential customers do care. Obsolete thinking equals falling sales.
There's other reasons all kava vendors should always test their kava, including the fact that it's required by law. Kava is classified as a dietary supplement, and as such is subject to cGMP (Current Good Manufacturing Practice). While not all vendors are in full compliance, testing is the single most important part of this practice, and lack of testing is the most dangerous omission a vendor can make.
But since this article is about why vendors don't test, I'll leave you with what I believe is the single most accurate reason: They aren't willing to change. They know the supply has changed, they know their kava may be adulterated, but they don't want to change their suppliers or take any additional efforts. They want to keep doing the same thing they've been doing for years, and they know that testing will reveal problems they simply don't want to see, so they don't want to test.
It doesn't matter in the long run; vendors who don't keep pace with the kava industry will fade away. And in the meantime, there is a growing number of vendors, both new and established, who have changed with the times and are willing and able to provide safe, noble kava. I suggest you seek them out.
Think you've tried kava?
As its popularity increases, you don't have to look very far to find someone who's "tried" kava. Both in person and online, many are giving their account of kava experiences. But the sad thing is, many are wrong - they haven't actually tried kava. Kava, in one form or another, is available from a vast number of sources, but a surprisingly small percentage of products actually qualify as true kava, at least in the South Pacific sense.
Yes, it may contain the plant "Piper methysticum", but that alone means little. To start, we can immediately eliminate "kava extracts", "kava paste", and "kava tinctures". If you've tried one of these, you've experienced a product that is as much like kava as Red Bull is like coffee. Crudely extracting some of the active components of a plant (along with many undesirable ones) with a highly volatile solvent is a long-standing Western tradition often touted as an "improvement", but in the case of kava nothing could be further from the truth. The same goes for "kava tea"; the active components of kava are substantially modified and largely destroyed by boiling water, making kava tea a rather less than useful product.
Sales of kava powder are common too, and these usually include instructions for preparing a drink from the powder by using a strainer bag and kneading the kava in cold water. This cold water extraction is the traditional way to prepare kava, but there is another very important factor...
Not all kava is alike. If you've read much about kava, you are probably aware of the rising controversy about "two day" kava. Two day kava (also known as "tudei" or "Isa") is Piper methysticum, but of a group of "cultivars" (basically "strains") of the plant that are seldom consumed in the South Pacific. Two day kava often causes nausea, blurred vision, and a hangover quite similar to that caused by alcohol. It is so named because its often ill effects linger for two days or more.
Their is another group of kava cultivars called "noble" or "daily use". It is these cultivars that are routinely consumed by the Islanders and praised for their gentle, pleasant effects. These noble kavas bring about a sense of calm and euphoria while actually sharpening mental awareness, and have no lingering effects.
Unfortunately, many kava retailers are not kava consumers, and they fail to make any distinction between these two classes of kava, noble and two day. The Islanders have known for over 3000 years, but when the Western merchants insisted they wanted two day kava because it grows faster, the Natives just shook their heads in amazement and complied with these supposedly knowledgable buyers.
As a result, much of the kava that is sold in the Western world is two day, which brings us back to the title of this article. You may have tried "kava", but if it was in the form of an extract, tea, or contained a two day cultivar in any form, you haven't experienced true kava; you've only experienced a Western perversion of a fine South Pacific tradition.
If you think this may be the case, and you've tried a "kava" product in the past that either had no effect or actually sickened you, I encourage you to take another look at this plant. By heeding the wisdom of the South Pacific Islanders, many are now finding that kava, of the proper cultivar and traditionally prepared, is of immense benefit to their daily lives. Many are using this plant as an effective replacement for alcohol and anti-depressants, with none of the side effects so often experienced from these substances. Many more are finding kava to be a wonderfully relaxing drink, capable of easing physical and mental stress, improving sleep, and allowing them to awake refreshed and ready to face the day.
