Kanna (Sceletium Tortuosum): Comprehensive Guide on Benefits, Usage, and Side Effects

Kanna Comprehensive Guide-on-Benefits Usage and Side Effects

Kanna, scientifically known as Sceletium Tortuosum, is a plant native to South Africa that is known for its psychoactive properties. Used traditionally by indigenous peoples of the region, Kanna has gained notoriety for its potential to promote relaxation, enhance mood, and alleviate stress. Kanna occupies a unique spot in traditional medicine and modern health supplementation due to its rich history and the growing body of scientific evidence supporting its benefits. This comprehensive guide will take you through everything from what Kanna is to the benefits, usage guidelines, side effects, and scientific research that supports or debunks the claims made about this fascinating plant.

What is Kanna?

Kanna (Sceletium Tortuosum) is a succulent plant indigenous to South Africa, where it has been used for centuries by the San and Khoikhoi people for its mood-enhancing and stress-relieving properties. In the local vernacular, it is also known as ‘coughed,’ which translates to ‘something to chew.’

Kanna grows chiefly in the dry regions of South Africa, where the native people discovered and harnessed its psychoactive compounds, known as membrane alkaloids. These include mesembrinemesembrenone, and mesembrenol, which are thought to interact with the brain’s central nervous system to produce various pharmacological effects.

Its other names and origins

Besides Kanna and Kougoed, Sceletium Tortuosum is sometimes referred to by additional names like ‘channa’ or ‘canna.’ Its recorded history traces back hundreds of years, but its use likely predates historical records. The plant’s early cultivators understood its broad applications in traditional medicine and ceremonial contexts. Kanna’s use crosses various domains: cultural, spiritual, medicinal, and recreational.

Its traditional preparation and usage

Traditionally, indigenous peoples would chew the fermented plant material to allow for the alkaloid to be released into their saliva. They believed this could evoke a sense of euphoria and enable them to transcend normal states of consciousness. After chewing, they would swallow the saliva to ensure they receive the plant’s full effect. Besides chewing, they dried and powdered Kanna to make teas or inhaled it as a snuff. In some cases, it was even used as a wound dressing due to its perceived antimicrobial properties.

Contemporary usage has built upon these traditional methods but also introduced new forms such as capsules, tinctures, and extracts like Zembrin, a standardized extract of Sceletium Tortuosum. As a testament to its heritage and potential therapeutic uses, Kanna has evolved from a regional ethnobotanical secret to an ingredient of interest in the alternative medicine market. It is looked at by many as an ancient yet enduring natural source of mental health support.

Whether ingested in traditional chewable form or consumed through modern-day supplements, Kanna’s interactions with receptors in parts of the brain like the amygdala—which plays a crucial role in emotional processing—suggest intriguing implications for its use in mental well-being.

This guide continues with an in-depth look at the benefits people have derived from this plant for generations, alongside current scientific research that aims to understand Kanna’s effects on serotonin reuptake inhibitors and PDE4 inhibitors better. These components are just some of the biological and pharmaceutical properties that give us insight into how Kanna may also affect cognition, provide pain relief, and benefit our nervous system.

Benefits of Kanna

Mood Enhancement

Kanna is chiefly revered for its mood-enhancing properties. The mesembrine alkaloids, particularly mesembrine, have been identified as potent serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), increasing serotonin levels in the brain and promoting a sense of well-being. Alongside serotonin, these compounds also affect other neurotransmitters responsible for mood regulation, contributing to Kanna’s antidepressant-like effects.

Stress Reduction

The anxiolytic effect of Kanna may help the body manage stress. It works by interacting with the central nervous system to calm the mind, often leading to reduced anxiety levels. People using Kanna often feel relaxed, which is invaluable in our fast-paced world where stress-related conditions are commonplace.

Pain Relief

Traditional use suggests that Kanna may offer pain-relieving benefits, though these effects have been less studied than their psychological impacts. Some anecdotal reports mention its effectiveness in alleviating minor aches and pains, possibly through its anti-inflammatory properties.

Cognitive Function

Some studies have investigated Kanna’s effects on cognitive function, revealing that Sceletium Tortuosum extracts may improve attention and focus. This may be linked to the plant’s impact on PDE4, an enzyme that influences cognition and mood.

