Many people who enjoy kava find its effects quite similar to the prescription anti-anxiety medication Xanax, also known as Alprazolam. Kava has become pretty well known as an alternative to Xanax, and the New York Times recently went so far as to call Kava “Nature’s Xanax“.
While the effects of Kava are not unlike those of Xanax, there are several important distinctions between Kava and Xanax. In this article, I’ll take a close look at Kava vs Xanax, and compare and contrast these two stress-relieving, anxiolytic substances.
Kava vs Xanax: Which is the Best Choice?
Xanax is a member of the benzodiazepine family and is a controlled substance throughout most of the world. It must be prescribed by a doctor and used with care, but it well-known to be quite effective at reducing stress and anxiety.
Kava, on the other hand, is a traditional beverage made from ground kava root. This beverage has been consumed for millennia throughout Polynesia and has been growing in popularity throughout the world. It is a natural substance and is legal in most parts of the world.
The actual anxiety and stress-reducing effects of kava are really quite similar to those of Xanax. Both kava and Xanax are pretty well-suited to encouraging relaxation, stress reduction, and anxiety-reduction.
Both of these substances provide relaxation to the body and a dial-down of the stress level, while still keeping the head clear enough that users can take these substances at work, or at home after a complex day, and still have a clear head capable of making reasonable decisions.
Both substances will send your stresses away and let you find tranquility.
Certain strains of Kava (also known as Chemotypes) work best for muscle relaxation and body relaxation. Other kavas are great for anxiety and stress. See this article on the best kavas for anxiety for more details on which ones to choose.
Method of Ingestion
Xanax is taken in pill form only. Pop an Alprazolam/Xanax, and you’re all set.
Kava, on the other hand, comes in a variety of forms, with the most common form being a tea, produced by steeping dried kava in water. Additionally, it comes in tincture format such as Herb Farm Kava (reviewed here) and supplement form, though most of these formats are much lower quality than the tea form.
Kava tea is well known to taste pretty horrid in its traditional format. It looks like chocolate milk, but it tastes like peppery mud. It makes your mouth numb, but not before you get those nasty flavors.
Of course, you can mix the kava with other adjuncts to mask the taste, but these may up the kava calorie content beyond what many drinkers are comfortable with.
Regulation and Acquisition
As mentioned above, Xanax is a controlled substance, and in most parts of the world is only available with a prescription from a doctor. Xanax has high abuse potential (more on that later) and users must take care with the amount of Xanax they take, especially if they are using it regularly.
Kava, on the other hand, is legal in most of the world (there are exceptions, such as Poland. Be sure to check your local laws!). It is available in places like grocery stores, head shops, and (if you’re lucky) kava bars in your neighborhood. However, most Kava available locally is extremely low quality and should be avoided.
If you have a kava bar near you, that’s a different story. But if you don’t, your best bet is to purchase your kava online from a reputable vendor. There are several good Kava vendors on Amazon, though there are plenty that should be avoided as well. The previous link includes a good deal of information on which Kava vendors are reputable, as does the Kava subreddit.
Cost and Expense
Xanax or its generic cousins are usually quite inexpensive for those who have a prescription for it, especially if you have medical insurance to cover a portion of the cost of prescription drugs.
If you don’t have a prescription for Alprazolam/Xanax, it will cost significantly more. And you shouldn’t be taking it.
Demand for Kava has been growing strongly throughout the world. Unfortunately, Kava farmers have had a hard time keeping up with this demand. Kava really only grows well in the Pacific Islands (though China is currently trying to cultivate it).
Additionally, it takes about 5 years for a Kava plant to go from seedling to a mature, harvest-ready state. Consequently, what is being harvested now is connected to what demand was forecast to be 5 years ago, when the world was a different place.
The end result is that Kava is pretty expensive at the moment, and shows little sign of dropping in price. Kava does show up in cheaper formats like supplements and tinctures, but many of these are bad quality and should be avoided.
Winner: Xanax (assuming you have a prescription)
Duration of Effect
Depending on the format of Xanax you are taking, most pills will last about 5 hours before they wear off. Some “extended-release” Xanax can last for about double that time.
Kava typically lasts for 1-2 hours before the effects wear off. Many users may choose to make a second round of Kava (or more) depending on the level of relaxation desired.
Unfortunately, that means having to drink down another nasty concoction.
Addiction Potential and Health Risks
This is perhaps the biggest differentiator when it comes to Kava and Xanax. Xanax is physically addictive and can be quite dangerous to those who abuse it. Kava, on the other hand, is not physically addictive and has been used safely for thousands of years throughout Oceana.
There are loads of reports of people abusing Xanax, and having to go through withdrawal in order to quit. Withdrawal symptoms for Xanax, according to the Coleman Institute, include “agitation, anxiety, panic, flushed feeling, increased pulse rate, increased blood pressure, sweating, and insomnia. The symptoms can even progress to seizures, confusion, and a loss of contact with reality.” Some find that they become suicidal on Xanax and other Benzodiazepines. These drugs can be quite dangerous when they’re used irrisponsibly.
Ouch. Most people start taking Xanax in order to reduce anxiety and panic feelings. Get habituated to Xanax, and you run the risk of it creating those feelings, and potentially even worse! Not good.
Kava does not have addiction potential and has been found to be quite safe when used in its traditional format. There have been some issues with liver failure in the past, though the risk is quite low for those who take kava from reputable vendors, and avoid mixing kava with other drugs and alcohol.
Interaction with Alcohol
Most responsible sources suggest that users who enjoy Kava avoid drinking alcohol at the same time. Many find that alcohol makes them nauseous when consumed with kava, and the interaction between the two substances doesn’t really improve the effects much. That said, some in the South Pacific will sometimes drink a “washdown” light beer an hour or two after finishing their Kava session, as it may slightly extend the buzz.
But they’re not drinking those hazy New England IPAs.
Regardless, when it comes to combining alcohol and kava, it’s a bad idea but not life-ruining.
When it comes to interactions between Xanax and Alcohol, the impacts of this combination are well known. Xanax amplifies the effects of alcohol, and this is where much of the dangers of Xanax lie. Xanax makes one drink feel like three drinks, and three drinks feel like the entire universe is collapsing into a void of nothingness.
Many people report bizarre behaviors, blackouts, and the like, when combining Xanax with alcohol.
The combination isn’t just bad for you, it can cause serious harm. It can lead to addiction and bad outcomes.
Conclusion: Xanax vs Kava
This round-up shows that Kava is generally a much safer choice when it comes to stress and anxiety relief than Xanax is. Kava doesn’t require a prescription and has extremely low addiction potential.
However, Xanax is much more convenient than Kava in its traditional form, and many will find Xanax much more useful when the stress and anxiety relief is needed during the workday.
Readers of this blog know that I’m a big advocate of traditional kava, and strongly encourage buyers to avoid most kava supplements and tinctures. However, if you want to have some Kava available in tablet format for use during the workday, or when you just want to pop a pill for relaxation, be sure to check out Kava Candy [Amazon Link]. The company behind Kava Candy is reasonably responsible, and Kava Candy (reviewed here) is great for getting your anxiety down to a manageable level. It’s not as strong as real traditional kava, but it will knock your stress down from a 9 to a 6.
Last update on 2020-02-16 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API