It’s difficult to put into words exactly what a kava kava high is like. It’s also likely to be a very subjective experience and will vary from person to person greatly and very much depends on the quantity, strength and type (or cultivar) of kava used.
Many will argue that kava does not get them high – but the term “high” is very subjective. In general terms, people describe the effects of kava not so much as a high (in terms of more traditional recreational drugs) but more as a feeling of serenity, calmness or well-being but with the lucidity and clarity of thought, the lack of which are often the downsides of more popular psychoactives.
Kava High First Stage: Numbing
After downing a shell (the way kava is traditionally taken is in a half coconut shell) the first effects are usually a numbing of the lips, tongue and mouth. This quite often indicates the potency of the brew as, in my experience, brews containing little to none of the active ingredients seem to lack this numbing quality.
It’s not numbing to the point of being uncomfortable, rather the kind of mild numbing sensation you might get with chewing on a clove for a toothache.
So, after it’s gone down the hatch, you’ve usually got 10 to 20 minutes to wait for the magic to start happening. At this stage, I’d point out that another thing that, in my experience, helps to promote the kava high that I’m after, is having fasted for several hours beforehand. A Kava high can be quite a subtle experience (it can also be rather full-on, as I will get into later) and having an empty stomach definitely lets me (personally) feel the full spectrum of effects that the plant has to offer in the most efficient way. Other folks report occasionally feeling some mild nausea from kava settling in their stomach doing this empty stomach thing so you’ll need to find your own balance in terms of what else is in your stomach at the same time as you drink. Quite often a small piece of fruit or ginger may help with such issues. Other people like to have eaten something first or take a small meal shortly after, but it is all subjective.
What does a Kava high feel Like?
The magic of a good kava seems to show its head within around 15 minutes. Firstly you might simply feel a calmness wash over you. A peaceful feeling akin to letting all your worries wash away in the rain. Some people report a slight ringing in the ears. Not to the point of discomfort but more like the distant ring of fairy bells. It really is a very unique high and although some of the fluffy words and phrases used to describe the feeling seem a bit vague and wishy-washy, it really does feel like you are being enveloped in a feathery duvet of comfort and tranquility.
Some users report slight perception effects, like a small lag of light and colour as you turn your head. Movement may feel slightly lethargic and floaty. Inhibitions may disappear as the feelings of carefree happiness start to surround you. Personally, I find it easier and less self-conscious to talk to others, so there definitely seems to be some form of suppression of social inhibitors, much like with alcohol but without any of the lack of self-control or focus.
There can be some euphoria, especially for those who are perhaps cursed with anxiety in their everyday lives, that seems simply induced by the newly found state of bliss.
These feelings above are what I would call the “heady” aspects of a Kava high. In Kava forums and circles, particular cultivars of kava are described in terms of their attributes as “Heady” or “Heavy”. The “Heavy” attributes describe the body or sedating effects that certain kavas can have that act “outside of the head” and appear to manifest as physical feelings in the rest of the body. Almost all kavas have some of each attribute but in different ratios, and people usually find a balance that they are happy with and tend to steer towards those Kavas as their go-to.
In terms of heavy effects, one may become relaxed to the point of couch-locked, in a semi-slumber, or just cosily sedate. Muscles tend to relax and many sportsmen swear by Kava for its restorative properties after heavy exercise.
For me, many kavas give a balance of both heady (usually the initial euphoric feelings) for half an hour or so, followed by the heavy, sedating feelings that tend to be a great relaxant and pre-cursor to an excellent night’s sleep. It is possible to seek out kavas that give more of one type of effect than the other and I have listed some well-documented “Heady” and “Heavy” kavas below. As usual, the caveat is that these are my own preferences (although the list does seem to reflect the thoughts of many Kava users) and indeed, the specific attributes were probably purposefully bred into the various strains of kava intentionally by the original kava farmers.
Kavalactones and Chemotype
The science behind all of this relies on understanding the nature of the active ingredients of Kava known as kavalactones. Very simply put, each cultivar contains varying degrees of differing kavalactones (there are 6 major kavalactones which are used to determine kava “chemotype”, but 18 have been isolated.)
The science gets deep from here on in and is outside the scope of this article but as my understanding of the science grows I may well go into some depth about kavalactones and what we know about them in other articles. Especially since they form the basis of the effects that each kava cultivar can have on us as humans.
To read more about heady, heavy and balanced kavas, kavalactones and chemotype, check out this article at The Kava Society – http://kavasociety.nz/types-and-forms-of-kava/4587868836
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