Medicine Buddha

Tibetan Medicine Buddha – blue like the A. napellus flower

I’ve spent more than half my life exploring and working with various plants.  One of my favorite plants to help me relax is one that continues to gain steam in the mainstream, but is still very much in the shadows; Kava Kava.  I’ve been in the Kava biz for nearly 20 years, and despite all the positive benefits of pain reduction, anxiety reduction, and just a general sense of euphoria that it induces to this day, I’ve often wondered if there was a Teacher Plant side to this ancient and sacred plant.

I’ve done some research on whether or not Kava was used ritualistically by Kahunas and other shaman-like practitioners in Oceania.  But so much history was literally wiped off the face of the planet by invaders into Oceania, and especially Hawaii, that a great deal of history has been lost.  And, the history that hasn’t been lost is closely guarded by those who still possess the knowledge.  (Speaking of, two of my favorite books of recent are “Children of the Sun” and “Kingdom Coming: A History of Hawaii” — two books that speak to the true history of Kava in Hawaii).
I wrote an article a long, long time ago about the possibility that Kava was used by shamans on Easter Island.  But again, there is so little data on this, that I have yet to find anything more.  (Perhaps that’s a great idea for a research project!)
So, I’m left to my own devices, and have spent a great deal of time and energy on trying to find the spirit within Kava.  In late 2015, I had the opportunity to explore Hiwa Kava over the course of days, with a Hawaiian Kahuna.  It was an extraordinary experience that blew away my expectations.  I wrote briefly about that experience in a previous article here called “Kava Experience – Hiwa Kava“.  I also contemplate other aspects of Kava in “Food of the Gods – The Role of Kava in Myth and Legend“, as well as “Kava – A Spiritual Unifier“.  I know the articles are similar in nature, but each offers a slightly different angle, so check them out if you’re curious.
Now, I always have to start out by saying this: Please do not try any of what I am describing at home.  I offer it only as educational material to help you make better decisions about your own spiritual explorations using plants.  Know that any of my opinions are simply my opinions and nothing more, and are based only on my own multi-decade personal experimentation with as many plant teachers as I could come in contact, in as many of their native cultures and habitats that I’ve been able to visit.  This is an except from an article called “Why I Love Kava” on Kava.Guru.  It covers the basics, so I thought I’d simply copy pand paste it here:  (That’s also my blog, so I’m stealing only from myself!)
Something I found is that Kava is very dose-dependent:
  • LOW DOSES: At lower doses, Kava can be a sleep aid.  It can also help induce dreams as it makes one far more open to a dream state with its relaxing properties.  I don’t get much of the inhibition-lowering aspects of Kava at lower doses, but I do get the sleepiness, relaxation, and some of the pain reduction effects.  Especially for lower back pain, Kava can be extremely effective for me.
  • MIDDLE DOSES: at double the recommended dose, I could really see Kava starting to shine.  The sleepiness waned, and a more profound sense of relaxation ensued.  The pain-relieving properties were definitely there, but I got giddy, sociable, and wanted to immediately call up friends to share this experience.  Also, and I don’t think it’s because it was reducing inhibitions, it was definitely making my creative process awaken, and move front and center.  I wanted to make something, draw or paint something, or pick up my guitar and make some music.  It was a very subtle, but exciting sensation.
  • LARGE DOSES: When I worked with Kava over an evening, where I would take 4-6 “shells” of Kava, that’s when things get really interesting.  With Kava bars becoming more and more popular, it’s not uncommon to have a night of Kava drinking, much like people enjoy a night of drinking alcohol.  This, for me, is where Kava reaches its peak effects.  I feel a sense of peace with the world.  All of my aches and pains recede way into the distance.  I no longer feel sleepy at all, but feel excited, social, and feel like “emotionally sharing” in a way that alcohol tends to do for people.  I didn’t have any inkling of visions, but 4-6 shells of Kava over the course of a few hours is an entirely pleasant experience for me, whether I’m at home focused on making art of music, or out in a social setting with friends.
