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What are the common Kanna effects to expect?

What are the common Kanna effects to expect?

While much of the Global North still heavily relies on conventional medicine to treat chronic disease and malaise that affect the human mind and body, plant-based remedies are becoming more mainstream as preference in holistic and natural alternatives over synthetically-created medications increases. With the psychedelic renaissance in full stride, interest is growing not only in psychedelics, but also in legal psychoactive plant medicines that expand what’s available in one’s medicine and kitchen cabinet for healing and optimizing health. Sceletium tortuosum, also known as Kanna, is one such plant remedy.

It’s important to first distinguish that Kanna is psychoactive but not psychedelic. That means it affects mental processes and mood but is not hallucinogenic, nor will it alter perception or sense of time. For example, coffee is psychoactive but not psychedelic. Let’s examine Kanna in more detail, its effects, and why it is worthwhile to learn about this unique plant.

What is Kanna?

Kanna, also known as Sceletium tortuosum, kougoed, gunna, kon and channa,  is a succulent plant that grows in arid regions, mainly in the Karoo in South Africa and Namibia.  While it is psychoactive, it is not psychedelic, and it has many health and therapeutic benefits. Kanna has been central to the medicinal, social and spiritual culture of the indigenous Bushmen and Khoi people of South Africa. They have been working with Kanna as a traditional medicine  for centuries. The plant can be smoked, snuffed, chewed or brewed into tea to help calm nerves, lift mood, suppress hunger and thirst, combat fatigue, and for healing and spiritual purposes. 

Traditionally the Bushmen and Khoi would take Kanna for relieving pain, as a euphoriant, while they went on multi-day hunts to sustain energy and stamina and during negotiations to promote peace and harmony. Pregnant women took Kanna to help with nausea and constipation, and would even add it to breast milk to soothe crying babies1.

Kanna effects to expect

There are over 35 known alkaloids in Kanna which have various physiological effects on the body. Alkaloids are fundamentally plant-derived organic compounds containing nitrogen that can have a variety of positive or negative impacts on health. Mesembrine, mesembrenone and mesembrenol are the most researched alkaloids in Kanna. In the case of Sceletium tortuosum in particular, they are accountable for the plant's multifaceted and beneficial effects on the brain and body.

Increases serotonin levels in two ways

Kanna is known to foster feelings of well-being, elevate mood and may help with depression. We can thank Kanna’s alkaloids for these benefits, the most well known and studied being mesembrine, mesembrenol and mesembrenone. Kanna’s alkaloid mesembrine acts as a serotonin reuptake inhibitor (meaning, it allows the serotonin your body naturally produces to hang out in your system for longer) and also as a serotonin releasing agent (meaning, it triggers your body to produce extra serotonin) by activating the VMAT2 (vesicular monoamine transporter 2) protein. This protein is responsible for transporting neurotransmitters out of cells, including serotonin and dopamine. Thus, Kanna increases serotonin levels in two different ways, contributing to mood regulation and the easing of stress and anxiety.

Blocks PDE4 enzyme

Phosphodiesterases (PDEs) are enzymes that control the amounts of cyclic adenosine monophosphate and cyclic guanosine monophosphate (messengers that allow for many biological processes to happen) inside of cells. Basically, they help cells communicate. There are different types of PDEs. PDE4 is a member of the PDE family known for its role in inflammation. One of Kanna’s main alkaloids, mesembrenone, is a PDE4 inhibitor2. PDE4 inhibitors are known to be nootropics3- they are neuroprotective and improve intracellular communication in the brain- as well as have anti-inflammatory actions. This inhibition also increases the level of energy4 available to the body. This is why Kanna has the unique ability to calm and energize at the same time. PDE4 inhibitors are currently being studied for the treatment of neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, as well as a number of inflammatory diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and autoimmune diseases.5

Activates receptors for GABA, opioids, cholecystokinin and melatonin

While most plants only target specific receptors when ingested by humans, Kanna can stimulate many different receptors including those for GABA, natural opioids, cholecystokinin and melatonin6. This is why it can help us do so much! Kanna’s impact on GABA and melatonin receptors may help you drift off more easily by calming brain activity and decreasing anxiety—improving overall sleep quality.  By interacting with the opioid receptors, Kanna may be able to help with addiction, and its relationship with cholecystokinin may aid in gut inflammation as well as help those prone to overeating by reducing the sensation of hunger.

