What is Sceletium Tortuosum: Application, Safety and Side Effects

What is Sceletium Tortuosum: Application, Safety and Side Effects

by Aaron Cadena on May 10, 2021

For centuries, the indigenous people of South Africa utilized a plant known for its ability to boost mood, fight hunger, thirst, and pain. This plant, called Sceletium Tortuosum, was known by a different name at that time: kanna.

What is Sceletium Tortuosum (Kanna)?

Sceletium Tortuosum

Kanna is a type of succulent plant native to South Africa. The herb has several purported benefits, and has been used as a form of traditional medicine for generations. Kanna may be able to alleviate daily maladies like pain, hunger, and thirst. It also has some psychological effects. The plant can reduce feelings of anxiety and stress, and it may be able to promote positive emotions. It’s not just snake oil - modern research seems to affirm its beneficial properties.

At a Glance

Kanna is a fairly polarizing plant. Its advocates assert that the herb can relieve pain, reduce hunger and thirst, and instill focus in its users. Kanna’s long history of use and relative safety have also sparked interest among its supporters.

While there are plenty of researchers promoting kanna’s beneficial effects, it also has some detractors. Critics of kanna cite the limited data and researcher bias surrounding it as two major issues. They also note that kanna may not work for everyone, and new users frequently experience nausea after consuming the herb. The plant may also cause harmful interactions with a user’s prescriptions, if they have any.


Kanna grows naturally in the area that is now South Africa. People indigenous to the region fermented the herb and chewed on the resulting slurry for its beneficial effects. They knew the herb by several names including “kanna,” “channa,” or “kougoed.” 

The history of kanna dates back to the ages before European colonization. At the time, two main tribes called the region home: the Khoikhoi and the San. While they utilized Kanna for its beneficial effects, they also had a spiritual connection with the plant. In fact, Kanna was so significant to these people that they even called the region “Kannaland,” according to European travelers to the area in the 17th century. Colonial expansion in the 1600s wiped out much of the oral history surrounding Kanna and its origins. However, we do know that it was associated with fertility, marriage, and divination, and healing.

Molecular Makeup

Researchers have discovered several compounds responsible for kanna’s potential benefits. They include:

  • Mesembrine
  • Mesembrenone
  • Mesembrenol
  • Mesembranol
  • Epimesembrenol
  • Tortuosamine

Studies suggest that mesembrine and mesembrenone may play the most significant role in catalyzing Kanna’s helpful effects.

All six of these compounds are members of the same chemical family. Called mesembrine alkaloids, they appear naturally only in sceletium tortuosum plants, making them extremely rare. When introduced to the human brain, these chemical cousins act as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). Researchers believe that these alkaloids’ ability to act as SSRIs are the reason for kanna’s beneficial effects.

Potential Benefits of Kanna

Potential Benefits of Kanna

While kanna has several possible mental, emotional, and physical benefits for its users. However, research about the plant is still developing. Initial information about kanna is promising, but there’s still significantly more research to be done on kanna’s effects. Make sure to consult a doctor before taking kanna.


Kanna may have several potential cognitive benefits, like helping users keep their minds sharp and healthy. Some studies have shown that kanna may be an effective way to treat certain degenerative brain disorders like Alzheimer’s disease. One key property of kanna is its ability to block phosphodiesterase 4 (PDE4), an enzyme that plays a role in Alzheimer’s disease.

It’s important to note, however, that the doctor behind this study may be biased. First, they’ve spent their entire lives studying traditional African medicine and may have a vested interest in the study. Additionally, they have a financial stake in the research as well: they work for a company that makes and sells kanna extracts.


Clinical studies demonstrate that kanna may be an effective way to improve sleep and reduce stress. In a randomized, controlled study, participants reported that kanna improved their sleep quality and reduced their levels of stress. Other research shows that the compounds in kanna can decrease levels of cortisol, a key hormone linked to stress, in its users. One study on rats seemed to confirm kanna’s antidepressant effects, but data showed that kanna was only about half as effective as a traditional antidepressant. 