Other Potential Benefits

While research continues to unfold, Kanna is thought to have several other potential benefits, such as:

  • Enhanced sleep quality due to its calming effects on the mind
  • Appetite suppression, which could have implications for weight management
  • Immunomodulatory effects, which may enhance the body’s immune response
  • Reduced cravings for addictive substances, although further evidence is needed

It is essential to note that while these benefits are promising, they are primarily based on traditional use and anecdotal evidence; scientific research is ongoing to fully establish Kanna’s effectiveness and mechanisms of action.

How to Use Kanna

Kanna comes in various forms, each with specific guidelines on how to use it. Traditional and modern methods for consuming Kanna reflect its versatile nature.

Different Forms of Kanna

  1. Chewable Leaves and Powders: The traditional method involves chewing the fermented plant material or consuming powdered leaves directly.
  2. Teas: Dried Kanna can be steeped in hot water to make a soothing tea.
  3. Capsules: Standardized doses of Kanna extract are available in capsule form for a more convenient intake.
  4. Tinctures: Liquid extracts can be taken sublingually for quick absorption.
  5. Smoking or Snuffing: Some users inhale Kanna as a dried snuff or smoke it, although these methods are less common in contemporary use.

Recommended Dosages

The recommended dosage of Kanna varies depending on the form and concentration of the product used. Following the manufacturer’s instructions or consult with a healthcare professional when determining an appropriate dosage is crucial. A standard starting dose might range between 50-200mg, but this can differ based on personal sensitivity and desired effect.

When and How to Take It

  • Mood enhancement or relaxation could be taken during stress or when seeking to improve your emotional state.
  • When using it for pain relief or cognitive enhancement, the timing might coincide with periods when symptoms are felt or increased mental clarity is needed.
  • Starting with smaller doses to assess tolerance before gradually increasing if necessary is generally recommended.

Before incorporating Kanna into your routine for any reason, it’s essential to consider if it’s appropriate for your particular health needs and circumstances. Due diligence in product sourcing and professional advice can help ensure safe and beneficial use.

Kanna has a long history, initially used by the indigenous peoples of South Africa and now available globally. Its potential benefits range from mood enhancement to stress reduction and possibly even cognitive function improvement. Various consumption methods and available supplements make it accessible for those wishing to explore its traditional and contemporary applications. However, correct dosage and careful consideration of personal health are paramount for safe usage.

Side Effects of Kanna

Like all plant-based supplements, Kanna is not free from potential side effects. While many users report significant mood-enhancing and stress-relieving benefits without adverse reactions, others may have different experiences. Understanding the possible side effects and how to navigate them is an essential part of using Kanna responsibly.

Potential Side Effects

  1. Headaches: Some users report headaches after using Kanna, which may be due to its impact on serotonin levels.
  2. Nausea: When taken in higher doses, Kanna may cause gastrointestinal discomfort or nausea.
  3. Increased Blood Pressure: Occasional reports of increased blood pressure and heart rate are typically associated with larger doses.
  4. Lightheadedness: Lightheadedness or dizziness can occur, possibly linked to changes in blood pressure.
  5. Fatigue: Despite its cognitive and mood-enhancing effects, some individuals may experience fatigue as a side effect.
  6. Dry Mouth: Also known as xerostomia, this symptom can appear after Kanna consumption.
  7. Insomnia or Disturbed Sleep: While some users experience improved sleep quality, others may find sleeping challenging after taking Kanna.

Precautions and Contraindications

People with known plant allergies should approach Kanna with caution. It should not be used by individuals with cardiovascular issues or psychological conditions without prior consultation with a healthcare provider.

Furthermore, Kanna’s SSRI-like activity means it could potentially interact with prescribed antidepressants, specifically** serotonin reuptake inhibitors**, leading to serotonin syndrome, a severe condition caused by excessive serotonin in the brain.

Pregnant or breastfeeding women should avoid Kanna due to a lack of safety data. Similarly, since Kanna may also influence cognitive function, operating heavy machinery or driving after consumption is not recommended.

