One of the most frequent questions we get from kava newbies is “How much kava should I take?” To be honest, there is no one answer to this excellent question: how much kava you should take will depend on the effects you want to obtain from it. In different doses, kava can be a sleep-aid, a natural remedy for anxiety, or a relaxing and euphoric beverage. In general, higher doses of kavalactones will promote more sociable and relaxing effects than lower doses, so in part, how much kava you should take will depend on the medicinal or recreational effect you want it to have.

Concentrations of kavalactones can differ by hundreds of milligrams per dose depending on the method of preparation: generally speaking, a kava tea or traditionally prepared cold brew made with fresh root will have a higher concentration of active kavalactones than kava pills or capsules made from dried material. The kind of kava supplements you get from general health food stores are usually made with older ground root and tend to be diminished in potency and effects. We recommend that you stick to sourcing kava from specialized vendors whose kava products will likely be more potent and made with fresher ingredients. Some kava vendors also sell concentrated kavalactone extracts or pastes which can also be a potent and convenient way to take kava.

The American Herbal Products Council has recommended that people limit their intake of kavalactones to no more than 300 milligrams per day, and not use kava for a continuous period of more than three months. In recent years, numerous studies on kava have been published that undermine the link between properly prepared kava root and liver damage. Therefore, we feel this is probably an artificial daily limit for a herb with such a long history of safe use in the South Pacific at far higher daily doses. However, people interested in using kava therapeutically will be happy to know that kava’s anxiolytic and sleep-promoting effects can kick in at far lower doses than are needed to produce its more pronounced sedative and euphoric effects, making kava a great herbal supplement for everyday use. How much kava you should take to treat anxiety or insomnia will of course depend on your individual constitution, but clinical studies have shown that kavalactone doses between 70 milligrams to 210 milligrams.  How much kava you should take to provide support for lowered anxiety levels?  Doses of 150 to 200 milligrams, taken 30 to 60 minutes before bed, were effective in helping to support more restful sleep patterns. However, these doses will likely not be enough to promote the feelings of euphoria and tranquility that many recreational users of kava are often after.

In the South Pacific, kava is brought out at all social occasions of note, so most South Pacific Islanders and native Hawaiians may take kava regularly— even daily— for years with no reported ill effects. Furthermore, the average concentration of kavalactones in a traditional kava brew is frequently far higher than what you’d find in a standardized kava extract or herbal supplement. Depending on the region, the strain of kava, and the preparation method, one bowl of a traditional cold brew can contain between 150 and 500 milligrams of kavalactones. Since it is common practice in many South Pacific cultures to enjoy a few bowls of kava in a single night, most people who partake of kava in the traditional way could end up consuming up to 2500 milligrams of kavalactones daily. Despite what may seem like a huge amount to people unacquainted with the world of kava, there have been ZERO reports of liver or general health problems from daily intake of kava at these levels among indigenous groups.

Of course, we recommend that first time kava drinkers take it slow until they’ve gotten acquainted with the plant’s effects on them and know what to expect. For the first few times drinking kava, you should start with one bowl and wait 20 to 30 minutes to feel the effects before taking a second bowl as a booster. In some cases, people don’t feel any effects until they’ve tried the brew a few times, due to a reverse tolerance that can sometimes occur with kava. One of the best ways to tell if you’ve gotten a hold of potent kava is that the brew will numb your mouth almost immediately after you consume it, as the tissues of your gums absorb the active kavalactones. Most kava vendors recommend that you space your doses about 15 minutes apart, and don’t take more than eight to twelve ounces of kava (about 2-3 four ounce bowls) for the first few times you drink it, until you know the effect kava has on you. Even though properly prepared kava root doesn’t contain any toxic compounds, it’s good to go slow when you’re introducing a new organic substance into your body. Once you’re comfortable with the way kava affects you, you can try taking a higher dose to achieve a greater euphoric and relaxing effect.

Of course, you should refrain from driving or doing anything that requires reflexes after drinking kava: much like alcohol, kava can impair your motor skills and sometimes result in slightly slowed vision, especially at higher euphoric doses. Be sure not to combine kava with alcohol or any other drugs that have depressant effects such as sleeping pills, to avoid harmful interactions which can otherwise occur when this herb is mixed with other sedatives.

To best enjoy kava’s sedative and euphoric effects, you should wait until the evening to grab a bowl of kava, as is traditional in the South Pacific Islands. People generally prefer to drink kava at night because its sedative qualities can be unproductive during the daytime and can also make sunlight and bright lights painful on the eyes. In all likelihood, you will enjoy kava more if you take it in a dim room, either alone or in the company of friends with whom you can generate in-depth conversations when the kava brew’s socializing effect kicks in. Approach it in a state of mind conducive to relaxation, and kava is sure to please!