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The lesser known Kanna benefits you should know about

The lesser known Kanna benefits you should know about

The lesser known Kanna benefits you should know about

Since the beginning of our species, humans have worked with a variety of plants and herbs to improve their health and treat illnesses. One such plant is Kanna, or Sceletium tortuosum, a succulent that grows natively in South Africa and Namibia where local communities such as the indigenous Bushmen and Khoi have been collaborating with it for centuries to reduce discomfort and lift their spirits.

While Kanna has been largely unknown in the US and the Global North for a long time, it is starting to steal the spotlight thanks to the many benefits it can provide. So, what exactly can Kanna help with?

What is Kanna?

The Bushman and Khoi communities in South Africa and Namibia have been working with Kanna for centuries as a medicinal herb1. This plant is known to soothe stress, lift mood, combat fatigue and even hunger and thirst when chewed, brewed into tea or smoked. Additionally, it has been used in social gatherings, celebrations, rituals and spiritual practices.

Kanna is a psychoactive (not psychedelic) succulent plant that grows in arid regions in Namibia and the Cape Provinces in South Africa.This succulent has fibrous roots that cover vast areas and have flowers ranging from pink to yellow or white..

Kanna uses

Today, Kanna is making a comeback. You can find it in mood-enhancing teas, tinctures, powders and even chews like the ones from us at KA! Empathogenics. Its advantages have been supported by a convincing body of mechanistic and clinical research (see footnote 1), offering science-based support for a variety of aspects of mental health, such as reducing stress and anxiety, improving executive function, cognitive flexibility, cognitive function and mood balance2. It can also contribute to improved memory and focus, further improving your mental performance (see footnote 2)

Not-so-known Kanna benefits

Besides the more well-known Kanna effects like mood enhancement and tension reduction, there are many other lesser-known benefits that Kanna offers as well as some very interesting potential uses that recent research is exploring.  Let's take a look at some of them.

An adaptogen that builds mental and emotional resilience

Kanna is known for reducing anxiety and stress without causing the drowsiness associated with other drugs. It is also adaptogenic3, which means it restores balance in mood, and helps to regulate the nervous system over time to make it more resilient to stress. Kanna is non-habit-forming and safe to take regularly4 as it is not toxic to the body. Unlike some pharmaceuticals there is no tolerance build-up and you do not need to increase dosage to achieve the same effect after using it for longer periods of time. 

Promotes better sleep 

One of the things that makes Kanna so special is that it can interact with many different neuroreceptors. One such receptor it activates is the one for melatonin (see footnote 1). Kanna’s interactions with melatonin receptors may help you drift off more easily and stay asleep throughout the night. Kanna also interacts with serotonin function5, which is helpful here because low serotonin levels are often associated with low melatonin levels, which can greatly disrupt healthy sleep patterns 😴. With all this said, Kanna can be activating upon consumption, so while it can help you become a better sleeper over time, don’t take it right before bed.

Improves physical performance, energy and endurance

One of the main mechanisms of action that occurs when you ingest Kanna is that the mesembrenone (one of Kanna’s main alkaloids)inhibits an enzyme called PDE46. By inhibiting PDE4, Kanna is able to boost energy while decreasing inflammation in the body, thus aiding in pain relief. Kanna’s other alkaloids mesembrine and mesembrenol are known to help combat fatigue, and mesembrine also helps to lower inflammation while its mood enhancing and calming effects indirectly influence pain perception, contributing to Kanna’s overall ergogenic effect - enhancing physical performance, endurance and recovery. (see footnote 1) It’s no wonder that  the indigenous Bushmen of southern Africa traditionally took Kanna when they went on multi-day hunts to increase their stamina.

Enhances feelings of intimacy

Kanna is an empathogen7, which means it can help create more emotional openness and empathy towards yourself and others. It is also an aphrodisiac8. Together, these functions help facilitate deeper connection, communication and embodied pleasure. Stress and mental health affect pleasure and since Kanna can help alleviate stress and anxiety, it is perhaps no surprise that this can positively enhance the sensation of pleasure.  Kanna’s ability to raise serotonin levels in the body helps boost libido (see footnote 8) and can even increase sensitivity to touch on the skin9. There is also current research underway around the potential of Kanna to help with erectile dysfunction and premature ejaculation. 

Helps eliminate excessive cravings and obsessive tendencies

Kanna is able to uniquely interact with many different receptors in the human body. One of the receptors it can tango with is called cholecystokinin-1.  Cholecystokinin-1 has multiple functions in relation to the digestive system, one of which is to suppress appetite while you are busy digesting what is already in your stomach10. So, Kanna’s ability to activate these receptors may help to regulate hedonic hunger (eating for pleasure) while preserving homeostatic hunger (eating to maintain healthy bodily functions) contributing to the potential for Kanna to support the treatment of obesity and those with diabetes. 11Kanna is also known to mediate obsessive tendencies of the mind12. Research13 also suggest that PDE4 inhibitors, such as mesembrenone in Kanna, may be potentially therapeutic for the treatment of heroin and morphine dependence as well as other forms of drug abuse. PDE4 inhibitors were also shown to ease naloxone-precipitated morphine withdrawal symptoms. 

Reduces desire to smoke

While we don’t have the research on this one yet, experientially, we have heard many people share that their desire or cravings for cigarettes decreases dramatically while collaborating with Kanna. 