How Kanna makes you feel

Does not make you “high”

Many people often wonder whether Kanna makes you high. It does not make you ‘high’ in the traditional way people often experience psychedelics, meaning there are no hallucinations, distortions of space and time or a feeling of loss of control.  It is a gentle plant that engenders a sense of calm wellbeing, mild euphoria and alertness via grounded energy. It is safer than psychedelic substances, is legal and non-addictive.

Provides mood support

Consider Kanna if you're looking for an all-natural way to support your mood. According to certain studies, Sceletium tortuosum extract may increase serotonin levels in a manner similar to that of pharmaceutical drugs for anxiety or depression, without the side effects.(see footnote 6) Kanna is also non-addictive and does not have tolerance build-up the way some pharmaceutical drugs do. 

Relieves anxiety

Kanna is most frequently used to reduce tension and anxiety. Studies show that Kanna can reduce amygdala reactivity (see footnote 2), the part of the brain most closely associated with fear. And, Kanna’s primary alkaloid, mesembrine, not only works as a serotonin releasing agent, but it also blocks the reabsorption of the serotonin your body naturally produces7 Because of this, Kanna is contraindicated for anyone taking selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) or monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) since these medications also raise serotonin levels. 

Promotes a healthy stress response

While we may never be able to eliminate our stress completely (it can be a tough world out there!), Kanna can help you manage your stress levels as it is adaptogenic8 and regulates the amygdala and nervous system overtime to be more resilient to stress.

Energizes in a grounded way with more stamina

Kanna was traditionally used to increase stamina. The Bushmen would chew Kanna to go on multi-day hunts for endurance, to fight fatigue and suppress hunger and thirst . Research9 today confirms their wisdom. We thank Kanna’s ability to inhibit the enzyme PDE4 to give us that extra boost. Since the mesembrenone in Kanna is a PDE4 inhibitor, this leads to the accumulation of more cyclic AMP (a molecule important for many biological processes) in cells, thus causing increased activation of pathways involved in energy production10 and utilization.

Delivers a sense of serenity

Many consider Kanna the “happiest plant on earth.” This is because the mesembrine alkaloids in Kanna support serotonin reuptake inhibition (and consequently higher serotonin levels), which opens the door to relaxation and tranquility. Kanna activates receptors for GABA and naturally occurring opioids in the brain (see footnote 6) which calms brain activity and dials up the feel-good factor.  Higher levels of serotonin may encourage alert serenity and a feeling of mental well-being.

Increases attention and focus

Studies show that Kanna can improve cognitive performance, executive function as well as cognitive flexibility (see footnote 3), with positive effects on memory, focus, attention and problem solving capability. Sign us up.  For this reason, there is hope it may be an effective tool for ADHD11 and even early Alzheimer's dementia12

Fosters emotional openness, empathy and connection

Kanna is an empathogen and aphrodisiac. So,  when ingested intentionally, it can help to facilitate deeper connection with yourself and with others. It can even increase the sensitivity of skin and touch13. Because pleasure is affected by mental health, Kanna’s effects on the serotonin system are known to help with low libido 14 and there is currently research being carried out around Kanna’s ability to support erectile dysfunction and premature ejaculation.  

Side effects and priming

Some people experience headaches or nausea, and sometimes even purging or an immediate bowel movement when they try Kanna for the first time. These side effects are normal and part of what is commonly known as “priming” - a process through which the body gets used to the plant. They normally disappear after a few intakes of Kanna. Everyone's genetic profile is unique and certain people are more sensitive to Kanna than others. There is no one size fits all. If these side effects happen, adjust your dosage down, pay attention to how your body feels and slowly build up as needed. Remember to hydrate as well. It’s Kanna’s way of inviting you to come into relationship with it, by learning what works for you individually and integrating your experience with it day by day. You’ll likely learn a lot about yourself along the way!

