Evidence based

CBD vs. Kava: Which is Better & How Do They Compare?

CBD & kava share many similarities. Here, we’ll compare what makes these two relaxing supplements similar & what makes them different.

Article By
Justin Cooke , last updated on April 24, 2021

CBD (cannabidiol) has been getting a lot of attention lately — especially around its uses for supporting chronic pain, anxiety, or insomnia.

But there’s another plant-based health supplement that offers many of the same benefits — a Polynesian herb by the name of kava (Piper methysticum).

In this article, we’ll cover what makes kava and CBD similar and what makes them different — including benefits, safety, dosages, preparation methods, and more.

  • Table of Contents

What is Kava?

Kava is a plant originating from various islands in the pacific ocean. The roots of the kava plant are prepared as a tea and consumed in groups for both social and ceremonial purposes.

Drinking kava doesn’t make you feel high, and it doesn’t make you feel drunk. However, it does have subtle qualities of both.

In higher doses, kava is euphoric and relaxing. You feel comfortable and content. Kava can also make you feel talkative and social. This unique combination of effects makes it a popular alternative option to alcohol and marijuana in social settings.

There are direct therapeutic effects of kava as well — primarily for managing anxiety and insomnia. It works through a similar set of mechanisms as prescription sedatives and anxiolytics for this application, only much less addictive.

The effects of kava include:

  • It makes you feel more social & talkative
  • It eliminates stresses & anxieties running in the back of your mind
  • It creates a sense of buoyancy & peace of mind
  • In higher doses it can make you feel sleepy & sedated
  • It relaxes the body & makes you feel more comfortable
  • It enables more free-flowing thought & creativity
  • It can make the body feel lighter or heavier
  • It promotes socializing & a sense of camaraderie

Comparison: CBD vs. Kava

We’ve covered CBD at-length in several other articles. To sum it up, CBD is one of the active ingredients in the cannabis plant. It’s non-psychoactive (doesn’t make you high) and works by regulating the endocannabinoid system. This system is involved with dozens of key functions in the human body — which is what allows CBD to offer so many widespread and seemingly unrelated health benefits.

Overall, CBD offers many more benefits than kava. It’s a powerful immunomodulator, anti-inflammatory, painkiller, and anti-epileptic — none of which is offered in any significant supply by kava.

Likewise, kava has a few tricks up its sleeve that are entirely outside the realm of possibilities for CBD. It’s used as an alternative to alcohol, as a tool for spiritual development, and as a euphoriant — none of which CBD can offer.

There are also a few areas where CBD and kava share a lot of overlap — especially around the management of anxiety, insomnia, and mood disorders.

Quick View: Comparing CBD & Kava

 MetricsCBD (Cannabidiol)Kava Kava
Primary BenefitsAnalgesic
Anti-inflammatory
Anxiolytic
Anti-Epileptic
Anxiolytic
Sedative
Euphoriant
Muscle-Relaxant
Active IngredientsCBD
CBG
CBN
CBC
THC
Terpenes
Desmethoxyyangonin
Dihydrokavain
Yangonin
Kavain
Dihydromethysticin
Methysticin
SafetyConfirmed safe in high doses & long-term useOnly safe within the recommended dosage range
Dose2–50 mg CBD per dose70–300 mg kavalactones per dose
Psychoactive EffectsNoneMild psychoactive effects
LegalityLegal in most parts of the worldLegal in most parts of the world
How it WorksRegulates the endocannabinoid system
Regulates the TRPV receptors
Regulates dopamine, serotonin, & glutamate function
Increases GABA activity

1. Benefits & Medicinal Applications

Both CBD and kava have a lot of medicinal value backed by scientific evidence. Let’s cover the primary areas both of these substances offer their effects, and which supplement is considered the best option for each.

A) Pain Relief

Winner: CBD

CBD is, by far, the better analgesic of the two. While kava does offer some pain support, especially for managing pain specific to the muscles, it’s nowhere near as reliable as CBD.

There have been hundreds of individual studies at this point supporting the effects of CBD for pain, which give us a good understanding of how it works and what its limitations are.

CBD works to block pain in three key ways:

  • It activates the vanilloid pain receptors to mute the pain signal before it reaches the brain
  • It interrupts the inflammatory process — effectively stopping the pain at the source
  • It promotes faster recovery of damaged tissues in the body — again, stopping pain at the source

Kava only really helps with pain in one way — by forcing muscles to relax. While this does help with pain, it only really affects people who are experiencing pain caused by, or perpetuated by muscle tension.

