A succulent South African plant, Kanna is also known under a number of alternative names, such as Channa and Kougoed (Dutch for “something good to chew”). The scientific designation of the plant is Sceletium tortuosum.
Kanna is well known for is mild psychedelic and anti-depression effects. Apparently, it also works quite well as a dream enhancer. Its uses cover a much wider range of effects however, making Kanna one of the most interesting psychoactive, plant-based concoctions out there.
Its effects (most likely the ones pertaining to mood-uplifting and the attenuation of hunger) have been appreciated by the original inhabitants of “Kanna land” since ancient times.
The Khoikhoi people of the area (Hottentots) have used Kanna since at least 300 years ago, when the first European explorers arrived. While the latter reported on the inebriating effects of the concoction, they unfortunately never bothered to precisely pinpoint its botanical origins.
Sceletium tortuosum is assumed to be the plant which used to be smoked, sniffed, or chewed by the local pastoral peoples. It was not until the end of the 9th century that this deduction was made however.
The Kanna plant is a herbaceous one, with succulent, fleshy roots, stalk and leaves. The leaves themselves do not have stalks. They are attached directly to the low-growing branches which spread out laterally.
While Sceletium tortuosum has been becoming rarer in the so called Kanna land area of South Africa, some commercial farming has sprung up. Thus, the Kanna that you buy from your local ethnobotanical store, most likely does not originate from the wild.
Table of Contents
The ritual use of Kanna
Given its psychoactive effects, the plant has always naturally lent itself to ritual use.
Apparently, several peoples, such as the San Bushmen as well as the Khoikhoi, called the eland antelope Kanna as well. This is hardly a coincidence however. This antelope was a sort of “trance animal” for the tribesmen, also featured in their rituals for centuries, together with the psychoactive herb.
Often smoked together with Wild Dagga, Kanna was an essential accessory of divination, healing, and communal trance dance rituals.
Nowadays, Sceletium is mostly a recreational drug, in much the same way Cannabis is in Western Society.
Methods of preparation
Over the centuries, users of this psychoactive herb developed a very specific methodology concerning its preparation. That said, detailed descriptions of this method have only surfaced relatively recently.
If you plan on buying an actual plant and trying to produce your own kougoed, this is essential information for you.
It is apparently important to collect the plant material in October. This is when its constituents – including the ones in which you are interested – are at their most potent.
The fresh plant is not suitable for consumption. It is apparently not psychoactive, and it contains oxalic acid, which can be irritating and allergic. Through the preparation process described below, most of this oxalic acid is allegedly eliminated.
- The first step is to crush the plant between two rocks. Apparently, its leaves, flowers, and roots are all good for later consumption.
- The crushed plant material is then placed in a plastic bag or container (those looking to stick to the traditional way, can use hemp bags or animal skins instead) and put outside in the sun.
- The fermentation process thusly triggered, the plant material oozes a juice, which condenses on the walls of the container (plastic bag) and is later reabsorbed.
- After three days out in the open, the bag is opened and its contents are stirred.
- Following 5 more days of fermentation, it can be opened for good and the plant material can be dried.
- When dry, it can be ground into a fine powder, suitable for sniffing, or it can be chopped up to a more coarse consistency, for chewing.
- An alternative preparation method for those in a hurry is to simply dry the fresh plant material over glowing charcoals, and then grind it into a powder.
How do you consume kougoed?
Sceletium can be consumed in a number of ways. Apparently how one takes it makes quite a difference in regards to its effects.
It can be taken orally (as in a tea), sublingually (just put it under your tongue), and it can be chewed. It can also be sniffed, smoked, or insufflated (vaped). If you’re planning on smoking or vaping it though, make sure to get a “smokers cut” and not a powder. Powder can be smoked in a bong, but not in a cigarette or with most vaporizers.
According to anecdotal accounts, Kanna’s effects are most prominent when it is sniffed. Smoking elicits good effects as well. Chewing seems to be one of the least efficient methods of administration.
Again: all this is based on anecdotal evidence solely. It may work quite differently from one person to another.
The herb elicits a bevy of real and perceived effects in consumers. Some of these effects (such as the one regarding dream enhancement) are backed by science. Others originate from purely anecdotal sources.
There are websites out there where users of the herb share their experiences. This is what you should understand by “anecdotal.”
The list of Kanna’s effects is so impressive, we need to break it up into several sub-categories.
The Physical effects start with hunger suppression.
In addition to that, Kanna also seems to act as a mild pain killer.
Other physical effects are:
- Euphoria. Several users have reported feelings of physical euphoria. Such feelings are apparently brought about by muscle relaxation and an overall perception of lightness.
