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How does Kanna work and how long does it take?

how does kanna work

How does Kanna work and how long does it take?

People are increasingly looking to relieve stress and anxiety in more natural ways - searching for alternatives to chemical SSRIs and pharmaceutical drugs that often have negative side effects particularly with long-term use. Kanna promises to be a great natural remedy in this regard. Kanna is a psychoactive (not psychedelic) plant that is being rediscovered as a mental health aid due to its long history of bringing calm and restoring emotional balance. 

Kanna has been central to indigenous Khoikhoi and San culture of southern Africa for millennia and has been used traditionally for medicinal, social and spiritual purposes1. They took it for healing, alleviating pain, fighting fatigue, reducing stress, building resilience and for physical endurance as they went on multi-day hunts. The Khoisan also took Kanna during negotiations with other tribes to promote peace and harmony due to its empathogenic (increasing emotional openness and empathy) and tension relieving ability.

Kanna works on the body's serotonin system, the neurotransmitter responsible, in part, for mood regulation. Kanna also measurably enhances the function of the pleasure neurotransmitter, dopamine, and inhibits an enzyme called PDE42 which helps to diminish pain and leads to an energy boost.. PDE4 inhibition is the mechanism through which Kanna can both ground you  and lift you up at the same time. Let's dive deeper into how Kanna works and how long it takes to feel its effects.

Chemical composition of Kanna

Kanna (Sceletium tortuosum) contains many alkaloids, including mesembrine, mesembrenone, mesembrenol, and mesembranol, Found primarily in plants, alkaloids are a class of organic compounds that have a wide variety of physiological effects on humans and other animals. While most plants only have a few alkaloids, Kanna has at least 35 (!!) that we know of. Several other alkaloids, like tortuosamine, are also found in minor quantities. The alkaloids mesembrine, mesembrenone, mesembrenol, and tortuosamine are believed to be Kanna’s psychoactive elements .Mesembrine can be found in the leaves and stalks of the plant, with 0.3% found in the roots and 0.86% in the leaves, stems, and flowers of the plant.3Total level of alkaloids in Kanna ranges from 1-1.5%.  However, all of these numbers can vary depending on the particular species of Kanna and where it grows.  Other chemical compounds of Kanna are flavonoids, volatile oils, tannins and polysaccharides, all known to have various health benefits.

How does Kanna work?

Unlike most plants that target a single type of receptor to displace or block chemicals when we ingest them. Kanna is able to target multiple receptors responsible for multiple functions.

Lifted mood and energy

Kanna’s primary alkaloid mesembrine increases serotonin levels in your brain by blocking the reabsorption of serotonin your body naturally produces, and also releases more serotonin by activating a protein called VMAT2 which transports neurotransmitters out of cells.  This helps to ease anxiety and lift mood. Kanna also measurably enhances the function of the pleasure neurotransmitter, dopamine, and inhibits an enzyme called PDE44, which leads to an energy boost. This is why Kanna can both ground you down and lift you up at the same time. This makes Kanna a great option for those who want to reduce stress while remaining alert and energized. It promotes well-being, enhances happiness and reduces stress , leading to a more stable mood.

Heightened cognitive ability and better sleep

Kanna contains alkaloids like mesembrenone that are PDE4 inhibitors, which are known to provide pro-cognitive and neuroprotective benefits. Kanna can improve long-term memory, executive function and cognitive flexibility by increasing alertness, focus, and concentration while relaxing the body and mind to aid in better sleep5.. Kanna activates receptors for GABA and melatonin (see footnote 5), thus it can help you drift off more easily by calming brain activity and improving overall sleep quality. Kanna’s effect on serotonin function is also helpful here because low serotonin levels are often associated with low melatonin levels, which can greatly disrupt healthy sleep patterns.