How to feel a full, long-lasting effect

Kanna can be found as a whole plant (raw or fermented herb), or as an extract. The plant materials or extracts can be made into teas, powders, tinctures or chews. It is important to know if you are working with an extract or a whole plant (typically dried and fermented) as this will affect the dosage and experience. It is also important to know the alkaloid content of the Kanna you are working with as this will also affect your experience.

It is always a good idea to start with a low dose and build up over time to find your optimal dose. The chart below will give you a sense of how the method in which you ingest Kanna may influence your experience. This chart assumes the same alkaloid content across the board and is speaking to Kanna extract in all cases except for the oral ingestion of tea. When working with the Kanna plant, like with tea, it is best to use fermented Kanna so that the oxalates are degraded and less acidic to the body.

Method Used

Effect Duration


Immediate onset that lasts for 1 to 2 hours. The longer you keep it under your tongue before swallowing, the more you’ll feel it. 


Onset takes around 20 minutes and can last between 6 to 13 hours. The longer you let it slowly dissolve in your mouth, the quicker you will feel it.

Insufflation (only recommended for experienced users)

Effects come on within minutes and stay at their peak for 20 to 60 minutes before slowly fading over another 20 to 60 minutes. 

Oral ingestion - capsule

Onset can take between 30 min to as long as 2 hours, but the experience is also much longer and can last for 4 to 5 hours.

Oral ingestion - tea

Onset can take around 1  to 1.5 hours and generally lasts from 4 to 5 hours. Since the herb is diluted, the effects are much more subtle with this method.


Activate your full-spectrum aliveness with KA! Empathogenics

KA! Empathogenics offers 100% plant-based empathogenic Kanna Chews and Kanna Tincture that help you feel more alive, lifted, connected and capable. Experience an immediate sense of calm, grounded energy, and an easeful state of being while also boosting your cognition and focus.

Combining the Kanna Chews and Tincture creates a stronger, all-day effect that kicks in immediately. The Chews act as a time-release “foundational” layer, while the Tincture serves as an enlivening boost whenever you want to feel more. Each Chew contains 30mg of standardized, high-potency Kanna extract and herb while each dose of Tincture (20 drops) contains 30mg of standardized, high-potency Kanna extract To enjoy the fullest, longest effect, first take a Chew, then boost with ~10 drops of the Tincture as needed. Do not exceed 40 drops (2 full dropperfuls) in a 24-hour period if you’ve already taken a Chew.

KA! is safe to take consistently as it is non-toxic and non-addictive. Play around with various times of the day, and discover what works best for you.

Our vegan, gluten-free KA! Kanna supplements are made with the highest-quality Kanna that is ethically and sustainably sourced from suppliers that directly share profit with the indigenous South African Khoi community. Our supplements are scientifically formulated and made via a patent-pending process without sugars, artificial sweeteners, caffeine, preservatives or heat - ensuring the highest level of bioactivity of the life-giving plant ingredients.  Learn more about Kanna with us!


CONTRAINDICATIONS: Do not use Kanna or KA! products in conjunction with Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors (MAOIs), Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs), Serotonin-Norepinephrine Reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), Norepinephrine and Dopamine Reuptake Inhibitors (NDRI's), Benzodiazepines or Central Nervous System (CNS) depressants without medical supervision by a qualified healthcare professional. If you are currently taking prescription medications or have any pre-existing medical conditions, please speak with your doctor or healthcare professional before using Kanna or KA! Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking professional advice because of something you have read here or on the website.

Disclaimers: Any content in this article and the KA! Empathogenics website is for educational and product information purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for medical advice. Information and statements regarding herbal supplements in this article and on the website have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

1Prance, G. T., McKenna, D. J., Loenen, B. de, & Davis, W. (2018). Kabbo’s !Kwaiń: The Past, Present and Possible Future of Kanna. In Ethnopharmacologic search for psychoactive drugs. essay, Synergetic Press, in association with Heffter Research Institute

2Terburg, D., Syal, S., Rosenberger, L. A., Heany, S., Phillips, N., Gericke, N., Stein, D. J., & van Honk, J. (2013). Acute effects of sceletium tortuosum (zembrin), a dual 5-HT reuptake and PDE4 inhibitor, in the human amygdala and its connection to the hypothalamus. Neuropsychopharmacology, 38(13), 2708–2716.

