This site has limited support for your browser. We recommend switching to Edge, Chrome, Safari, or Firefox.

FREE Shipping for Continental U.S. Orders $50 and above.

Kanna vs. MDMA: Uncovering The Similarities and Differences

kanna vs mdma
MDMA (3,4-Methyl​enedioxy​methamphetamine) is a popular synthetic party drug many people enjoy due to its euphoric and empathogenic effect. Empathogenic refers to MDMA's ability to produce prosocial feelings and a sense of deep connection between its users and others around them. MDMA has also been shown to reduce social anxietyand MDMA assisted therapy has also produced positive results in patients who suffer from Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)2 by softening responses to emotionally challenging and fearful stimuli so that they respond better to psychotherapy in reducing sensations of threat and fear.  While these aspects make MDMA appealing, it’s important to know that there can be considerable risks with this substance which can be dangerous when used inappropriately.


On the other hand, Kanna a.k.a. Sceletium tortuosum, is a succulent plant native to South Africa and Namibia that is psychoactive but not psychedelic. Kanna is empathogenic3 and heart-opening and has the ability to induce emotional openness and feelings of empathy. It is similar to MDMA in that it helps people feel connected—but the experience tends to be less intense,  with fewer side effects, making it a safer alternative if you want to connect with yourself or others. Kanna is also a non-toxic adaptogen4 which helps regulate your nervous system over time.  Besides being empathogenic, Kanna is also an aphrodisiac5 and has many other health benefits.  Studies on Kanna have demonstrated its ability to lower stress and anxiety6, lift mood7, improve focus and cognitive function8, and enhance physical performance9.

Usage of Kanna as traditional medicine

From a Western perspective, Kanna may seem like a newfound remedy. However, some of South Africa’s indigenous people, the Bushmen and the Khoi, have been collaborating with Sceletium tortuosum for centuries.  They worked with  Kanna for healing, managing stress, pain relief, supporting community negotiations and multi-day hunts (by increasing stamina, sharpening awareness and helping minimize hunger and thirst) and even to help crying babies sleep10.

The traditional way of consuming Kanna was to ferment and dry it before being chewed or smoked.  It was believed to have positive effects such as improved mood and increased energy. Recent studies have found that Kanna may have potent anti-anxiety effects and act as a powerful antidepressant due to its serotonin reuptake inhibition11.

Human collaboration with Kanna is rooted in indigenous knowledge and understanding of the world. Many in the psychedelic industry are beginning to understand the importance of integrating this wisdom with modern practices to offer a more holistic approach to healing - one that considers not only the physical body, but also the spiritual and emotional aspects which even includes our relationship to nature. There is much more to learn from these communities that could potentially be used to develop a more balanced and enriched approach to healing that bridges the world of ceremony with that of psychedelic therapy. It is vital, however, that there is listening and reciprocity in these relationships, that we don’t extract from these communities as we have for so long, and not impose our own ideas or assume we know better. 

How Kanna differs from MDMA

Due to its powerful heart-opening, calming and euphoric effects, Kanna has been commonly referred to as "nature's MDMA." However, Kanna’s heart-opening and euphotic effects are much more mild than MDMA’s. Kanna also does not contain amphetamines like MDMA. The biggest benefit of using Kanna is that it doesn't induce the same overwhelming levels of euphoria and stimulation that MDMA does. This is because Kanna isn't a psychedelic but rather a psychoactive, meaning it doesn't create a dramatic mind-altering experience; instead, its effects are more subtle and gradual.

While many studies are now showing that MDMA can also be helpful for mental health, these studies refer to usage during a therapeutic process with a trained facilitator, lab-tested MDMA and very specific “set and setting.”  MDMA is still considered a  Schedule 1 drug, and it is a synthetic stimulant that may be mixed with other substances if you are not directly familiar with the source. Kanna, on the other hand, is legal, naturally occurring and plant-based. 

Compared to MDMA, which has been shown to be neuro-degenerative for the brain with long term continuous use, Kanna is neuro-regenerative (see footnote 8). Also in contrast to MDMA, Kanna has not been linked to any detrimental side effects like addiction, depression or memory issues. In addition, Kanna is not a controlled substance; therefore, using it carries no risk of legal ramifications in the U.S (except in Louisiana, where they have outlawed many other gentle consciousness-expanding plants like blue lotus and damiana🤷.)

MDMA's mechanism of action

So, how does MDMA work? MDMA is metabolized in the liver and triggers the release of serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine, which results in feelings of euphoria and decreased inhibition. It also increases levels of the neuro-hormone oxytocin, which helps reduce fear responses from the amygdala and increases superior frontal cortex activity.12 This increased connectivity between the amygdala and hippocampus is responsible for reducing anxiety and depression. 

Depending on the dosage and the user's sensitivity, the effects of MDMA usually lasts up to around six hours, but it can last longer. Because it can be addictive, MDMA has a significant potential for abuse. It can also be dangerous when coupled with other drugs, stimulants or alcohol.  Regular consumption can be detrimental to the brain and harm the neurotransmitter system.13

Kanna's mechanism of action

Unlike MDMA, Kanna works by activating the protein VMAT2 (Vesicular Monoamine Transporter 2), which transports neurotransmitters out of cells. Serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine are released during this activity, causing sensations of well-being and happiness. Kanna is also a serotonin reuptake inhibitor and so increases the availability of serotonin in the body in two elegant ways. Additionally, Kanna stimulates GABA, opioid, cholecystokinin and melatonin receptors14, calming brain activity, lowering anxiety, fostering a sense of well-being, reducing hedonic hunger and enhancing sleep quality.