- Stimulation. When snorted, Kanna exerts a stimulating effect. Apparently, the same holds true when users smoke it.
- Sedation. Oral administration of Kanna seems to have a sedative effect on users. This is a little peculiar, in light of the fact that through other routes of administration, the same substance acts as a stimulant. Experienced users have related to me that Kanna tea has hyper and relaxed phases. It energizes first and sedates later.
- Increased sensitivity of the skin is yet another effect that Sceletium apparently elicits. Sexual arousal has been reported as well. Whether that effect is linked to the increased sensitivity or not, is not clear however.
Most of the effects covered above are positive. There are a few less-than-ideal bodily reactions to Kanna too however. Most of these negative effects come into play on high doses and they are usually mild.
- Headaches accompany Kanna overdose quite frequently. They do fade away relatively quickly though.
- Increased perspiration is part of the package too, together with heartburn, stomach bloating, mild nausea, dry mouth, diarrhea, pupil dilation, and unhealthy changes in heart rate.
As said, to stave off these effects, all one really needs to do is to steer clear of overdosing. Some effects experienced at very high doses, such as loss of motor control, can be quite scary.
More interesting than the physical effects of Kanna is its cognitive impact.
This is without a doubt the strength of the substance and this is the area that presents interest for dream enthusiasts.
The same way it acts in a seemingly contradictory manner on stimulation and sedation, Kanna acts on anxiety induction and suppression as well.
Apparently, to steer clear of anxiety induction, one needs to prime him/herself. Priming refers to the taking of smaller doses of the substance for a few days, before actual experimentation.
The anxiety suppressing effect of the herb is not particularly significant (it is comparable to a dose of benzodiazepine), and it is not always present.
- Disinhibition and sociability enhancement come hand-in-hand with enhanced empathy and affection.
- Dream potentiation is also present on the list of Kanna effects. Users who have taken massive doses of Kanna extract orally, have reported unusually elaborate, vivid dreams and nightmares. The active substances of Kanna may even promote dream recall.
- Increased sense of humor is one of the most often reported effects of Kanna. The resulting laughter as well as the degree of increase is comparable to the effects elicited by psychedelic drugs. It is worth pointing out that Kanna does not induce hallucination.
- Thought acceleration may occur, as well as thought deceleration. Whether there is a dose-dependent variable in this equation is unclear for now. It may be that different people react differently to the active substances.
- The mentioned duality is present with focus enhancement and suppression as well.
- Other “positive” effects on cognition of the active ingredients of Kanna are better thought organization (which would explain improved dream recall) and increased motivation.
- On the “negative” front we have language suppression, which manifests through slurred speech and difficulty building up proper sentences.
- Some users have reported increased appreciation of music, but this may be due to the sensory impact of the substance.
Kanna’s visual effects are obviously the most spectacular.
- Color enhancement is among the frequently reported effects of Kanna.
- Depth perception issues and overall visual haze are sometimes present as well. Some users have reported unusually clear and sharp visuals however, which is at odds with the mentioned haze effect.
Auditory effects-wise, there seems to be an unusual clarity in hearing.
The after-effects of Kanna are due to neurotransmitter exhaustion. They include cognitive fatigue, depression, anxiety, as well as thought deceleration and headaches. Most of these unwelcome effects are brought about solely by overdosing.
Kanna greatly enhances the effects of other psychoactive substances if taken in combination with them. Thus, if taken with psychedelic drugs, Kanna will likely increase the feelings of euphoria, while reducing anxiety and negative effects. Again: this may vary from case-to-case, in a dose-dependent manner.
Kanna’s synergistic relationship with cannabis, caffeine, and alcohol is perhaps even stronger. It reduces anxiety while increasing euphoria in all cases.
Kanna tolerance and addiction
Based on anecdotal reports, Kanna is well tolerated. In fact, it elicits something called “reverse tolerance,” which means that in order to get the maximum effect, users need to “prime” up for about a week on the herb.
Following this priming stage, the effects of Kanna can no longer be enhanced.
As far as addictiveness goes, Kanna might pose a psychological problem. The sort of psychological addiction it produces is more or less the equivalent of what antidepressants such as fluoxetine create. Discontinuation of Kanna use allegedly does not result in withdrawal symptoms. Some users have however reported some mild withdrawal issues.
What kind of Kanna-based products are available out there?
Kanna powder is possibly the most popular presentation of this psychoactive plant. About 10 g of high quality powder will set you back some $35. It is indeed very affordable.
