New to Kava? How to make the most out of your first kava session
By The Kava Society, Apr 23 2015 04:29AM
So, you have heard about kava, the South Pacific plant and beverage. You have probably heard about its relaxing properties and that many people find it to be a good, non-addictive and non-stuporous alternative to alcohol. You might have heard people saying that kava helps them to take "the edge off" without making them lose mental awareness or control over their bodies and minds. You might have heard about the numerous sportsmen that use kava for their tired muscles or in order to calm their nerves after an important game. Whatever it is that you have heard about kava, it has made you interested enough to look for more information about it and to potentially try it.
Many people visiting our website or asking us about kava on campus are eager to try it, but often do not really know how to do it, or at least how to make the most out of their first kava session. Some of you are lucky and can just join us for one of our weekly sessions. Others have no choice but to consult Dr Google on how to begin their kava journey. The internet is full of articles and videos describing various preparation methods, as well as hundreds of other matters related to kava consumption, kava effects, kava dosage, kava types, kava forms, etc. However, what seems lacking is a short, concise guide to organizing your very first kava session in the most effective and enjoyable way. We've decided to to write this short article in order to fill this gap.
1. Do some research.
Before you buy coconut shells or a massive kava bowl, before you order a Fijian strainer or sacrifice your own or your wife's nylon stockings, before you even purchase kava, do some general, but meaningful research. Obviously, you don’t necessarily have to read whole books or sign up for any courses. You can find good, basic info online. Just make sure you read about kava on trustworthy websites (ignore short click-bait type articles written by random people on all kinds of "alternative lifestyle", "herbs for everything" portals and websites) or explore reliable academic and non-academic articles. Try to read some stuff written by actual kava scholars and/or practitioners/drinkers. Avoid publications authored by “experts in everything” and focus on those written by people who have actually spent some time studying kava.
Read a little bit about the plant's history and traditional use, learn about its active ingredients and their effects. Read about the possible side-effects and precautions. Learn about what matters when it comes to kava preparation, don't be one of those people who think kava should be prepared the same way as tea or coffee or leafy salad. Learn about what kava is good for and what is not so good for. Find out what shouldn’t be mixed with kava (e.g. alcohol, certain medicines, etc.). If you can, talk to someone who knows kava (if you do not know anybody who knows kava, e-mail somebody who might be able to help you if you have any specific questions). If you have any health problems or health concerns, talk to your doctor. Most doctors don't know much about kava, but some do, especially in New Zealand where thousands of people drink kava every day.
In general you obviously don’t have to get a degree in kava in order to have an enjoyable kava session, but learning some basic facts will allow you to avoid many common mistakes and will make you more aware of the various aspects of kava consumption.
2. Buy the right kava.
When you do a little bit of research, you will learn that there are many different types and forms of kava. You will also learn that some kavas are known as "noble kava", while other kavas are known as "two day" or "tudei" kavas. The noble kavas are those that have been traditionally safely and regularly used by the Pacific Islanders. Such kavas offer very pleasant effects and little or no side-effects. They bring gentle mental and bodily relaxation (some of them can be headier while others more body-oriented) without making their users too sedated. Unlike the two day kavas, noble kavas do not cause "kava hangovers" (prolonged lethargy and feeling of tiredness that can last for up to two days - hence the name) and are far more gentle on the stomach. Two Day kavas tend to have unpleasant effects. While some people (a very small minority) likes to consume them for their above average sedative effects or as a remedy for various type of pain, even they rarely recommend these kavas to others. For most people, two day kavas are very harsh, overly-sedating and often cause very unpleasant nausea and other undesirable gastrointestinal issues. There is a reason why the Islanders consider these kavas as “not drinking” kavas. Some of the key kava scholars argue that if any type of pure kava can be considered as potentially unhealthy (though even then the risk seems small), it is the two day kava type.
This is why we strongly recommend consumption of noble kavas ONLY. Some vendors try to sell their two day kava varieties by arguing that these are kavas for "experienced kava connoisseurs" or that these are "elite" or "specialty" kavas. This is simply not true. The vast majority of experienced kava drinkers (from both the Pacific Islands and the West) would not go anywhere near two day kavas as they consider them to be vastly inferior to noble kavas both in terms of their unpleasant effects and because of their undesirable side-effects.