MDMA and drug addiction

While people may not become physically dependent upon MDMA, they may become psychologically reliant. There are many centers that offer MDMA addiction services and support because of this. 

Kanna does not produce an intense high like MDMA and is also not known to be addictive or cause any long-term harm15 when used in moderation. Furthermore, Kanna does not cause the same 'crashing' effects that MDMA does - meaning you are less likely to have a “hangover” after use that interferes with day-to-day activities. This is in part because serotonin levels can be severely depleted after MDMA use, whereas Kanna can actually aid in replenishing serotonin levels. It may even be helpful to take Kanna post-MDMA to help re-stabilize serotonin levels. This said, it is best to wait at least 24 hours before doing so.

Using Kanna to treat MDMA and drug addiction

While more studies are needed, the mechanisms and constitution of Kanna make it a great candidate to actually help treat addiction. Mesembrenone, a significant PDE4 inhibitor16, is found in Kanna and has powerful neuro-regenerative effects, which are useful for healing brain trauma caused by excessive use of CNS stimulants like cocaine, methcathinone and amphetamine. Additionally, PDE4 inhibitors have been shown to reduce withdrawal symptoms associated with opioid addiction.17 So, theoretically, Kanna may actually be able to help heal damage from excessive MDMA usage. 

Rediscover an ancient medicine

Many turn to pharmaceuticals for relief when it comes to managing mental health. However, those who are looking for a non-traditional approach may want to explore the invaluable remedies of ancient medicine.

Kanna has been used for centuries by humans and is still a viable therapeutic option today. It can be a promising solution to help support various conditions, from anxiety to addiction, while avoiding many of the side effects and legal ramifications associated with MDMA and other illicit drugs.

It's important to look at Kanna outside the traditional western medical perspective and recognize its potential for healing and wellness. There's a reason why it's been used for so many years—it's a powerful medicine and deserves to be explored further.

Mood-elevating Kanna supplements you KA’nt resist

At KA! Empathogenics, we created a safe and effective way for people to experience the benefits of Kanna with our Chews and Tincture. We use only the highest quality standardized Kanna extract and herb sourced from South Africa, and only work with suppliers that directly share profit with the indigenous people. Our Kanna supplements are scientifically formulated and combine the potency of Kanna with other life-giving super plants that work synergistically together to calm stress, boost your energy in a grounded way, enhance focus and brighten your mood. With KA!, you don't have to worry about the risks associated with MDMA or other conventional drugs.

Try our Kanna Chews or Kanna Tincture today and feel Kanna's calming and uplifting effects for yourself!


CONTRAINDICATIONSDo 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.

1Lear, M. K., Smith, S. M., Pilecki, B., Stauffer, C. S., & Luoma, J. B. (2023). Social Anxiety and MDMA-assisted therapy investigation: A novel clinical trial protocol. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 14.
2Smith, K. W., Sicignano, D. J., Hernandez, A. V., & White, C. M. (2021). MDMA‐assisted psychotherapy for treatment of posttraumatic stress disorder: A systematic review with meta‐analysis. The Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, 62(4), 463–471.
3Siegel, J.Z., & Crockett, M.J. (2013). How serotonin shapes moral judgment and behavior. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1299(1), 42-51.

4Luo 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

5Brunetti, 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.

6Gericke, J., Harvey, B. H., & Lekhooa, M. (n.d.). Evaluating the antidepressant-like properties of sceletium tortuosum, alone and as adjunctive treatment (thesis).

7Gericke, N., & Viljoen, A. M. (2008a). Sceletium—a review update. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 119(3), 653–663.

8Brendler, 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.

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.

10Prance, 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

11Harvey, 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.; 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.; 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.

12Wolfson, P. E., Andries, J., Feduccia, A. A., Jerome, L., Wang, J. B., Williams, E., Carlin, S. C., Sola, E., Hamilton, S., Yazar-Klosinski, B., Emerson, A., Mithoefer, M. C., & Doblin, R. (2020). MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for treatment of anxiety and other psychological distress related to life-threatening illnesses: A randomized pilot study. Scientific Reports, 10(1).

13Commins DL, Vosmer G, Virus RM, Woolverton WL, Schuster CR, Seiden LS. Biochemical and histological evidence that methylenedioxymethylamphetamine (MDMA) is toxic to neurons in the rat brain. J Pharmacol Exp Ther. 1987;241(1):338-345; O’Hearn E, Battaglia G, De Souza EB, Kuhar MJ, Molliver ME. Methylenedioxyamphetamine (MDA) and methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) cause selective ablation of serotonergic axon terminals in forebrain: immunocytochemical evidence for neurotoxicity. J Neurosci Off J Soc Neurosci. 1988;8(8):2788-2803.

14Bennett, 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.; 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.; Luo 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

15Nell, 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.

16Terburg, 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.; 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.; 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.

17Olsen, 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.

Discover more categories


But wait, there's more...

Sign up and save 10% on your first purchase.

Each week we serve up the best of the web: 5 must-see stories that tap into the distinctly powerful emotions that make us human. Surprises, synchronicities and discounts included.


No more products available for purchase

Your cart feels a little empty...