B) Anxiety Relief

Winner: Kava

Both kava and CBD are effective for anxiety. These effects have been supported many times over throughout rigorous clinical testing.

However, kava is undeniably stronger in this regard. It has a smaller scope of effects compared to CBD, but the areas it does target tend to be much stronger.

One such area of focus is on the GABA receptors — which can be thought of as the “brake pedal” for the nervous system. Activating GABA is like stepping on the brake, effectively slowing everything down to maintain greater control.

GABA is essential for preventing or reversing what we experience as anxiety. So kava’s ability to increase GABA activity is what makes it effective for blocking or managing anxiety.

This is the same mechanism of action prescription drugs like Xanax or Klonopin use to exert their effects. The primary application of these drugs is for alleviating anxiety.

CBD also targets GABA, but with much less force. You need a significantly higher dose of CBD to achieve the same effects as a relatively small dose of kava.

C) Sleep Support

Winner: Kava

Here’s another win for kava, but not by any significant margins. Both CBD and kava are highly effective for improving our ability to fall asleep and stay asleep.

Kava is the winner in the category of sleep-support for the same reason it won in the anxiety category. Its greater impact on GABA makes it better for all forms of mental inhibition — which includes promoting and maintaining sleep.

Animal studies have shown that kava extracts offer a dramatic improvement in the total duration of sleep (sometimes by as much as 45%), as well as the depth of sleep (as measured by delta wave activity during non-REM deep sleep).

CBD also makes it easier to fall asleep and has been shown to increase the total duration — but not to the same extent as kava.

D) Epilepsy & Seizures

Winner: CBD

CBD is the clear winner here. There have already been a lot of clinical trials on this interaction with incredible results. CBD has been shown to offer dramatic improvements in the frequency and intensity of epileptic seizures even when no other medication proved effective. It’s also been shown to be effective for dogs suffering from seizure disorders.

Kava has been reported to reduce epileptic seizures as well, but there have never been any human studies on this effect to date. It’s believed that kavas ability to increase GABA activity, regulate dopamine and serotonin, and promote muscle-relaxation can help patients suffering from seizure disorders. However, without any scientific proof, we can’t jump to any reasonable conclusions here.

E) Inflammation

Winner: CBD

There are few natural supplements as effective for reducing inflammation as CBD. This is because it works by targeting over a dozen individual mechanisms to regulate inflammation of different kinds.

CBD targets inflammation-regulating enzymes such as COX and LOX. It also blocks individual immunoglobulins, helps stabilize mast cells, and buffers the immune system to prevent or reduce auto-immune-mediated inflammation at the source.

Kava has been shown to reduce certain types of inflammation, but in no way does it compare to the reliability and strength of CBD in this regard.

F) Mood Disorders

Winner: Short-term kava, long-term CBD

This effect is much more split. Both CBD and kava are promising natural antidepressant candidates, but they work through very different mechanisms.

Kava is euphoric — which means it stimulates certain receptors in the brain (namely, serotonin and dopamine) that cause a shift in mood towards pleasure. In basic terms, it makes you feel happy. Therefore, kava offers direct relief from symptoms of depression or low mood.

The catch is that these effects disappear once the kava wears off. You’ll need to keep taking kava to keep producing these effects. Short-term, kava is an excellent option. This could involve periods of temporary or incident-specific mood issues, such as having a “particularly bad day” or after a death or other traumatic incident. Kava is not a good option for long-term mood-support because it doesn’t solve the underlying issue.

CBD is much less euphoric. In fact, it doesn’t offer much euphoria at all. Only CBD products that contain THC (the psychoactive ingredient) offer any directly euphoric benefits.

However, CBD has been shown to offer powerful antidepressant activity. It does so through separate mechanisms.

Instead of forcing us to feel happy for a short period of time, CBD works to regulate neurochemistry in the brain over long periods of time to achieve an ideal balance in our mood. It also fights inflammation in the brain that has a strong correlation to depression.

CBD doesn’t offer fast-relief for depression; it can take several weeks or months to start to feel these effects. However, instead of managing symptoms, it works to correct the underlying cause. This makes CBD a much better option for chronic or long-term depression.

2. Active Ingredients

The active ingredients in kava and CBD share no resemblance — but there’s one exception.