Intimacy, connection and more

When used as a natural remedy, Kanna can aid in relaxation and improve your connection with yourself, others, and your surroundings. Kanna is an empathogen and aphrodisiac, which is why, when ingested intentionally, it can help facilitate deeper connection, communication and embodied pleasure. It can even increase the sensitivity of skin and touch (see footnote 3). Unsurprisingly, stress and mental health can affect pleasure. Kanna’s effects on the serotonin system are known to help with low libido.6 Kanna, via inhibiting the enzyme PDE4,  can also assist with pain relief as it reduces inflammation and eases muscle tension7. This can make it simpler to manage uncomfortable or painful symptoms. There is even the potential for Kanna in aiding people with ADHD 8as well as early Alzheimer’s dementia.9

How long does it take to to feel the effects of Kanna?

Kanna can be taken in different forms, such as herb, or extract powder, chews, tinctures, teas and capsules. Depending on the form chosen, its effects can usually be felt instantly or within 30 minutes to an hour. Here is more detailed information on what to expect. Keep in mind the following depends on dosage, potency of the Kanna (alkaloid content) and on each each person’s unique biology:

Sublingual Tincture

Onset: Immediate

Duration: 1 to 2 hours. The longer you keep it under your tongue before swallowing, the more you’ll feel it.
Effects: Calming first, then mild euphoria and grounded energy. You can feel more open, sociable, empathetic and more connected to your feelings. More immediate “peak” effect since it bypasses the gastrointestinal system to be absorbed more directly through the mucosal membrane in the mouth. However, effects of sublingual tinctures do not last that long.

Chews*

*Chewing the fermented leaves, roots and/or stems of Kanna was how the Khoisan traditionally took Kanna, but the herb is very bitter. Nowadays you can try Kanna chews that are formulated to be both tasty and efficacious

Onset: Around 20 minutes.

Duration: The effects typically last anywhere from 6 to 13 hours.

Effects: Calming first, then mild euphoria and grounded energy. You can feel more open, sociable, empathetic and more connected to your feelings. Felt more strongly in the first 2 hours or so but effects can last all day. The longer you chew before swallowing the more quickly you feel the effects as the alkaloids enter your bloodstream more directly through the mucous membranes in the mouth. Since the chew passes through the gastrointestinal tract it lasts longer and has more of a time-release effect.

*It’s recommended to take the Kanna chews on an empty stomach as eating will likely greatly diminish the felt effects. However, for sensitive individuals it may be better to take with food.

Insufflation of powder 

Onset: Immediate for extract powder; 5 minutes for herb powder

Duration: The effects for herb powder take a few minutes to appear and reach their maximum intensity after 20-60 minutes. After that, they slowly diminish over another 20-60 minutes.

Effects: Insufflation produces a stronger euphoric effect but has fewer analgesic properties.

 *Be careful to distinguish whether you are insufflating raw herb powder or extract powder since extract powder can be 10x to 40x stronger. Make sure the powder is super fine as insufflation may cause bleeding or nose blockages. This method is not recommended for those who have little experience with insufflation as it is the most potent way to take Kanna.

Smoking

Onset: 2 to 3 minutes

Duration: 1 to 2 hours

Effects:  Calming with mild euphoria. Traditionally in Khoisan culture it is chewed first before smoking the residue for its analgesic quality10. Kanna also combines well with cannabis, and when smoked together can alleviate feelings of paranoia that some people experience with cannabis. However, it is important to note that cannabis and Kanna tend to potentiate each other so use lower amounts for both to begin with. 

*This method may be harsh on the lungs, and individuals with respiratory issues should avoid it.

Oral ingestion - capsule

Onset: Around 30 minutes to 2  hours.

Duration: It may take up to 90 minutes for the effects to begin, but it generally lasts from 4 to 5 hours.

Effects: Calming then mild euphoria followed by an energized feeling. You may feel more open, sociable, empathetic and more connected to your feelings.The more you increase the dosage, the stronger the sedative, narcotic and analgesic effects become. 

*It’s recommended to take the Kanna capsules on an empty stomach as eating will likely greatly diminish the felt effects.

