Guide to African Kanna

A little known South African herb by the name of Kanna is one that is making major waves as of late.  With the capacity to serve as an herbal mood lift potentially second to none, it makes sense why we are beginning to hear more and more about it. Botanically, Kanna (also known as kougoed–meaning ‘something to chew’ in Afrikaans) is classified as Sceletium tortuosum. It is an herbaceous succulent that thrives in the Cape region of South Africa.

Having significant historical usage in its native lands, Kanna is now making its way around the world, and is serving as a powerful tool as a natural means of mitigating mood and emotional imbalances such as depression and anxiety.  

Here are some key things to know about the history, benefits, and typical usage of Kanna.

Traditional Usage

Of course with a name meaning ‘something to chew’ it’s not surprising that kanna has been used by native tribes as a chew, for purposes of mood enhancement, relaxation, appetite control, and energy. Several native tribes revered the plant as sacred, and put it to both visionary and medicinal use, including the indigenous San and Khoikhoi peoples of South Africa.

Constituents (what’s working within the herb and how)

Primary actives are the alkaloids: Mesembrine, Mesembrenone, and Tortuosamine. Although there are other compounds within the plant that have an influence at least subtly, these are the most prominent and well-studied. Mesembrine, in particular, has been acknowledged as a specific compound that has powerful effects involving increasing serotonin activity in the brain.  In addition, Kanna has PDE4 inhibiting properties.  By inhibiting PDE4 (Phosphodiesterase 4), the body has more cAMP available, leading to positive Kanna effects on mood and memory. Mesembrenone is the alkaloid that has been found to be responsible for this effect.  

In addition to these mechanisms, there are scientific reports that compounds in Kanna have an affinity to bind to CB1 (endocannabinoid) receptors. Thus, this could provide additional mood benefits as well. And this mechanism could perhaps be a part of the story as to why some users enjoy combining Kanna with cannabis (CBD based or otherwise), as they are often anecdotally reported to enhance each other’s effects.

Kanna for Depression and Anxiety

One of the most common uses for Kanna as an herbal supplement is for a mood lift boost and/or to shake off depressive spells. As previously alluded to, this would be at least in part due to its serotonin reuptake inhibitory properties.

Not uncommonly, users report that Kanna effects can produce euphoric feelings, but this is generally considered to be dose dependent; that is, you would probably need a significant amount to achieve that effect.  More often, it’s simply described as a viable mood lift — uplifting and brightening without being overt or overbearing, followed by a sense of relaxation.  Indeed, antidepressant properties have been found widely in the research done on this plant.

If you’re suffering from anxiety and having a hard time getting it under wraps, you might try an herbal remedy such as Kanna. Much research has been conducted in validating this, since it has been noted by many to produce an anxiolytic (anxiety mitigating) effect.  It is very possible that this effect can be described as a calming of the threat circuitry in the brain, and that it unfolds as a result of the dual serotonin reuptake inhibition along with the PDE4 inhibition that has been discovered.  In one study, researchers concluded that alkaloid enriched S. tortuosum (kanna) may benefit some forms of stress-related disorders. And often, when one is experiencing anxiety, it is directly tied to chronic stress.


Traditionally, Kanna was fermented as a means of making the plant material more potent, absorbable, and generally digestively friendly on the body as a whole. The wisdom of the tribes that would do this shines through as modern science has found that the fermentation process is likely to break down levels of oxalic acid — which can be harmful in excess (though small amounts are found in many vegetables, such as spinach) — and make the alkaloids more bioavailable to the body.

The entire process is most likely passed down from generations of old, considering that it has been described in the literature for over 300 years. The method involves crushing the entire plant between stones – the material is then placed in a bag and left to ferment in the sun, letting nature do the rest of the work. This practice is actually still commonplace today, as the wisdom of the methodology has been passed down for generations.

Other Potential Benefits of Kanna

It has been reported that Kanna may delay chronic disease progression by way of antioxidant and mild anti-inflammatory action. Along these same lines, it seems to have the potential to mitigate systemic low-grade inflammation in general. That, in turn, could additionally aid in improving one’s mood – getting bodily inflammation in check.

How do you use Kanna and what are the effects of Kanna?

In general, it has been said that Kanna is best taken on an empty stomach – many people seem to feel stronger effects when ingesting it without any food in the system. 

As far as methods of consumption, there are several possible ways. Smoking the plant material is one option, either by itself or in combination with other smoking herbs. This is a way to feel the effects immediately.

Most commonly, the plant material is chewed — just as it was traditionally– allowing the alkaloids to be absorbed sublingually (through the mucous membranes of the mouth), which is a very efficient way of getting all of the active components into the body. 

Another great way of consuming Kanna is simply brewing a tea, using a gentle simmer rather than a strong boil, so that the delicate alkaloids stay fully intact. The taste of Kanna tea is generally considered to be mild, and even slightly sweet – not entirely bitter like some herbal teas can be.  Other possible methods that some people utilize range from insufflation of Kanna powder to simply swallowing it in capsules.

Kanna dosage range:

Optimal dosages will vary wildly depending on user’s body type, amount of food in stomach, method of ingestion, and intended effects.

An average threshold, or low but active dose, is approximately 50 mg for sublingual use. Typically, for chewed or ingested root, between 100 – 200 mg is a sufficient and effective amount to consume.  And anywhere from 300 – 1,000 mg (1 G) can bring about a stronger experience. Obviously, consider your sensitivity to psychoactive compounds, and your body weight when gauging what a strong dose might be for you.

Brewing a tea will require a bit more of Kanna, 200 – 500 mg being an average to medium dose and 600 –  1,000 mg or more for a stronger brew; but you can expect the effects to last longer using this method.

Insufflation dosages are on the much smaller side; 20 mg is typically enough for a noticeable effect, and 50 – 150 mg is somewhere around the average dosage for this method.

For smoking, the typical dose is closer to the insufflation range above, although a ‘starting’ dose is closer to 50 mg. 100 – 250 mg is considered to be medium level.  Because Kanna is widely considered to potentiate cannabis’s effects, less is needed, generally, when combining the two in smoking mixtures.

Where to Buy Kanna

Top Extracts sources quality Kanna in both powder form and rough cut.


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