Merging Western and Native Kava Knowledge
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. Claiming a lack of adequate research on the positive effects of kava but refusing to define “adequate”, the Germany Federal Institute of Drugs banned the product in Germany in the year 2002.
Since that time, kava has become the most scientifically researched plant in the history. 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 noble kava.
Two Day Side Effects
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. There are two ways to do kava testing. At True Kava we use both HPLC kava testing and a solvent test devised Dr. Vincent Lebot. The kava test devised by Dr. Vincent Lebot is also called the Acetone Test.
HPLC Kava Test
The HPLC kava test 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.
Solvent Kava Test
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.
Our Goal at True Kava Labs
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 which provides consistent results for the many who can benefit from its use. We encourage you to visit TrueKava.com for more information, and welcome any questions or comments that you may have.