Depression is also linked to inflammation. Compounds called cytokines, which the body naturally produces to control inflammation, appear to be the key to this link. Some research shows that kanna can block the effects of cytokines in the body. This, in turn, can help reduce depression.


While indigenous peoples used kanna to relieve pain, hunger, and thirst, there’s been surprisingly little modern research into these effects. Most information we have comes from anecdotal accounts and animal trials. However, this data is promising. Studies show that kanna can activate opioid receptors in the brain, lending credence to its effectiveness as a painkiller.

In addition, kanna’s ability to fight hunger does have some data backing it up. Some of the herb’s ingredients bind to cholecystokinin-1 receptors in the brain. These receptors control the sensation of hunger, and by activating them, kanna can help users feel full. It’s important to note that no modern studies have examined this hypothesis, though - the only data that supports it comes from experiments conducted in the early 1900s.

Is Sceletium Tortuosum Safe?

Kanna is widely considered to be safe for human consumption. Studies show that kanna has no side effects on humans in doses up to 6 mg per pound of body weight. Some first-time users may experience nausea with their initial dose, but this usually disappears over time. Researchers studying the effects of kanna on rats have demonstrated that the herb is non-habit forming.

Kanna and Pets

Kanna for Pets

Scientists haven’t performed any research on how Kanna affects pets, so you shouldn’t give it to your dog or cat intentionally. If your animal friend ate some unintentionally, though, don’t worry - Kanna is particularly well-tolerated by pets. According to a Japanese study, Kanna exhibited no toxic effects at 10 mg/kg of body weight for dogs and 100 mg/kg of body weight for cats. To put that in perspective, that’s 272 mg for a 60-pound dog and 681 grams for a 15-pound cat.

Kanna’s Interactions with Other Drugs

Although kanna itself is fairly safe, it can have some unintended interactions with other prescriptions. If you’re taking any of these drugs, make sure to consult your doctor before taking kanna.

Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors (MAOIs)

  • Tranylcypromine
  • Moclobemide
  • Iproniazid
  • Isocarboxazid
  • Nialamide
  • Selegiline
  • Phenelzine
  • Rasagiline

Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs)

  • Escitalopram
  • Paroxetine
  • Sertraline
  • Citalopram
  • Fluvoxamine
  • Fluoxetine

Serotonin and Norephedrine Reuptake Inhibitors (SNRIs)

  • Venlafaxine
  • Levomilnacipran
  • Desvenlafaxine
  • Duloxetine

How to Use Kanna

Kanna can be used in a variety of ways including as a capsule (like Hello Kanna products), chewed, as a tea, as an extract powder, or even smoked; however, the effects are not the same or as harmful as if you were smoking tobacco or using tobacco shisha.

The Takeaway

Kanna may be able to help users manage their pain, sharpen their mental acuity, and promote an overall better mood. In addition, it presents few drawbacks: it’s not addictive, and it has a long history of safe use. There’s also modern research to back these claims up. However, more work needs to be done. There isn’t as much research on kanna as other potential nutritional supplements, and much of the data available comes from biased sources. If you’re thinking about introducing kanna into your diet, consult your doctor.

Enhance Your Wellness Routine with Hello Kanna

Hello Kanna Capsules

At Hello Kanna, we wholly believe in the value of kanna as botanical medicine.

We offer standardized extracts with higher-yet-consistent mesembrine alkaloid levels, so you always get a reliable experience. Each kanna product we offer is 100 percent all-natural, tested by a third-party lab, and available at industry-leading prices.

To improve the effectiveness of our products and complement the benefits of kanna, we formulate proprietary kanna extract blends with added nootropics and vitamins.

Explore our full selection of high-quality kanna products and discover the Hello Kanna Difference

Thank you for reading our latest guide! We hope that it helped to inform you about the potential benefits of kanna! If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to drop a message for us in the comments!