What about dosage though? Used as a snuff, all you really need is some 20 mg to attain a proper effect. If you decide to chew it into a piece of gum, you are best off going for a larger dose of about 100 mg. At any rate, a 10 g purchase will likely last you a long time.
In addition to its powder form, Kanna is also available as various extracts. Dosage on these is a little trickier, since the purity of the extract makes all the difference in this case.
In addition to these extracts and powders, seeds can be bought as well. These may be of interest to those looking to grow their own Kanna plants.
Sniffing formulas, which are sold as such, are usually made up of fine powder too.
To summarize dosage information:
If you are sniffing the compound, you can use 20-30 mg for a small dose, 50-60 mg for a larger one and 100 mg for a huge one (not really recommended to go overboard like that).
As a tea, brew one heaped teaspoon with a cup of boiling water for 8-10 minutes.
Some products combine rapé with Kanna for an added hit.
What it feels like to consume Kanna
Other than actually buying the stuff and consuming it yourself, there is only one way for you to gain a grasp of what Kanna’s effects feel like: read some anecdotal user reports.
While such reports may not be 100% accurate, they do tend to offer a pretty good picture of the sort of “high” that Kanna produces.
Most people in these reports insist on the anxiety angle. Some say Kanna makes them anxious, others describe a different sort of feeling, more akin to “stress without anxiety.” The bottom line in this regard seems to be that Kanna does indeed act upon anxiety, one way or the other.
Unfortunately, some of the time, some people overdose on Kanna – according to their own reports. In such cases, negative effects seem to abound. Headaches, confusion, anxiety, and jitteriness are all parts of the package in some cases. Body aches and something akin to caffeine overdose may also be present.
As mentioned, extra care needs to be exercised with extracts. At least one person consumed some 50 mg of mesembrine (one of the active substances contained in Kanna), to then experience major overdose effects.
Since mesembrine only makes up about 0.5% of Kanna powder, some 40 mg of it equals 80 g of Kanna. That is a mega overdose to say the least.
Dosage is therefore a major issue, especially with extracts. Make sure you understand how it should work with the specific extract that you are using.
People who do not go overboard dose-wise have reported overwhelmingly positive results. Euphoria and increased sociability are hailed as its most significant effects.
As enjoyable as it is, following a proper dose of Kanna, euphoria cannot be enhanced any further. It seems to reach a sort of plateau, where it remains regardless of additional amounts ingested/smoked/sniffed.
Another interesting thing concerning the effects of Kanna is that they seem to kick in almost instantly. Most feedback providers have been surprised by the speed with which Kanna began to act.
As far as visual effects go, more vivid color perception has been reported. This is sometimes coupled with weird sensations of objects moving past slower or faster than they should be, as the user walks past them.
There are many reports from Kanna users available on Erowid.org. I will share a few excerpts that I found interesting/useful.
Some people report it helps them overcome shyness.
I was so happy to talk to new people at my school (I’m very shy to new people). I was very satisfied with the oral ingestion because it lifted my mood greatly.
As a dream potentiator, you’d expect reports of increased dream vividness such as the following:
Very intense dreams / nightmares […] Usually I don’t remember my dreams but these where so vivid. I dreamt I was being attacked by sharks as I was swimming through surf, I then dreamt I woke up (I was definitely still asleep as I thought I had a bright orange t-shirt on which was actually on the stool next to my bed), I then went into another dream where I was being attacked by a poltergeist who was forcing me into a cupboard using the cupboard door to do the forcing. […] even the nightmares were good as they were particularly vivid.
Some people compare it to MDMA without the adverse effects:
a wonderful experience.. I felt somewhat like I was rushing on mdma, with just the ‘high’ and no palpations or mashing, it was great.
My body felt light, like I really enjoyed walking, or sitting, or lying down, for that matter. My head felt very warm and slightly removed, but in no way dissociated. Perhaps this effect is comparable to the stoning accompanied with a low dose of codeine, or like slipping peacefully into dreams at night. Another pronounced and interesting effect may be described as similar to a very low dose of MDMA. I felt grateful for the chemical for pulling me out of the tedium and allowing me to just be content. However, Sceletium lacks the effusive outpour of emotion like on MDMA, and allows daily life to continue as normal. I haven’t noticed any hangover effects or other side effects.
Others compare it to Cannabis:
I smoked probably 300mg of powder. The taste of smoke was pretty good, much than I expected. Immediately after smoking I felt light headed, and I had a very pleasant feeling in my arms. Something like a small dose of cannabis, but without the slowed flow of thoughts and increased heart rate. I felt the sense of well being and I started listening to my favorite music. I closed my eyes and it was really nice feeling.