When you read about kava, you will learn that you should only buy kavas that do not contain any aerial parts of the plant or any other impurities.
As you progress with your research you will realize that many vendors claim to be selling "noble" and "pure, roots only" kavas. The problem is that not all of them really sell what they advertise. You should be sceptical about any claims made by anonymous people online. Look for evidence and/or certificates. Do your own research. Evaluate all claims and recommendations (including ours!) carefully and critically. Look at other sources and try to see what other people and/or publications are saying. It is your body and you will be the one drinking kava, so make sure you don't fall for any marketing tricks and strive to only drink good kava that can offer you pleasant effects.
Your research should also make you aware of the kava chemotypes. Each kava is different and has a different profile of kavalactones (its active ingredients). Depending on the kava chemotype, you can expect different types of effects. Do you want a more mentally uplifting, euphoric kava? Do you need a kava that will perhaps help you to fall asleep or that will offer some relief for tired muscles? Knowing the chemotype can help you to choose the kind of kava that would be good for your needs. It can allow you to make a better informed decision about the kava you buy.
Finally, what form of kava do you want to drink? Medium grind, micronized, instant? Each form has its advantages and potential disadvantages. In New Zealand it is illegal to sell kava products as food when they are made with the use of any organic solvents or when they are mixtures of kava with other foods. However, many overseas vendors sell such products (marketed as “kava tinctures, kava pastes, kava sprays, etc.) and some people feel tempted to buy them thinking they could get better effects from such things. The problem is that such products can potentially contain substances that are not normally extracted in the traditional preparation method and/or that they are made with the plant material of dubious quality and/or origin. We generally recommend against using them and instead encourage you to only consume kava roots in pure their raw or dried form or products made through water extraction of fresh or dried roots of the plant.
3. Ok, you now know a bit about kava and have bought the root. What else do you need?
Depending on the form of your kava, you will need a few more items. In general, you will need some kind of a bowl for all your kava and small bowl, coconut shells or cups for individual servings. If you have medium grind kava, then you will need a straining bag.
You should also think about some kava chasers. As you should know from your research, kava can have an unpleasant taste and can cause some nausea (especially in first time users). It is a good idea to prepare some sweet and watery fruits as chasers. You can also prepare some hot (caffeine free) tea (e.g. rooibos or peppermint) that you could sip on in between shells. High temperature of the tea can help not only to calm your stomach, but also to sustain the effects of kava.
Remember that kava works best on an empty stomach, so don't eat anything for at least 4 hours before your kava session. You can have a light, warm meal after your kava session, but while drinking kava, it's best to limit your food consumption to fruits or nuts.
Prepare all the items and ingredients before drinking kava. Once you start drinking it, you want to relax and not worry about chasers, etc.
Unlike alcohol or many other substances, kava requires your mental cooperation and it works best in the right environment. Ideally, you should prepare some relaxing music, dim the light. Kava is a social beverage. If you can, try to drink it together with some friends or perhaps your loved one(s). Good kavas encourage relaxed conversations and it's always nice to experience new things with those you like or love.
If you want to drink kava alone, prepare some relaxing music, perhaps grab a good book and get ready for a relaxing evening.
Garry Stoner rightly captures the spirit of kava:
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.
Speaking of alcohol: Remember not to drink any alcohol after your kava session!
5. Listen to your body.
Take your first shell. Drink the whole cup/serving in one go as otherwise it will be difficult to finish it due to bitterness. Eat a piece of fruit, drink some tea and relax. Wait, read your book, talk to your friends. Listen to your body and see if and how it is reacting to kava. 15-20 minutes later your might want to grab another shell/cup of kava. You are in no rush. Think of kava as of the opposite of coffee. You can grab an espresso and then work a bit more productively for half an hour. You can then grab another coffee if you are still a bit sleepy. But you wouldn't want to have 4 espressos in 5 minutes. Kava is similar. Have a shell, relax a bit, enjoy the company of your friends or your music. If you are still a bit too stressed, have another shell and carry on. There is no point in drinking all your kava quickly. Just take it slowly and keep calm.