What is a Kava Chemotype

What is a Kava Chemotype

February 27, 2023

estimated read time - 14 min

Kava has been around for decades being used on a daily basis in the South Pacific and now Western societies. However, there are still many things about the plant that remain a mystery.

The remarkable effects of kava are well known for possibly reducing anxiety and tension while also serving as a possible alcohol substitute. Generally kava is said to be a calming and muscle relaxing experience, but it is also known to produce various different effects and different kinds of experience. All of these effects are because of it's kavalactones and kava chemotypes.

Kavalactones and kava chemotypes are two major determining factors when it comes to kava. By understanding how these two works and how to interpret them, you will have a more accurate idea on what you can expect to feel from a particular kava blend or varietal. Also, it will be easier to find the kava blend that will suit your preference and needs.

BONUS! Some Perspective - Kava and Beer

Kava's effects are based around its kavalactone content and more specifically the kava chemotype, while beers are mostly differentiated by flavor with the overall alcohol experience being the same as in all spirits. In beer, it's strength is based on it's alcohol volume, kava on the otherhand is based on it's chemotype and kavalactone percent.

Beers are also usually categorized by their brewing method as well as their relative strength, light beers and strong beers. Light beers usually have an alcohol volume of not more than 4%. While strong beers typically have an alcohol volume of 6-8% and some exclusive barrel aged ones can even be in the 15-19% range! The experience of drinking a beer is almost a religius experience to some, and many allude this to the small nuances you can pick up in each beer's flavor. There's also a wide range of beers that exist from the michelob light, all the way the Bruery's famous Black Tuesday Barrel Aged Stout with a 20% ABV.

Kava is pretty different from beer in that it is categorized by the experience you receive AFTER drinking the kava. In general people don't judge kava by flavor as most kava's don't taste very good. Instead kava chemotypes are used to help identify if a certain kava blend is strong, heavy or heady. It is said that the more you drink kava the more you will feel the effects and get over the mysterious kava mountain called "reverse tolerance". This happens to most first time kava users as they sometimes do not feel the effects in their first few attempts of drinking kava. Usually the more you drink kava, the more you will experience the effects. Beers or alcohol on the other hand works quite the opposite. When you are new to drinking alcohol you'll probably get intoxicated quickly and experience the effects right away. However, overtime alcohol tolerance develops (sometimes along with alcohol dependence), and it will take more alcohol to feel the same results. Which is not a desirable destination.

Between the two, the strength and effects of each in your body depends on certain factors, like your health, the medications in your system, body weight, and your tolerance.

 



Kava Chemotype

What Is A Chemotype

Chemotypes are distinct chemical entity that can be found in some plants. A chemotype describes the subspecies of a plant that have similar structure but produce different quantities of chemical components.

Classifying plants according to their chemotype is important in the research and agricultural fields for resource development, quality assessment, and medical research. Additionally, it can help guarantee the efficacy and safety of clinical treatment.

High Performance Liquid Chromatography analysis is often used to find chemotypes in plants and the same process is also used to identify the kava chemotype.

What Is A Kava Chemotype

A kava chemotype refers refers to the six-digit code that describes the distinctive order of kavalactone densities found in kava. Depending on the cultivar and age of the kava plant, the chemotypes can vary wildly. Different kavalactones have different effects, and some are more potent than others.

Understanding chemotypes helps users select kava cultivars that align with their desired outcomes. Chemotypes also aid researchers in studying kava's pharmacological properties and potential health benefits, contributing to the safe and informed consumption of this traditional beverage.


Kavalactones

What Are Kavalactones

Kavalactones are a class of compounds found in the kava plant that are known for their sedative and anxiolytic effects. It is an active ingredient that can be found mainly in the roots of the kava plant but is also found in the aerial portions. Kava has been used for centuries in Pacific island cultures as a traditional drink that promotes relaxation and reduces anxiety. However, kava was and still is also used medicinally in tribal cultures to treat various diseases.

There are over 19 different kavalactones that have been identified thus far, but we mostly focus on the top 6 as they make up about 95% of the kavalactones present in any given kava plant. The primary active ingredients in kava are the kavalactones, which are believed to work by modulating the activity of the neurotransmitter GABA in the brain.

What Are The 6 Major Types Of Kavalactones

Researchers Lebot and Levesque divided the 19 kavalactones into two groups, minor and major, and numbered the 6 major kavalactones. Below, you will see the 6 major kavalactones and an overview on how each of them are beneficial.