Assists with drug addiction tendencies

Thanks again to Kanna’s ability to inhibit PDE4, while also working on the serotonergic system and being anti-inflammatory, Kanna is thought to be an interesting candidate to treat methamphetamine addiction.14 Kanna has also shown activity at opioid receptors15, the neuronal receptors known to be involved in addiction. Prolonged use of drugs and alcohol can have a significant impact on neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin and GABA causing long-term changes that disrupt the regulation of mood, behavior, and cravings16. Kanna can replenish these neurotransmitters, making them available quickly and for a prolonged amount of time without being invasive or habit-forming and without tolerance build up. Lastly, because Kanna’s mesembrenone has neuroprotective benefits, it is possible that it could help restore damage brought on by the excessive use of CNS stimulants like cocaine, amphetamine, methamphetamine, and methcathinone. More research is needed in this area. 

Reduces or stops alcohol dependency

Indigenous healers in South Africa work with Kanna for alcohol rehabilitation17 lending to it being called 'onse droë drank' (our dry liquor) (see footnote 2). There are further reports of people feeling less inclined to drink alcohol while working with Kanna.18 And unlike many other substances, there are no withdrawal symptoms when stopping Kanna use (see footnote 18). For those looking for a healthy alternative to alcohol that still reduces social anxiety and stress, but does not put your liver at risk or leave you with a nasty hangover, Kanna may be a great option for you. 

What the future may hold for Kanna - potential uses and early research

Kanna’s ability to inhibit PDE4 has many implications for cognition. In addition to improving long-term memory, there are studies that suggest Kanna’s potential for aiding people with ADHD19 as well as early Alzeheimer’s dementia20 and Parkinson’s Disease21  Kanna was also found to have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antimicrobial and immunomodulatory effects22 that may delay the progression of chronic disease such as diabetes and may be effective in treating obesity. In a 2019 study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology, it was found that Kanna reduced symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in mice and pointed to the possibility of Kanna’s ability to do the same for humans. However, more research is needed to determine whether Kanna can be useful for treating PTSD in humans.

Chews your aliveness with KA!

Sceletium tortuosum, or Kanna as it is commonly known, is an ancient plant that has had a long history of human use by its traditional stewards, the indigenous Bushmen and Khoi people of South Africa and Namibia. Kanna contains unique mesembrine alkaloids that support brain function by boosting aspects of mental health like executive functioning and cognitive flexibility, as well as memory, focus and problem-solving. Additionally, Kanna encourages alert serenity, elevates mood and can reduce stress responses.
KA! Empathogenics has created delicious, handcrafted chews and tinctures made with 100% botanicals including the highest-quality Kanna, so that you can discover the many wonderful benefits of this amazing plant for yourself! They are scientifically formulated and made without sugars, artificial sweeteners, caffeine, elastomers or preservatives - and are made via a patent-pending process that does not use heat so that the highest level of bioactivity is retained. Enjoy an immediate sense of grounded energy, an elevated sense of aliveness and a more relaxed state of mind with KA! Kanna supplements.

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

2Brendler, 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

3Luo 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

4Nell, H., Siebert, M., Chellan, P., & Gericke, N. (2013). A randomized, double-blind, parallel-group, placebo-controlled trial of extract sceletium tortuosum (zembrin) in healthy adults. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 19(11), 898–904. https://doi.org/10.1089/acm.2012.0185

5Harvey, 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. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jep.2011.07.035; 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. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jep.2021.114711

6Terburg, 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; 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; Carpenter, 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

7Siegel, J. Z., & Crockett, M. J. (2013). How serotonin shapes moral judgment and behavior. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences1299(1), 42–51. https://doi.org/10.1111/nyas.12229

8Brunetti, 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

9Smith, 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

10Cholecystokinin: Hormone function & definition. Cleveland Clinic. (n.d.). https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/body/23110-cholecystokinin

11Hoffman, 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. https://doi.org/10.1519/jsc.0000000000003693

12Viljoen, A., Sandasi, M., Fouché, G., Combrinck, S., & Vermaak, I. (2023). The South African Herbal Pharmacopoeia: Monographs of medicinal and aromatic plants. Academic Press.

13Olsen, C. M., & Liu, Q.-S. (2016). Phosphodiesterase 4 inhibitors and drugs of abuse: Current knowledge and therapeutic opportunities. Frontiers in Biology, 11(5), 376–386. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11515-016-1424-0

14Olatunji, 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. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jep.2021.114711

15Bennett, 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

16Valenzuela, F. C. (1997). Alcohol and Neurotransmitter Interactions. Alcohol Health Res World, 21(2), 144-148.

17Prance, 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

18Gericke, N., & Viljoen, A. M. (2008a). Sceletium—a review update. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 119(3), 653–663. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jep.2008.07.043

19Dimpfel, 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

20Chiu, 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. https://doi.org/10.1155/2014/682014

21Luo, Y., Shan, L., Xu, L., Patnala, S., Kanfer, I., Li, J., Yu, P., & Jun, X. (2022). A network pharmacology-based approach to explore the therapeutic potential of sceletium tortuosum in the treatment of Neurodegenerative Disorders. PLOS ONE, 17(8). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0273583

22Bennett, 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

23Aboushanab TS, Vovk A, Zhou Y, et al (2019). The anxiolytic and anti-depressant-like effects of Mesembryanthemum tortuosum L. N.E.Br. (Aizoaceae) aqueous extract in mice: a behavioral and neurochemical assessment. Journal of Ethnopharmacology. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jep.2019.111984

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