If you think you could benefit from what kava has to offer, I encourage you to seek out a truly noble kava of the type used by the Islanders and give it a try. As a non-profit association, True Kava Group is dedicated to helping new and experienced consumers and vendors make informed decisions about their kava. Our Certified Vendors provide kava that is not only compliant with all FDA testing requirements, but is also guaranteed to be truly noble.
One more thing: I'm going to break style to make a point. In some sense this is an advertisement, but I want you to realize that it is actually much more than that. Certainly our vendors expect to make a profit, but they also sincerely desire that you, the consumer, also profit. To us, this is the very definition of a "good deal", where both seller and buyer are very pleased. The vendors in our program are not only vendors but dedicated kava consumers, who genuinely believe in their product's ability to improve lives. Unlike many retailers whose primary goal is profit, their chosen occupation is to share the benefits of kava with the world, and hopefully make a living doing so. Their history of repeat customers is testimony to these facts, and I can personally assure you that they are as noble as their products.
Does kava get you "high"?
An often asked question, but one that requires some definitions. Most people have no qualms about applying the term to the use of controversial substances like marijuana or to the abuse of common substances (such as sniffing glue), but hesitate to use the word when describing the effects of legally prescribed drugs which induce similar effects. To me, this carries the implication that if you're ingesting a substance under the direction of a "doctor", what you are feeling isn't "high".
Personally, I would define "high" as an altered perception of reality characterized by a decrease in ability to interact with the real world. But what is a decreased ability to interact, you say? Well, if whatever you have swallowed/smoked/injected has caused you to see people around you as mutant green sheep, I would call that decreased. The same goes for melting landscapes and perceived invincibility.
But I also include in this category "feeling that others are watching you, controlling you, or can hear your thoughts", and the catch-all "feeling, seeing, or hearing things that are not there". And since these are side effects of popular prescription drugs, you can see why definitions are important. Please note that I'm not including "able to function but walking around in a mist feeling like a zombie", which is another common side effect of these drugs. I consider this a "low".
Honestly, there's a fine line between "feeling like you feel you should feel", and feeling "high". Some say that marijuana gives them an increased ability to interact and I would agree, up until the point they develop uncontrollable giggles and the irrestible urge to eat anything that crunches. Then, I'd call them high. Dedicated runners describe the feeling that they get as a "natural high", so perhaps this could also apply to kava, it being a natural substance. "Buzzed" might be considered a low level of "high", but I don't include it my personal definition, since it could equally apply to any caffeine-containing product. And most people who are looking for "high" aren't interested in "buzzed".
So in my opinion, any definition of "high" must encompass both individual perception and societal judgement. With all this in mind, we're ready to answer the question "Does kava get you high?"...
Not really, at least in the sense defined above. Kava can induce a sense of well-being, reduce or remove your anxiety, make you more contemplative, increase your awareness of your environment, sharpen your senses in general, or even make you feel like sleeping, but it won't make you "high" unless abused rather drastically. And even then, sleep is the most likely effect.
Kava is unique among "psychoactive" substances. Though some speak of being "krunk" or "rooted" in comparison to "drunk", virtually all kava consumers will agree that these feelings are dependent on their mental cooperation with kava. Alcohol provides a good contrast; if you drink enough alcohol, you are simply drunk, and nothing short of time is going to change that. Kava is markedly different, and for best effect it requires a process we call "listening to the kava". This is why nakamals (Island kava bars) are traditionally quiet, peaceful places, without loud talk or music. Loud noises and bright lights are not compatible with kava use, and these distractions and others like them tend to actually negate the effects.
In a similar manner, most kava drinkers find it possible to at least partially override the effects of kava by a simple act of will. This may be one of the reasons that new kava drinkers often go through a phase called "reverse tolerance", which is a period of regular use (usually about one week) before they feel any real effects. They are expecting to be "hit in the head" in the same tradition as pharmaceuticals, and kava simply doesn't work this way. Though some have theories about the physical body needing time to adapt, none of these theories are proven. I personally feel that reverse tolerance is much more mental than physical, and occurs mainly because the mind needs time to learn how to listen.