Advice on What to Do if Side Effects Occur

  • Discontinue use: If you experience any adverse effects or side effects, it’s advisable to stop using Kanna immediately.
  • Hydrate: Increasing water intake may be beneficial for mild symptoms like headaches or dry mouth.
  • Medical advice: Severe or persistent symptoms warrant medical attention. Contact a healthcare provider promptly if you are concerned about any reactions.
  • Review dosage: If side effects occurred at a higher dosage, users could consider reducing the dose if they decide to continue use after consulting with a healthcare professional.

Scientific Research on Kanna

Summary of Key Studies on Kanna

The pharmacological actions of the South African plant have been explored in various studies to understand its potential and side effects. Research has primarily investigated its psychoactive compounds: mesembrine, mesembrenone, and mesembrenol.

One proof-of-concept randomized controlled study on cognition effects of the proprietary extract (trademarked as Zembrin) indicated that Kanna could potentially enhance cognitive function without affecting mood negatively.

Other research has looked into Sceletium Tortuosum’s action as a PDE4 inhibitor and dual 5-HT reuptake and PDE4 inhibitor, showing potential for use in cognitive disorders and depression.

Findings on Its Benefits and Side Effects

Studies have presented promising findings regarding mood enhancement and stress relief; however, they also highlight the need for caution due to possible side effects such as mild headaches or gastrointestinal disturbances.

The immunomodulatory effects noted in specific research papers have yet to be substantiated with comprehensive clinical trials but suggest adjunctive roles for Sceletium Tortuosum in supporting immune function.

While anecdotal evidence supports pain relief claims as part of Kanna’s use in traditional medicine, scientific investigation into this specific benefit is less established.

Current Gaps in Research

Despite growing scientific interest, there are still notable gaps in the research on Kanna:

  • Long-term effects are not well-documented and need more extensive studies.
  • The full spectrum of pharmacological actions on the central nervous system remains partially understood.
  • Data on its use during pregnancy and breastfeeding is scarce or non-existent.
  • There is little research comparing the efficacy of different forms of Kanna (e.g., chewed vs. capsules).
  • Insights into the dose-response relationship require further exploration.

In conclusion, while Kanna has a long history of traditional use in South Africa and exhibits promising psychological benefits according to modern research, substantial areas still require further investigation. It’s also important for potential users to seriously consider the potential for side effects and interactions with other medications. More extensive research will continue to clarify its safety profile and efficacy as both a complementary therapy and a subject within ethnopharmacology.


To recapitulate the journey through the world of Kanna (Sceletium Tortuosum), an eloquent story has been threaded, weaving the rich historical tapestry of this succulent plant into a narrative that stretches from traditional medicine of the San and Khoikhoi peoples of South Africa to its burgeoning position in the modern health supplement market. The guide has peeled back layers of anecdotal evidence and scientific research, presenting potential benefits including but not limited to mood enhancementstress reduction, pain relief, and cognitive function improvement.

This comprehensive guide has attempted to distill the essence of Kanna, from detailed descriptions of its traditional uses to the scientific scrutiny it currently withstands. There are caveats, though, as its innocuous appearance as an herbal supplement does not immunize it against side effects, which have been duly noted along with contraindications and precautions.

As with any plant-mediated intervention, how to use Kanna responsibly has been emphasized, emphasizing appropriate dosages and acknowledging the differing forms – from chewable materials to tinctures and capsules. Scientific studies reveal a corpus of benefits, but they also illuminate gaps in knowledge, signaling room for future research endeavors.

In the final analysis, the careful use of Kanna may indeed offer an array of benefits like relaxation and mental clarity that so many seek. At the same time, respect for its potent biological and pharmaceutical properties, awareness of potential side effects, and due care in its application cannot be overstated. This guide serves to steer a hopeful path through a terrain rich with history and potential, offering a beacon of knowledge amidst an array of anecdotal promise and empirical scrutiny.

Whether Kanna is something new on your radar or a remedy you’ve contemplated before, it’s clear that it stands as a fascinating example of a medicinal and functional food plant that has captivated human interest for generations. The onus lies with us, as contemporary stewards of ancient wisdom and cutting-edge science, to continue uncovering the entire narrative of Sceletium Tortuosum—with both caution and curiosity in tow.

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