3Brendler, T., Brinckmann, J. A., Feiter, U., Gericke, N., Lang, L., Pozharitskaya, O. N., Shikov, A. N., Smith, M., & Wyk, B.-E. V. (2021). Sceletium for managing anxiety, depression and cognitive impairment: A traditional herbal medicine in modern-day regulatory systems. Current Neuropharmacology, 19(9), 1384–1400.

4Crocetti, L., Floresta, G., Cilibrizzi, A., & Giovannoni, M. P. (2022). An overview of PDE4 inhibitors in clinical trials: 2010 to early 2022. Molecules, 27(15), 4964.

5Kumar, N., Goldminz, A. M., Kim, N., & Gottlieb, A. B. (2013). Phosphodiesterase 4-targeted treatments for autoimmune diseases. BMC Medicine, 11(1).

6Manganyi, M. C., Bezuidenhout, C. C., Regnier, T., & Ateba, C. N. (2021). A chewable cure “Kanna”: Biological and Pharmaceutical Properties of Sceletium tortuosum. Molecules, 26(9), 2557.

7Harvey, A. L., Young, L. C., Viljoen, A. M., & Gericke, N. P. (2011). Pharmacological actions of the South African medicinal and functional food plant sceletium tortuosum and its principal alkaloids. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 137(3), 1124–1129.; Olatunji, T. L., Siebert, F., Adetunji, A. E., Harvey, B. H., Gericke, J., Hamman, J. H., & Van der Kooy, F. (2022). Sceletium tortuosum: A review on its phytochemistry, pharmacokinetics, biological, pre-clinical and clinical activities. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 287, 114711.

8Luo Yangwen, Wen Jing, Kanfer Isadore, Yu Pei, Patnala Srinivas. Sceletium Tortuosum: Effects on Central Nervous System and Related Disease. Journal of Pharmaceutical and Biomedical Sciences. 2020 Jun; 10(6): 151-160

9Hoffman, J. R., Markus, I., Dubnov-Raz, G., & Gepner, Y. (2020). Ergogenic effects of 8 days of sceletium tortuosum supplementation on mood, visual tracking, and reaction in recreationally trained men and women. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 34(9), 2476–2481.

10Crocetti, L., Floresta, G., Cilibrizzi, A., & Giovannoni, M. P. (2022). An overview of PDE4 inhibitors in clinical trials: 2010 to early 2022. Molecules, 27(15), 4964.

11Dimpfel, W., Gericke, N., Suliman, S., & Chiegoua Dipah, G. N. (2016). Psychophysiological effects of Zembrin using quantitative EEG source density in combination with eye-tracking in 60 healthy subjects. A double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled,  3-armed study with parallel design. Neuroscience and Medicine, 07(03), 114–132.

12Chiu, S., Gericke, N., Farina-Woodbury, M., Badmaev, V., Raheb, H., Terpstra, K., Antongiorgi, J., Bureau, Y., Cernovsky, Z., Hou, J., Sanchez, V., Williams, M., Copen, J., Husni, M., & Goble, L. (2014). Proof-of-concept randomized controlled study of cognition effects of the proprietary extract sceletium tortuosum(zembrin) targeting phosphodiesterase-4 in cognitively healthy subjects: Implications for alzheimer’s dementia. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2014, 1–9.

13Smith, M. T., Crouch, N. R., Gericke, N., & Hirst, M. (1996). Psychoactive constituents of the genus sceletium and other mesembryanthemaceae: A Review. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 50(3), 119–130.

14Brunetti, P., Lo Faro, A. F., Tini, A., Busardò, F. P., & Carlier, J. (2020). Pharmacology of herbal sexual enhancers: A review of psychiatric and neurological adverse effects. Pharmaceuticals, 13(10), 309.

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