This theory is further reinforced by another unique aspect of kava: veteran kava drinkers tend to use less, not more. Anyone who has been down the prescription anti-depressant path knows that dosage needs to be increased with some frequency, usually culminating in a point where the drug no longer has any effect. Then another drug is prescribed, and perhaps yet another to counter side effects, until eventually the patient is left with an ever-increasing collection of pills, minimal positive effects, a serious addiction, and the same problems they began with.
Yes, I've strayed somewhat from the original title and question of this article. But if you're still with me, there's a very good chance that you can benefit from kava. You're probably not searching for a "legal high", and that's fine, because kava can't really provide that. What it can provide is literally what prescription anti-depressants and sleep aids promise, but consistently fail to deliver in the long term. Here's the best description of kava I have: Kava doesn't make you someone you're not, it helps you be who you are.
T.K. Group Labs
Kava has a recorded history of consistent and safe use spanning over three thousand years in the South Pacific. But as so often happens when an unfamiliar substance is brought into the Western world, we brought only that substance, and neglected to bring the knowledge necessary for its proper consumption. Our scientific methods seem to focus on isolating what we believe are the "active ingredients" of a plant and concentrating them far beyond their natural existence to create a simple pill to cure all ills. Unfortunately, it just doesn't work that way. When kava was first popularized as an ethanolic extract in Germany, what followed were several reports of hepatotoxicity or liver failure. Lacking adequate research on the positive effects of kava, Germany banned the product in 2002 based on benefit/risk ratio.
Since that time, kava has become the most scientifically researched plant in the history of mankind. In 2014, the German ban was ruled unlawful, but by then the reputation of kava had already been badly tarnished. Though there are actually only three cases of liver failure where causation by kava is deemed "probable", a large amount of publicity is still found today linking kava to hepatotoxicity and warning all to avoid it. Some of these warnings are simply dated and misinformed, while others are motivated only by their desire to sell alternative products.
Many are now beginning to see the errors made and reap the benefits of a genuinely useful plant. Understandably, many are not satisfied with kava's spotless safety record in Native use and prefer to rely on Western science. This is the mission of our testing: to analyze and objectify the Islander's knowledge and present it in terms familiar to the Western market. We aren't researching new and novel ways to use kava, we are only seeking to translate well known knowledge from the Native Islanders into Western terms.
One of the most important qualities of kava is its diversity. There are hundreds of different strains or cultivars of kava that are classified into basic groups by native users, but for whatever reason the plant has been introduced to the Western world as simply "Piper methysticum", or
"kava", drawing no distinction between those classifications. This omission is a primary reason for the widely mixed reviews one reads of kava, which range from pleasant experiences, to no effects, or even acute nausea and hangover.
Two major classifications are "daily use" and "two days". "Daily Use" kava is also referred to as "Noble Kava", a term applied by Vanuatu in describing the only type of kava they deem suitable for export. This noble kava is the plant which is routinely consumed in the South Pacific. This botanical produces an effect aptly described by Dr. Louis Lewen as: "A happy state of unconcern, well-being, and contentment, free of physical or psychological excitement. Conversation comes in a gentle, easy flow and hearing and sight are honed, becoming able to perceive subtle shades of sound and vision. Kava soothes temperaments. The drinker never becomes angry, unpleasant, quarrelsome, or noisy, as happens with alcohol. The drinker remains master of his conscience and reason." These are the effects one should expect from true kava.
Conversely, two day kava produces effects not unlike alcohol. Side effects include nausea, lethargy, and intense hangover which may last for two days as its name implies. Though used for ceremonial and medicinal purposes, this type of kava is never been routinely consumed by Native Islanders. But importers, in their zeal for profit, have not only incorporated two day kava into their products, they have also encouraged its cultivation in the islands due to its disease resistance and faster maturation. The Islanders shake their heads and wonder why we want it, but they assume the buyers know what they're doing and meet their demands.