Active Ingredients in Kava

The active ingredients in kava are a group of compounds called kavalactones. There are 18 of these compounds, but only 6 of them make up about 96% of the total kavalactone content of the plant:

  • Desmethoxyyangonin
  • Dihydrokavain
  • Yangonin
  • Kavain
  • Dihydromethysticin
  • Methysticin

None of the kavalactones in kava bear any resemblance structurally to the cannabinoids found in hemp or marijuana. However, one of them — yangonin — does interact with the CB2 endocannabinoid receptors to exert its effects.

Active Ingredients in Hemp Extract

There are a lot of active ingredients in hemp extract — the primary ingredient is, of course, CBD.

It’s possible to buy products that contain pure CBD (CBD isolates), but most experts agree full-spectrum hemp extracts that contain all the other plant chemicals manufactured by the hemp plant is much more effective overall.

There are two groups of active ingredients in the hemp plant — cannabinoids and terpenes.

The main cannabinoids in hemp include:

The main terpenes in hemp include:

  • Alpha-Bisabolol
  • Caryophyllene
  • Eucalyptol
  • Geraniol
  • Humulene
  • Limonene
  • Linalool
  • Myrcene
  • Ocimene
  • Pinene

Each of these active ingredients has its own characteristic set of effects. All of them work together to produce the overall effect profile of the herb. This synergy is referred to as the entourage effect.

Both kava and hemp have their own equivalent of the entourage effect. All of the individual effects of the active ingredients work together to produce the overall results. Different strains of each plant will have different ratios of each active ingredient — and therefore have slightly different qualities. Some strains are more sedative; others are more stimulating. Some strains are better for pain; others are better for anxiety.

3. Safety

Both hemp (CBD) and kava are considered to be very safe herbs, even in high doses.

With that said, both can lead to side-effects if used in high doses or in combination with other drugs, supplements, or medications.

Side Effects

The side effects of CBD are generally very mild. The most common side effect is fatigue or sedation — which some would even consider a benefit.

Other side effects of CBD include:

  • Nausea
  • Lethargy
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness (low blood pressure)
  • Low motivation
  • Lack of appetite

The side effects of kava can be more severe and are more common than with CBD. Certain cultivars of kava (tudei varieties) are much more likely to produce negative side effects. Always look for noble varieties, which are unlikely to cause the most uncomfortable side effects.

You should also be careful to remain within the recommended dose when drinking kava to further reduce the chances of experiencing side effects.

Side effects of kava include:

  • Nausea
  • Lethargy
  • Drunkenness (tudei varieties)
  • Dizziness
  • Sensation that the room is spinning
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Lack of appetite

Potential For Addiction

Both herbs can be addictive in susceptible individuals. This isn’t because either of these plants are highly addictive on their own — it’s because of the improvements they offer people for conditions like chronic pain, anxiety, or insomnia.

When someone finds relief from something that makes them feel sad or uncomfortable by either using a substance or doing a specific activity (such as binge-eating, gambling, or shopping), they can become addicted to that activity.

Both CBD and kava have legitimate medicinal benefits — which can lead people to become addicted to the benefits they offer. This is referred to as behavioral addiction.

Another type of addiction is called physical addiction. This type of addiction takes a longer amount of time to appear but is much harder to get rid of. What’s happening here is that repeated doses of a substance cause the body to make modifications to the target receptors of that substance. We then start to depend on using that substance to maintain balance. Without it, we don’t have enough activity at that receptor, leading to withdrawal symptoms.

Both CBD and kava can lead to physical dependence and addiction.

Fortunately, it takes a long time for this to occur. It’s much easier to stop using them for periods of time to allow the body to reset.

Highly addictive substances like heroin, Xanax, or cocaine are considered much more addictive because they cause the body to become dependent in a short period of time.

4. Dosages

The dose of CBD and kava can each vary widely. If we isolate each of the active ingredients down, it’s easier to compare the dose. When using either of the raw plants (hemp vs. kava), the dose can change depending on the strength of the plant, the method of consumption, and factors like your weight and tolerance.

The typical dose of CBD is around 20 mg, taken once, twice, or three times per day. However, this can vary from person to person. Some find an effective dose as low as 3 mg; others need 75 mg to get the desired level of effects. Use our CBD dosage calculator to find an approximate dose for your body.