  1. Desmethoxyyangonin(DMY)- muscle relaxant, potent MAOB inhibitor
  2. Dihydrokavain(DHK)- sedative, anti-anxiety, calming
  3. Yangonin(Y)- lively, creative, and artsy
  4. Kavain(K)- happy and euphoria inducing, heady
  5. Dihydromethysticin(DHM)- loss of muscle coordination, long-lasting sedative up to 2 days
  6. Methysticin(M)- body numbing, sedative

These kavalactones are assigned numbers, forming a six-digit code that predicts potential effects of a kava or blend (The chemotype number we mentioned above). Since each of these kavalactones produces a somewhat similar but often wildly different experience, it’s important to know the makeup or order of these ranked effects of your kava to match to your lifestyle.

Although these kavalactones are said to produce such effects, there is no guarantee that all kava users will get the same exact experience as everyone else. The effects of these kavalactones can be potent or weak depending on the users tolerance and how their body chemicals will react to kava.


What are GABA and GABA Receptors

What Are GABA Neurotransmitters

GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) is a neurotransmitter that plays an important role in regulating mood, anxiety, and sleep. It acts as an inhibitory neurotransmitter, meaning that it helps to calm and quiet the activity of neurons in the brain. GABA is involved in the body's stress response, and people with anxiety disorders may have lower levels of GABA in certain areas of the brain.

How Does GABA Works

GABAA receptors are channel receptors and are the primary inhibitory neurotransmitter activated receptors in the mammalian brain. When GABA binds to GABAA receptors, the receptors' slightly change their polarization, allowing negatively charged chloride ions to pass through them to enter the neuron and reduce excitability (ie, slow down or decrease intensity of neuronal responses and therefore creating a sensation of sedation. ) [52](10)

ELI5 (Explain Like I'm 5 years old): You can think of this GABA channel receptor as a brand new gate you just installed between your home and the street - Note, that it's brand new.

The "GABA channel" is the gate, the "GABA receptor" is the lock and the "GABA neurotransmitter" is the key.

This lock is only opened by putting a specific "GABA key" into the lock (GABA receptor).

When the GABA key is put in the gate (ie, GABA neurotransmitters binding to the GABA A receptor on the gate) it opens and things can flow through. But remember this gate is brand new - so it takes some time to get the key to open the gate as the lock is not yet worn in and it has to be a perfect fit. You have to jiggle it, shake it a bit, and put the key in a few times to finally get it unlocked. HOPEFULLY overtime the key will wear into the lock and it'll open easier.

This gate in your frontyard is for people, and can only let things in people sized. So all walking humans/animals (choride ions) can pass through but something larger like a car will still be stuck on the other side. (technically this is happening by opposing or attractive electrical charges instead of size, but you get the idea).

If this doesn't make sense then please let me know. I was quite proud of this analogy but as I read it again it's more confusing than I anticipated.


How Does Kava Affect GABA

Let's Get Technical with Kava

Kavalactones are believed to enhance the activity of GABA by increasing its release and reducing its reuptake, specifically through activation with the GABAA receptor. The increase in activated GABA levels in the brain, could be why there is a calming and sedative effect. Kavalactones also appear to affect other neurotransmitters, including dopamine and serotonin, which are involved in regulating mood and motivation.

How exactly kavalactones from kava impacts GABA receptor binding is still unclear.

However! A recent study indicated kavalactones could trigger GABAergic effects by regulation of the GABA channels, boosting ligand binding to GABA binding sites(10).

With our previous example above regarding the gate to your home, this would mean that this magical plant known as kava can be sprinkled on the gate lock (GABA Receptor) of the gate (GABA channel) to "loosen" up the lock so it can accept almost every type of "GABA Key". So the Gate is MUCH more likely to be unlocked to let people through (hopefully your friends and not anyone scary!)

Research also shows that kavalactones inhibit the MAOB (Monoamine oxidase B). MAOB is an enzyme that breaks down certain natural chemicals in our body, one main one is the dopamine. (10). By inhibiting the MAOB, it slows down the process of dopamine being broken down, which leaves more free-flowing dopamine available to be used by the brain (11) With more dopamine available, it is possible this is a reason there is a reduction in the feelings of stress, depression and anxiousness (10). Clinical trials showed that a daily dose of 20-300mg of kavalactones is efficient to relieve mild anxiety(1). 


How To Interpret Kava Chemotype

Kava chemotypes are simple, especially after you are familiar with the 6 major kavalactones. Let's look into some examples of these kava chemotypes and interpret them.

For example, kava chemoype 243516. This kava is most likely to be a strong and heavy blends. To be more precise, the kavalactones in this kava chemotype are in the following order: Dihydrokavain(2), Kavain(4), Yangonin(3), Dihydromethysticin(5), Desmethoxyyangonin(1), Methysticin(6). Basically, with the kavalactone Dihydrokavain being first, it is considered to be more abundant in this blend. This kava will likely have a more sedating and less heady impact.

