Kava pills are one of the most widely available forms of kava kava you can buy these days. This popular commercial kava preparation usually consists of dried root material packed into a digestible capsule, or a gel capsule that contains a standardized kava root extract. In the second form, kava pills often contain a standardized amount of kavalactones but may not contain the full range of compounds found in the whole kava root. In either case, kava pills tend to be less potent compared to a traditional cold brew or kava drink made from the powdered root material. However, some consumers like having the option of taking a kava pill for its convenience and ease of use.
In general, kava pills are weaker than a freshly prepared brew for two reasons: first of all, kava in pill form may have been made using older root material that has had time to decline in potency; unless your kava pills state that they contain an enhanced extract of kava root, the plain root material may just not be that strong. An enhanced extract will have a label with something like “5:1 Kava Root Extract” displayed on it. For example, the amount of kavalactones in a pill made from plain root matter can be as low as 20-30 milligrams, where most literature states that you need a dose of at minimum 60 milligrams for a sleep-promoting effect, and at least 70 milligrams for an anxiolytic effect. Furthermore, kava pills often don’t provide you with the full spectrum of compunds you would get from drinking a traditional brew or tea made from the whole kava root. Why is this important? For one, kava researchers have speculated that different kavalactones may be responsible for kava’s anxiolytic, empathogenic, and sleep-promoting properties, so a full-spectrum preparation is the best way to ensure you get the full range of these effects.
However, while taking a kava pill may not generate as strong an effect as a brew or tea, there are still a couple advantages to kava pills that are worth bearing in mind. First of all, kava capsules are by far the quickest and most convenient form of kava out there. Preparing a kava brew from the root is time consuming and messy by comparison, especially if you’re using the whole root fresh or dried: you have to use a large amount of water and squeeze or massage the root pulp or powder into the liquid through a cloth, then let it steep for at least 45 minutes, and sometimes several hours depending on the desired strength of the brew. Of course, these preparatory measures are worth it for a potent brew with unparalleled relaxation power, but some days you just don’t have the time!
Kava pills are great when you need a quick fix during the daytime and don’t have the time or energy to make a bowl of brew, like when you’re away from home. For example, if you want to take a bit of calming kava before an potentially stressful event like a plane ride, job interview, or date, you can quickly and discreetly swallow a couple kava pills half an hour or so beforehand. Professional athletes, actors and diplomatics have all extolled kava’s ability to take the nervous edge off, and a kava pill can work just as well as other forms for this purpose.
You might also consider trying kava pills if you find yourself having difficulty stomaching the taste of brewed kava. Some people just never cotton to the taste of kava root, and the cold brew can sometimes cause nausea or stomach upset in sensitive users. If you just don’t care for the taste of kava by itself, you could also try out kava drink mixes, mix a bit of brew with a sweet juice or fatty liquid like coconut or almond milk, or try kava in the form of brownies, chocolate, or kava candies. Or you can sample high-quality “waka grade” kava harvested from only the plant’s lateral roots, which are younger and tend to have a sweeter taste.
If you decide to try out kava pills for yourself, we feel you’ll probably have the best results if you obtain a full-spectrum kava extract in pill form (and this goes for kava tinctures and aqueous extracts too). A full-spectrum preparation ensures that you get the full range of kavalactones from the root material used to make the pill, as well as ancillary constituents that may have beneficial effects on their own. For instance, an enzyme called glutathione, found in whole kava root and traditionally prepared brews, may have protective effects on the liver as it metabolizes kava. Full-spectrum kava pills are also more likely to be made using relatively fresh rootstock with a verified content of kavalactones, whereas standardized extracts are sometimes made with older and less potent material.
If you have a little more time and are willing to play around a bit, you can even make your own kava pills! This is probably easiest if you have a capsule machine to insert the root material for you, but you can also make kava capsules by hand. All you really need to make your own kava pills are some empty vegetarian capsules (many online health food stores offer these) and some kava root matter to place inside them. You can use extract enhanced kava root powder, powdered kava extract, or even concentrated kavalactone paste. Just make sure not to use plain powdered root: from what we’ve heard, plain dried root usually won’t have much of an effect in pill form.
Making your own kava pills can give you the best of both worlds: you’ll get the convenience of taking kava in capsule form anywhere and at anytime you wish, while also knowing that the kava inside is of high quality and potency!