Oral ingestion - tea

Onset: Around 1  to 1.5 hours.

Duration: Generally lasts from 4 to 5 hours.

Effects: Kanna tea tends to be less euphoric than other methods of taking Kanna. The effects tend more towards being relaxing, analgesic and narcotic. Its effects on the body and mind are gradual and more subtle when taken this way since the tea is generally made from Kanna herb and not extract and therefore much less concentrated and potent. It’s better to use fermented Kanna to make tea as it will have fewer oxalates which are very acidic to the body.

Ka!nnect with your best self

Kanna is a wonderful natural herbal remedy that can help improve mood, reduce stress and anxiety, enhance  focus and concentration and increase alertness and energy levels.  Here are two great ways you can enjoy the benefits of Kanna to feel your full-spectrum aliveness.

KA! Empathogenics offers Kanna Chews that can support your mental, physical and emotional wellbeing. Our one-of-a-kind, patent-pending blend is, non-addictive, all- natural,and made with other life-giving super plants like snow lotus, acmella, lavender, mint and acacia gum that work together with Kanna to make you feel more open-hearted, calm, connected and capable as you navigate everyday stress. Take The Chews first thing in the morning on an empty-stomach. They are perfect for setting an easeful, stress-free tone as you face your busy day. 

KA! Kanna Tincture is a sublingual, liquid supplement that contains no alcohol. It is designed to have a quick onset and make it easy to adjust your dose for immediate and long-term benefits. The tincture combines milk thistle, ginger, acmella and sandalwood to enhance and support Kanna’s effects. Dose a few drops whenever you want to feel immediate relief and bring more calm, uplift and grounded energy into your life. Great for taking in a mocktail in lieu of alcohol to feel more open, social and connected.

WARNING: Do not use Kanna or KA! products in conjunction with Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors (MAOIs), Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs), Serotonin-Norepinephrine Reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) 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.


1Manganyi, 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. https://doi.org/10.3390/molecules26092557

2Carpenter, J. M., Jourdan, M. K., Fountain, E. M., Ali, Z., Abe, N., Khan, I. A., & Sufka, K. J. (2016). The effects of sceletium tortuosum (L.) N.E. br. extract fraction in the chick anxiety-depression model. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 193, 329–332. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jep.2016.08.019 ; Terburg, 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. https://doi.org/10.1038/npp.2013.183

3Smith, M. T., Crouch, N. R., Gericke, N., & Hirst, M. (1996). Psychoactive constituents of the genus sceletium n.e.br. and other mesembryanthemaceae: A Review. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 50(3), 119–130. https://doi.org/10.1016/0378-8741(95)01342-3

4Terburg, 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. https://doi.org/10.1038/npp.2013.183

5Luo 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; Brendler, 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. https://doi.org/10.2174/1570159x19666210215124737; Bennett, A. C., Van Camp, A., López, V., & Smith, C. (2018). Sceletium tortuosum may delay chronic disease progression via alkaloid-dependent antioxidant or anti-inflammatory action. Journal of Physiology and Biochemistry, 74(4), 539–547. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13105-018-0620-6; Manganyi, 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. https://doi.org/10.3390/molecules26092557;

6Brunetti, 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. https://doi.org/10.3390/ph13100309

7Gericke, N., & Viljoen, A. M. (2008). Sceletium—a review update. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 119(3), 653–663. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jep.2008.07.043

8Dimpfel, 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. https://doi.org/10.4236/nm.2016.73013

9Chiu, 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 extractsceletium tortuosum(zembrin) targeting phosphodiesterase-4 in cognitively healthy subjects: Implications for alzheimer’s dementia. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2014, 1–9. https://doi.org/10.1155/2014/682014

10Smith, M. T., Crouch, N. R., Gericke, N., & Hirst, M. (1996a). Psychoactive constituents of the genus sceletium n.e.br. and other mesembryanthemaceae: A Review. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 50(3), 119–130. https://doi.org/10.1016/0378-8741(95)01342-3

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