Another example is kava chemotype that starts with 423xxx. Since the kavalactone Kavain(4), which contributes to a heady and happy feeling, is more prominent in this chemotype, the blend will be more heady and energetic. This type of chemotypes are most likely to help with anxiety and at the same help you become more lively.  

Kavas that are stronger and heavier typically have chemotypes that start with 24xxxx. Whereas heady kavas start at 42xxxx. You can then differentiate the more subtle effect looking at the third digit, like the difference between 24356, 245316, 243561 and so on. Since the kavalactone Dihydromethysticin (5) is greater and produces a very powerful sedating effect that can last up to two days, kava chemotypes that begin with 52xxxx are not really advised. The most common source of this kava chemotype is Tudei kava.

The interesting thing about kava is that some may be of the same variety and the have similar kava chemotype but still produces different effect.


Kava For Every Occassion

Best Kava Chemotype for Every Occassion

There are various kava chemotypes out there. Each offers a unique experience and feeling of zen.

Kava for a Relaxing Night In - Solo

There are various kava chemotypes out there. Each offers a unique experience and feeling of zen.

Kava for a relaxing night in solo

Strong and heavy kavas are usually best for relieving stress and anxiety; they may also improve your sleep. Since heavy kavas are more sedating, they can help more on muscle relaxation. These kava chemotypes typically begins with 24xxxx, 25xxxx. Or anything that has higher kavalactone Dihydrokavain(2) content.

Examples: 243516 - Connoisseur blend or Barava blend

 

Kava for a Relaxing Night With Friends

Kava for a relaxing night in with friends

Strong and heavy kavas can also be used for intimate hangout sessions with friends, but can be overwhelming in Public settings. So we recommend if you're looking to hang out with a significant other or just a couple friends, to grab a more balanced blend or varietal like the Statera

Good for time with a couple friends:

425631, even 243516 (probably not barava though)

Kava for a Social Night Out

Kava for social events

Kavas are well known to be a great alternative to alcohol. Some also uses it to over social anxiety whenever they are on a gathering or simply hanging out with friends. Heady and uplifting kava chemotypes are great for these occasions. These kava chemotype mostly starts with the number 42xxxx.

Good for time out in public:

423516 - Raw Epicure blend

423561 - Bir Kar Reserve, Kelai Reserve

Kava for Unleashing Creativity

Kava for creative artists

Some kava strains can also help improve your creativity. This are the ones we've found that've helped us with creative writing and art.

It's an intriguing experience but quite helpful when working past some mental hurdles

Good for time out in public:

423651 - Kahuna Traditional & Kahuna Fresh

463215 - Fresh Wakea

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the most potent kava?

In terms of potency, it really depends what you think is "potent". Most people think potency is about the body sedating feeling, and with that one technically it would be what we call "Tudei" kava. There are two common types of kava classifications, noble kava and tudei kava. The noble kava is the type of kava that is considered safe and is recommended by the World Health Organization. Noble kava’s are generally grown between 3 - 5+ years, have lower levels of sedation, and lower amounts of chalcones FKC and FKB. Noble is said to work better for stress, anxiety and drinking on social occassion. Tudei kava, on the other hand produces strong sedative effects and is also known to give kava hangovers that can last up to 2 days (hence the sland "two-day = tudei"). We don't sell Tudei kava and do not recommend people to use this type of kava.

Does kava make you drunk?

Kava is known to have similar symptoms to alcohol, like drunkiness and balanced difficulty due to it's muscle relaxing property. For the same reason, it is not advised to drive while drinking kava. But unlike alcohol, kava doesn't cause hangovers or headaches the next day.  

Conclusion

In conclusion, A kava chemotype is basically a six digit code that represents the main kavalactones in relative order ranked by their presence in any specific sample. Kavalactones that make up the chemotype are a class of compounds found in the kava plant that are believed to work by modulating the activity of GABA and other neurotransmitters in the brain. Different chemotypes of kava can vary in their kavalactone content and composition, which can affect the potency and effects of the kava drink.

Kava chemotypes and kavalactone contents of kava are two main factors to consider when purchasing kava. The amount and type of chemotypes of kavalactones vary depending on the plant’s cultivar and age. By kava chemotyping, it is simpler to find the best kava blend that will suit your preference and needs.

Keep in mind, kava chemotypes is don't guarantee the same effects for everyone. Your experience with kava can also depend on your body's tolerance, your lifestyle and especially your diet.

Lastly, always try to stick with kava chemotype codes beginning with “2”, “4” or “6”. And avoid those that starts with "5". Kava hangovers are no joke.

Bula friends!



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