Kanna is a succulent found in the deserts of South Africa.
Sceletium Tortuosum is the latin binomial for the plant, though it is most commonly referred to as Kanna or Sceletium.
Kanna is a true sacred plant, having been used in ceremony for thousands of years by the San and Khoi people.
Today, Kanna is most commonly used recreationally for its euphoric and empathogenic effects, and is used therapeutically for its anxiolitic and neurogenic benefits.
Kanna comes from the desert region of South Africa known as the Karoo. The name Karoo is derived from the Khoisan word ‘kuru’, meaning dry.
Despite this part of South Africa being very dry and arid, with almost no rain and extreme temperature swings from hot to cold, the Karoo is actually the most biodiverse desert on Earth.
Within the Karoo is a biome called Succulent Karoo. This biome spans across Western South Africa and stretches into Namibia.
It is home to over 6000 species of vascular plants (succulents), 200 species of birds, 90 species of reptiles, 75 species of mammals, and 70 species of scorpions!
Many of these species can only be found in Succulent Karoo, including Wild Kanna.
As a ground-covering succulent, Kanna likes to spread across the desert floor, preferring to hide under larger shrubs.
Wild Kanna likes to grow in dry, sandy soils and thrives in the hot, arid climate of the Karoo.
Due to over harvesting and loss of habitat, finding Kanna growing in the wild is becoming increasingly rare.
Kanna was introduced to the western pharmacopeia in the late 1600’s, but the plant was central to the cultures of at least 2 indigenous communities long before that.
The San and Khoi people are distinct communities that live in the Karoo where Kanna grows natively. They are referred to collectively as Khoisan because they share similar languages.
Kanna was an integral part of both the San and Khoi way of life.
The San and Khoi communities lived in the Karoo for thousands of years before Europeans made contact.
The Khoi were nomadic, and their culture centered on grazing sheep, goats, and cattle in the fertile valleys of Southern Africa.
The San were semi-nomadic hunters and foragers. They are an ancient people and among the oldest cultures on Earth.
photo of San man by Alfred Duggan-Cronin
Kanna was a sacred plant to the San and Khoi.
Kanna was used ceremonially for rites and rituals, for dancing and inducing trance states, and for social occasions.
Kanna was used therapeutically for lifting mood, suppressing thirst and hunger, and relieving pain.
The connection between Kanna and the Eland antelope cannot be understated. In the San language both the antelope and the plant share the same name; Kanna. As such, they both hold very similar meanings within the psyche and culture of the San.
Eland are an integral part of the of the ecosystem the San and Khoi lived in and a powerful symbol of fertility, unity, abundance, rain and love. The Eland is the largest antelope in Africa and unique in the amount of muscle and fat it carries. The blood and fat of the Eland was prized as a source of both physical and spiritual energy.
In San cave paintings the Eland is often a central figure. In fact the paintings themselves were often created with the blood of the Eland. The Eland is a spirit ally to the San healers that helps them enter into the trance states necessary to perform healings, communicate with spirit, and receive visions.
Kanna was traditionally chewed or smoked.
Once wild harvested, the kanna leaves and stems would be fermented. The traditional fermentation process begins by crushing the fresh kanna between two stones. Once bruised, the kanna would be placed in a leather skin gourd that would be set in the sun. The moisture trapped in the gourd in combination with the heat would facilitate the fermentation.
After a week, the kanna was removed from the skin and set in the sun to dry. The dried kanna would then be chewed or smoked.
Kanna is truly a remarkable plant. Kanna is non-toxic, non-addictive, and has proven efficacy in some of the most important aspects of human health and wellbeing.
According to literature on herbalism, plant medicine, and psychopharmacology, Kanna falls under many classifications. As an Empathogen, Kanna increases feelings of empathy and kindness, as well as feelings of being socially accepted and connected. As a Euphoriant, Kanna produces feelings of excitement and happiness. As an Anxiolytic, Kanna releases stress and tension held on the physical, mental, and emotional levels. As a Nootropic, Kanna protects the brain and nervous system while enhancing memory, cognition, and other important executive functions. As an Aphrodisiac, Kanna stimulates and enhances love, desire, and pleasure. As a Hypnotic, Kanna induces healthy, natural sleep.
It is no wonder that Kanna was prized above all herbs by the San of ancient Africa and why this plant is of such interest today.
Kanna is a safe and natural solution for mental and emotional health. Even if you are not in need of support, Kanna is a healthy, botanical option for feeling happier and more open.
Kanna measurably enhances the function of dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin within the brain. These neurotransmitters are closely associated with feelings of positivity, connection, and happiness.
Scientifically, Kanna’s mode of action is classified as a ”Serotonin Releaseing Agent“ (SRA) with light SSRI activity. Most pharma anti-depressants work as “Selective Serotonin Re-Uptake Inhibitors” (SSRI’s). SRA’s are less disruptive to the balance of neurotransmitters in the brain and come without the harsh side effects of chemical SSRI’s.