The typical dose of kava is around 10 grams of raw root powder or the equivalent dose of around 140 or 210 mg pure kavalactones. Some roots contain only 3% kavalactones, others up to 20% — so the dose can vary significantly from one root to the next. Most kava has around 8% and offers a decent level of effects at 10-gram doses. You may need to modify with a little more or a little less once you’re familiar with how strong the kava you’re using is.

5. Psychoactive Effects

Neither CBD nor kava is considered psychoactive because they don’t make you feel high or drunk. Your mind remains entirely coherent and clear even with very high doses.

However, both cause a subtle change in mental state. The effects of CBD and kava feel surprisingly similar to each other in this regard.

Both herbs make your mind feel relaxed, light, and peaceful. They reduce a lot of the noise in your head driven by anxiety or stress — which doesn’t make you high per se — but it certainly changes your thought process. You could say that each of these herbs makes you feel as though you’re “floating.”

Compared to each other, kava is much stronger in these effects. After drinking kava for an hour or so, the change in mental state becomes hard to deny. CBD is much more subtle, and most people don’t even notice it until someone points it out.

Kava also has another layer of effects through its ability to induce euphoria. Some consider this a high — but your mind remains clear and uninhibited.

Kava and hemp have a history of being misunderstood by regulators. They’ve both been banned and unbanned over the years. Some parts of the world still ban one or the other (or both).

Overall, kava has more leniency in terms of regulations. It’s more common for kava to be legal than CBD.

Currently, kava is legal in most parts of the world, with the exception of the Netherlands, Poland, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. You can order kava in most other countries, either locally or online. Some places ban the sale of the herb but allow it’s use, so you have to order it online from outside the country. Others permit both the sale and use of the plant.

The regulations for CBD are very similar. It’s legal in most parts of the world as long as it’s made specifically from the hemp plant. Hemp is differentiated from marijuana on a legal level by the amount of THC each plant makes. Hemp makes almost no THC (less than 0.3%), while marijuana is considered any cannabis plant that makes more than this amount.

There are also many countries that permit the use of CBD products but only with the recommendation from a doctor.

7. Cost Per Dose

The cost of kava and CBD vary widely depending on the quality, the type of products, and the country you’re in.

With that said, here’s a general breakdown of the cost of each to put them into perspective:

Product TypeCBD (Cannabidiol)Kava Kava
Concentrated Extract$0.80 per Dose$1.25 – $2.50 per dose
Tinctures (Average Potency)$2.00–$4.00 per Dose$0.60 – $2.50 per Dose
Raw Herb$1.00–$3.00 per Dose$2.50–$5.50 per Dose
Capsules$2.25–$4.50 per Dose$2.00–$4.00 per Dose

Can I Mix CBD With Kava?

You can mix CBD and kava together, but there are a few things you need to keep in mind to do it safely.

The main thing to consider is that some of the effects of these two substances overlap each other. This means taking both at the same time is likely to produce much stronger effects overall.

For example, both CBD and kava have sedative effects. When taken together, you may start to feel the sedative action at a much lower dose of each substance than expected. The same can happen in other areas as well — such as their effects on blood pressure, blood sugar, and appetite.

In general, it’s better to use just one or the other, but if you’re dead-set on combining the two, do so slowly and deliberately. Start with a low dose of each and increase gradually over time once you’re familiar with how they affect you. Don’t go off someone else’s experience here either; everybody is unique and will respond differently.

The main side-effects to watch out for with this combination are sedation and low blood pressure — which can make you feel dizzy or lightheaded. In severe cases, it may even cause you to faint. You’ll definitely want to avoid this.

Final Thoughts: CBD vs. Kava — Which is Better?

There’s no obvious “winner” or “loser” out of this matchup. Both herbs have a lot of benefits to offer and are both great options overall.

CBD is more versatile, offering benefits on pain, inflammation, insomnia, anxiety, depression, epilepsy, and so much more.

Kava is more specific for anxiety or sleep but tends to be stronger in these areas.

Neither herb is dangerous, but if you’re worried about side-effects, CBD is a slightly better option.

In terms of the cost for each dose, there’s no clear winner. Both CBD and kava are very comparable in their overall cost. The cheapest option is to go for CBD concentrates or a simple CBD oil.

Ultimately, it comes down to your body and your individual preference. It helps to try both supplements to see what works best for you.

Further Reading

Further Reading