  • HIGH DOSES: If I don’t feel a “spiritual” side of a plant, I don’t take it in large doses.  When I was first deciding whether or not to bring Kratom into the country, I went through the same process as I did with Kava; I started small, and worked my way up to a very large dose.  That became very coldly psychedelic [DO I HAE AN ARTICLE ON THIS?], without any spiritual aspect of it whatsoever.  It was devoid; I had very “cold” visions of cement and viaducts and icy cold water.  It was not pleasant, and I decided never to venture there again.  So, for these kinds of explorations, I always have someone qualified to sit with me, as I began my journey into a high dose of Kava.  What happened to me was difficult to describe, even years later when I try to find ways to share the experience.  Imagine being really excited and really relaxed at the same time.  I felt energized, but not in a caffeine kind of way, simultaneously to feeling very relaxed.  I felt great anticipation, but couldn’t say why or for what.
So, at higher doses, it wasn’t entirely unpleasant, and I did feel a very spiritual side of this sacred plant.  But it was a much more emotional than visual sensation.  Any visuals weren’t anything like the ayahuasca I had worked with in the Peruvian Amazon or other teacher plants that I worked with in their native environments.  When I’d close my eyes, my thoughts became very visual, very colorful, but not with any added intensity.  I thought that if I spent a lot of time working with this plant at higher doses, I would likely be able to “sift through” all of these mental images and hone in on something specific.  But, large doses of Kava made me uncomfortable enough that I simply put it aside and moved on to other aspects of Kava.  I may yet revisit this side of Kava, but I was hoping to find some research somewhere, that spoke of using Kava in higher doses as a Teacher Plant for ritualistic purposes.
Don’t get me wrong; at high doses, Kava does have a number of very tangible effects.  If this were my plant ally, I am guessing that these effects might prove to be extraordinarily useful and insightful for someone more attuned to Kava than I feel I am.  I absolutely adore this plant, it’s an integral part of my life and experience, but it’s not my ally.  Salvia divinorum is my plant ally, and ever since I discovered that sacred plant, nothing else compares to my experiences with that. (See for more on that experience, or read “WHO WE ARE” on Entheology
As with everything I do, I only worked with Kava in high doses with an MD present, and I also went in for more blood work after working with it in high doses for a few weeks to see if there were any detectible ill effects.  Thankfully, there were none, which is has given me the confidence that if/when I want to continue my pursuit of the teaching part of Kava in terms of psychedelic doses, that I will be safe when re-entering that particular path.
As with many of my articles, I write them as a trigger, to hopefully hear back from you about your experiences with this plant.  Have you taken it in the context of a Teacher Plant?  Have you experimented with higher doses, not as  means to socialize and party, but as a means of connecting with the plant spiritually?  I’m super curious, and would love to correspond with anyone who has some experience in this regard.  When I went on one of my many trips to Hawaii in search of Kahunas who were familiar with Kava, none of them had any interest in discussing Kava in high doses.  They felt that it was disrespectful to the plant, and with that, it shut down any further investigation into those aspects of this plant.
Speaking of, I understand the deep respect that the cultures of Oceania have for this ancient and sacred plant.  I understand that many feel that it’s the “white man” who has taken Kava from its natural habitat and exploited it for financial gain.  I get all of that, and I only wish I had a way of explaining that all of my explorations with plants is with the utmost respect for the plant.  I am a spiritual explorer who firmly believes that if humans and plants work more closely together, that this planet would be in far better shape than it is.  So, I want to know everything I can about the plants that touch me, and Kava Kava is definitely one of those plants.
Who’s to say what knowledge has been lost since most of the knowledge of Kava in a ritualistic or shamanistic context has been destroyed?  If there are a few rumblings of Kava being used as a visionaary plant by shamans in Easter Island, then I feel an unshakeable desire to do some of that exploration on my own.  So, anyone who may have also worked with this plant in larger than usual doses, please feel free to contact me in the Comments section or privately at keithpublic at me dot com.
Keith Edley