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What To Know About Mixing Kava And Alcohol

Kava and alcohol are two substances that are often used for the same purposes. Both are fascinating substances due to their overlap in their impacts on the human body. They are renowned for their ability to induce relaxation, lower inhibitions, and foster a sense of ease during social interactions. Some even turn to them as aids for sleep. But why do they have such similar effects? It boils down to GABA, a vital brain chemical both substances influence.

A burning question, however, lingers. Can kava and alcohol be mixed safely?

The Similarities Between Kava & Alcohol

Before diving into the complex maze of kava and alcohol, it’s crucial to establish the foundational similarity between these two intriguing substances. Both are classified as central nervous system depressants, acting as powerful agents that mellow out the nervous system’s activities. This doesn’t imply they provoke depression; instead, their role is quite the opposite of stimulants like caffeine, which rev up the nervous system.

Dissecting the Differences Between Kava and Alcohol

Despite their common classification as depressants, kava and alcohol are two sides of a complex coin. Kava carries a distinct edge in terms of addiction potential – it is typically not associated with addictive tendencies. Its influence on the neurological systems is vast, and the cytochrome P450 system, a network of enzymes responsible for drug metabolism, primarily drives its metabolism.

Alcohol, on the other hand, plays a different tune. It can potentially disrupt the cerebellum’s operations, triggering a loss of muscle coordination. Moreover, it is infamous for its addictive potential, with the liver metabolizing it primarily through the action of a specific enzyme known as alcohol dehydrogenase. This stark contrast in their characteristics is a pivotal aspect to consider when assessing their combined impact on the body.

The Role of Kava and Alcohol on the Nervous System

To fully appreciate the effects of kava and alcohol, we must first dissect our nervous system’s intricate operations. Our nervous system is a complex seesaw, with the sympathetic (SNS) and parasympathetic (PNS) systems delicately balanced on either side. The SNS acts as the catalyst for our fight-or-flight response, sparking into action when we’re stressed or stimulated, while the PNS counterbalances these effects, fostering relaxation and healing. It’s a high-wire act, with kava and alcohol as tightrope walkers, expertly tipping this internal seesaw towards the PNS. This balancing act is why these substances induce a sense of relaxation and can serve as effective sleep aids.

Kava & Alcohol’s Impact on Social Interactions

One might wonder how substances labelled as ‘depressants’ can boost our sociability. The answer lies nestled within the balanced middle ground of our internal SNS-PNS seesaw. An SNS-dominated state, characterized by heightened stress, can put a dent in our social interactions. Kava and alcohol act as capable negotiators, nudging the seesaw towards the PNS, effectively curbing stress. This shift enhances our social capabilities without draining our energy reservoir, presenting a fascinating paradox.

The Tightrope of Dosage: Kava & Alcohol’s Effects at Various Levels

The ancient wisdom that warns, “too much of a good thing can be harmful,” rings especially true here. Overindulgence in kava or alcohol can upset our internal equilibrium, causing disorientation or even loss of consciousness. Smaller doses can serve as social lubricants, enhancing interaction, but overstepping the threshold can invite undesirable effects such as excessive drowsiness or inebriation. Treading the fine line of moderation is key to leveraging the benefits of these substances without teetering into the territory of adverse effects.

Do Kava & Alcohol Interact With Each Other? The Short Answer

Yes, they do. Mixing kava and alcohol can significantly amplify their effects, and it’s generally advised to avoid such combinations. The chief concern is the potential liver damage that could arise from combining kava, which is relatively safe on its own, with alcohol, a known liver toxin.

The Three Primary Concerns: Synergistic Effects, Antagonistic Effects, and Metabolic Competition

Concern 1: Synergistic Effects

The synergistic effects of kava and alcohol are a major concern. They have a similar impact on the body, and combining them could amplify these effects, potentially leading to undesirable or even dangerous outcomes. For safety, it’s better to avoid mixing them or use much smaller doses than you’re used to if you decide to do so.

Concern 2: Antagonistic Effects

Antagonistic effects occur when a stimulant and depressant are mixed, resulting in a dulling of each substance’s impact. However, this is less of an issue with kava and alcohol as they are both depressants and do not counteract each other’s effects.

Concern 3: Metabolic Competition and Liver Health

Both kava and alcohol are metabolized in the liver, which leads to concerns about metabolic competition that could result in the buildup of both substances, potentially causing stronger effects and more side-effects.

Alcohol and Your Metabolism

Alcohol metabolism is well-studied, with alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) being the primary system that metabolizes it into inactive metabolites ready for excretion. Another set of enzymes, the CYP2E1 isoenzymes, also aids in alcohol elimination.

The Enzymes Behind Kava Metabolism

Kava is metabolized by several enzymes, including CYP2C9, CYP2C19, CYP2D6, CYP3A4, and CYP4A11. Importantly, studies show that there’s no overlap in the primary metabolic systems tasked with eliminating kavalactones and alcohol from the body.

Should You Mix Alcohol and Kava?

While kava and alcohol are similar in their calming effects on the body, their key differences must not be overlooked. For instance, alcohol has a much higher potential for inebriation, which is not true with kava. Despite some studies suggesting it’s safe to mix them, further research is needed for conclusive evidence, especially on long-term effects. Most experts recommend choosing one or the other due to the potential for compounded effects, so it’s best to err on the side of caution. If you do decide to mix the two, start with smaller doses and gradually increase.

About the author

Holden Desalles is a journalist in the new wellness space, covering topics such as CBD, adaptogens, and nootropics. He was formerly a staff writer at the millennial lifestyle website Thought Catalog.

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