Given the wide disparity of kava now grown in the South Pacific and the confusion over what we want to buy, our only means of distinguishing these different types and returning its use to traditional standards is science. Though kava can be identified when intact, the ground root
powder that is imported can only be classified by laboratory testing. At True Kava, we employ two tests for this purpose; HPLC, and a solvent test devised Dr. Vincent Lebot.
HPLC separates the active components of kava and allows accurate measurement of the proportions of each. This determines the "chemotype" of a kava and allows accurate classification as noble or two day. It also give a good indication of the particular effects a kava
may provide, i.e. mental vs physical. In addition, this method positively identifies a sample as being true Piper methysticum, unadulterated with any other substance.
The solvent test is performed by making an acetonic extraction of a kava sample and measuring its absorbance qualities by means of a spectrophotometer. Dr. Lebot has found that noble kavas present a yellow hue, where two day kavas consistently produce an orange hue. In his experience, this test has never produced a false positive or negative. The coloration is thought to be caused by a specific molecule unique to two day kava, and the mechanism involved is currently under research. Though not yet standardized, this method holds much promise for
quick field testing of kava and for identifying adulteration of noble kava with two day kava.
It is our sincere hope that through these and other test methods, along with the combined efforts of a growing number of advocates, kava will become recognized as a reliable and safe product, providing consistent results for the many who can benefit from its use.
T.K. Group Labs
Why Does Vanuatu grow Two Day Kava?
Since the noble vs two day controversy appeared, there has been a nagging question in the back of my mind: If they don't regularly drink two day in Vanuatu, why do they grow so much of it?
We know that two day matures faster than noble and is more resistant to CMV and other problems, but I've always found it hard to imagine that native growers, however hungry they might be, would intentionally cultivate and sell us kava that they don't drink themselves.
It appears that the answer lies in Germany, specifically with Schwabe Pharmaceuticals. In 1991, after much research, Schwabe obtained Patent No. 5,296,224, "Kava-kava extract, process for the production thereof and use thereof". This patent is the basis of WS1490, the infamous kava extract implicated in most of the hepatotoxicity claims. It covers several kavalactone extraction methods, focusing mainly on solvents including acetone and ethanol. While developing this product, German agronomists from Schwabe discovered the "advantages" of two day kava (yield, pest resistance), and encouraged its cultivation.
The rest, as we know, is history. Toxicity claims began to surface, and in 2002 German regulatory agencies banned the use of kava, decimating the market and literally leaving Vanuatu holding the bag. For some time, hope remained that kava would be vindicated and sales would resume; many plants were left to mature, and even more may have been planted. But by 2008, the situation looked bleak enough for Dr. Lebot to make the statement “Considering the mess the Europeans have generated, we can say the pharmaceutical and nutraceutical markets are dead.”
So in fact, the very force that caused massive cultivation of two day kava in Vanuatu is also the one responsible for the damage to kava's reputation worldwide. It's very hard to blame the growers; they were merely responding to the supposed expert knowledge of German scientists. Understand that kava is not grown in massive plantations, it is often grown by individual farmers with less than 100 plants. They placed their trust in the "experts", and were rewarded by abrupt cessation of their income. Considering that even two day kava takes three years to mature, it becomes much easier to understand their plight, and even their necessity to sell this kava by any means possible.
Vanuatu is responding; enforcement of the Kava Act is increasing, and growers are becoming more and more aware that they must plant noble. But this has been more than just a "bump in the road" for Vanuatu farmers, and it is going to take some time.
I know some are aware of these issues, but I felt it might be helpful for all to present them here. Personally, this research has greatly increased my empathy for Vanuatu kava growers, and my understanding of their problems. I urge all to have patience, and understand that the shortages and price increases that we may have to bear are very minor compared to the ordeal that Vanuatu has experienced.
T.K. Group Labs