Kanna is an effective botanical solution for calming nervousness and hyperactivity in the mind, relaxing stress and tension held in the body, and nourishing, tonifying, and protecting the central nervous system.
The world is becoming increasingly more complex and stressful, and unfortunately it may not be possible to completely de-stress our lives. As a plant ally, Kanna can help us become more resilient and less reactive to daily, unavoidable triggers, and help us cultivate and maintain a grounded, heart-centered state of being.
San hunters formed deep relationships with Kanna for its ability to help them concentrate and focus intensely while enduring sustained periods of hunger, thirst, and physical stress.
Kanna is a known PDE4 inhibitor. PDE4 inhibitors provide both pro-cognitive and neuroprotective benefits, and they have been used successfully to improve-long term memory and promote wakefulness.
PDE4 inhibitors increase oxygen and blood flow to the brain. Clinical PDE4 inhibitors have been used to support a range of mental health issues and disorders of the central nervous system.
Kanna is a powerful empathogen and aphrodisiac.
The most common experience when taking higher doses of kanna is a dissolving of fear and a feeling of expansiveness.
When used intentionally kanna can help facilitate intimate and emotional connection, open and heartfelt communication, and embodied pleasure.
Kanna’s ability to calm the nervous system and upregulate serotonin function can have a profoundly positive impact on sleep and restoring natural circadian rhythms.
Chronic stress and mental health issues can deplete serotonin levels in the brain. Low serotonin levels are often associated with low melatonin levels which can greatly disrupt healthy sleep patterns.
By upregulating serotonin Kanna naturally increases melatonin levels, and can restore deep sleep and reverse long standing sleep issues.
Alkaloids are a special class of molecules that are made naturally in plants, fungi, and animals. All alkaloids contain nitrogen and are responsible for important biological processes within the organisms that produce them. Most alkaloids also have measurable physical and pharmacological effects on humans.
Kanna contains at least 25 known alkaloids.
Mesembrine is the principal alkaloid found in Kanna. Mesembrine is responsible for most of the measurable effects and benefits of kanna, and is generally used to determine the potency of a kanna product.
In addition to Mesembrine; Mesembrenone, Mesembrenol, and Mesembranol make up the 4 primary alkaloids that are used to evaluate the potency and quality of Kanna cultivars and extracts. The ratio of these 4 alkaloids in relationship to each other, as well as the presence of the other alkaloids Kanna produces, play a significant role in the type of experience and effects a Kanna extract will have.
The effects of Kanna’s mesembrine-type alkaloids and their ability to support the central nervous system have been attributed to their SRA, SSRI, and PDE4 activity.
What is an SRA?
Serotonin Releasing Agents (SRA) prompt the release of serotonin from serotonergic nerve endings into the synapse.
What is an SSRI?
Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRI) inhibit the reuptake of serotonin into the presynaptic cell (serotonergic nerve ending).
Serotonin is an intracellular messenger that is believed to play a role in regulating things like mood, drive, metabolism, and sleep. By increasing the levels of serotonin in the synapse, neurotransmission is enhanced to better manage these major bodily processes.
Kanna is unique in that it promotes these processes without the side effects often associated with chemical SSRIs. Though caution is highly advised when working with prescription SSRIs or taking large doses of Kanna.
In addition to its SRA and SSRI activity, Kanna is a PDE4 Inhibitor. This dual action makes Kanna’s pharmacology unique and potentiates the benefits of each activity.
What is a PDE4 Inhibitor?
A PDE Inhibitor is a compound that blocks phosphodiesterase (PDE) enzymes. PDE enzymes break down an important molecule known as cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP). cAMP is a cellular messenger that plays a key role in modulating the functions of cells. There are 5 subtypes of PDE (PDE1, PDE2, PDE3, etc) that are each found in different types cells. PDE4 enzymes are found in immune cells, epithelial cells, and brain cells. So by inhibiting PDE from breaking down cAMP in these cells, a PDE4 Inhibitor can provide a range of benefits for the central nervous system, mental health, inflammation, respiration, and immune function.
Mesembrine and Mesembrenone both have PDE4 Inhibitor activity, without the emetic side effects often associated with chemical PDE4 Inhibitors.
To further complement Kanna‘s SRA, SSRI, and PDE4 activity, Mesembrine also upregulates VMAT-2 function.
What is VMAT-2 Upregulation?
Vesicular monoamine transporters (VMATs) are proteins that allow molecules to cross cell membranes. VMAT-2 proteins are located in the central nervous system, and they allow neurotransmitters to move in and out of the synapse. Ultamiately, VMAT-2 Upregulation allows neurotransmitters to perform their roles faster and more efficiently.
These neurotransmitters include Serotonin (mood), Adrenaline (stress), Norepinephrine (concentration), Dopamine (pleasure), and Histamine (sleep). VMAT-2 Upregulation likely plays a key role in Kanna’s versatility and broad range of benefits.