Some herbal smoke shops out there are beginning to offer kava root in their calming smoking blends in a new trend which led us to try and answer the question, “Can you smoke kava?” In the South Pacific where the kava root was first harvested for its relaxing effects, kava is either prepared as an oral beverage or, less commonly, the whole root may be chewed for a calming effect. We’ve never heard of kava being smoked in the South Pacific, and it seems that even in the herbal smoke community, you won’t see kava on the ingredients list of most smoking blends.
This is partly because the effects of smoking kava kava are inconclusive, with many experimenters reporting that smoking kava root had no effect on them whatsoever. While kava has at least 18 different types of kavalactones which play a role in the brew’s relaxing and euphoric effects, many of these break down at temperatures above 140 degrees Fahrenheit. So if you heat kava root above this threshold in a cigarette or pipe, you run the risk of destroying the root’s psychoactive compounds. A cold infusion in water or milk is the traditional way kava is prepared in the South Pacific; many kavasseurs in the West still prefer the classic brew, although you can also enjoy kava in capsules or as a tea. Kava capsules tend to have a smaller amount of kavalactone (60 to 150 milligrams compared to about 250 milligrams in the average liquid serving), and are mostly popular as a sleep aid. Recipes for kava tea generally use the powdered root, and recommend you heat it no more than 140 degrees F to preserve the greatest amount of kavalactones. Thus, the chemistry of kava’s active compounds seems to suggest that while you certainly can smoke kava, don’t expect it to have any of the same psychoactive effects as the brew.
That said, you can try smoking kava on the off-chance that it produces an effect for you: some experimenters have attested that smoking powdered kava root or root extract does produce a verifiable psychoactive effect. Those users who have had success with smoking kava describe its effects as similar to what you would experience from drinking a kava brew: the main sensations are a feeling of relaxation, mild euphoria, and numbing of the tissues in the mouth immediately after inhaling kava smoke. Some people also attest that when smoked, kava produces more cerebral feelings of euphoria and increased mental focus, with a lighter body load and milder sedation compared to the oral brew. More rarely, kava smokers have reported experiencing increased body load, giddiness, and mild visual alterations including the intensification of color, especially when they smoked kava in combination with other euphoric and calming herbs.
There really is little concrete (non-anecdotal) evidence that indicates whether you can smoke kava for an effect or not. Because the kava root contains so many different kavalactones, it is possible that not all of them are broken down at temperatures above 140 degrees F, though most kava users still prefer the oral brew for its much more reliable effects. It has been suggested by some kava experimenters that it may be possible to volatilize kava’s active compounds using a vaporizer set on the lowest temperature instead of combusting the root material. Based on its chemistry, we can tentatively say that using a vaporizer may be one more effective way that you can smoke kava.
If you do decide to try smoking kava, make sure to use only the dried root, or an extract or powder derived from the root— never the plant’s toxic stems or leaves. Smoke only a small amount of kava until you know how it affects you (if at all). If you do experience any effects from smoked kava, make sure to treat it the same way you would a brew, and refrain from driving or operating machinery after smoking kava. The concept of smoking kava is relatively new: unlike the traditional kava brew, whose gentle effect on the body has been well-established, the possible health risks and long term effects of smoking kava are still unknown. All things considered, we recommend that you approach the idea of smoking kava for an effect with a grain of salt and an experimental mindset that can accommodate disappointment.