Reports regarding Kanna’s anti-depressant and anti-anxiety effects are also common, for instance:
I felt peaceful, happy and connected with my peers; able to just sit outside for hours thinking about the world. This stuff works very well. Sceletium changed my life in that it has enabled me to actually feel at ease and content with things instead of the near constant dysphoria before. Now each morning I take 100mg of Sceletium Tortuosm. The effects have become permanent which always amazes me. What conventional SSRIs take 2 weeks to do and with less effectiveness and a variety of unwanted side effects, sceletium did in a few days.
I have suffered from general anxiety disorder for the past 5 years. I tried several treatments including risperidone, mirtazapine, quetiapine, prozac, benzodiazepines, valerian root, passion flower, hops, lemon balm.. (list goes on).. but none of them offered a long term solution. The only thing that really worked for my anxiety were benzodiazepines, however as tolerance grows it looses its efficacy. I decided that I would try kanna to see if it had something to offer that these medications didn’t. I obtained 50 grams of dried kanna herb, smokers cut from a local website and was excited to give it a try. I began rolling a large joint’s worth of kanna and proceeded to smoke it. My mindset before smoking was tense, a bit depressed and restless. After the first few inhalations I started to feel an interesting buzz sensation around my head, a little like an electrical impulse, a little like when I am physically exerted and stand up quickly, it was not intense or uncomfortable. The sensation lasted for about 3 minutes and came in waves, roughly 30 seconds apart, lasting about 5 seconds per wave and faded by the time I had finished smoking. There were no immediate effects felt after smoking the kanna. I didn’t feel tired, excited, anxious or anything in particular. I began to wonder whether kanna was all about the small buzz. Shortly afterwards I thought I would test my anxiety levels by doing something that would normally set it off. I went for a walk around the block with my boyfriend and it slowly dawned on me, the anxiety that I was usually plagued with had completely disappeared! I was not the least bit anxious, there was no tremor, no anxiety, no heart palpitations – Nothing! Since this experience I have been smoking kanna daily, 1 large smoke in the morning and 1 large in the mid afternoon; as the anti-anxiety effects start to taper off after around 5 hours. I have been using it for over a month now and the effect is always the same, there appears to be no tolerance. Effects Noticed: Anti-Anxiety: It is about as effective as a high dose of benzodiazepine without the drowsiness. It also has an effect of making me a lot more social. Analgesic: It also seems effective at treating tension headaches, which my boyfriend suffers from regularly. It rapidly alleviates tension headaches, however does not seem effective at treating other types of headaches. Antidepressant: After 2 weeks of using kanna daily, I noticed I was a lot happier, not just from the anti-anxiety effects but also I started laughing a lot more frequently and when I do, I sometimes can’t stop myself! Other: There is a mild muscle relaxant property as well, movements appear smoother. Addiction Potential: I tried going a day without kanna and had no withdrawal symptoms, my anxiety did come back but it was no worse than it was before starting kanna. There were no cravings to smoke it nor any withdrawal symptoms. Kanna has quickly become my favourite herb, it has given me a chance to live my life to the fullest, without fear and anxiety.
Some even claim that the herb may cure certain psychological ailments by rewiring the brain. The following report, for example, from a long-term user and advocate of the plant, who also encourages using a vaporizer as an effective way to consume Kanna.
I personally found vaporizing to be the best method. […] this herb has changed something with my brain chemistry, for the better. I do believe that it has made my serotonin receptors use the serotonin more effectively, possibly in a permanent aspect… this herb seemed to literally rewire/retrain my brain to use serotonin more effectively. […] I also find it really strange/fascinating how it took quite a few attempts of dosing in general for it to actually rewire my brain in a sense.
My Own Experience
Smoking Kanna is pleasant. It generates a very mild euphoria. Combined with Cannabis, I didn’t notice any special synergistic effects.
I have only recently started drinking Kanna tea before bed. I noticed a positive effect on my sleep, but I will update this article once I have more to share.
What is the science/chemistry behind these often conflicting yet very interesting psychoactive effects?
Zembrin is the standardized extract of the plant and as such, it is quite indispensable to the scientific studying of Kanna. Most proper studies do indeed involve Zembrin.
The standardized compound acts as an inhibitor of PDE4 and it also inhibits the reuptake of 5-HT. The 5-HT path likely represents the main mechanism of action of the substance on the main nervous system. You may have heard that Kanna acts as a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI). Well, that is pretty much what 5-HT is.
Interestingly, 5-HT reuptake inhibitors have been used for the treatment of anxiety and depression for quite some time now. By inhibiting the reuptake of serotonin, they effectively allow the neurotransmitter to linger in the system.
The interesting twist is delivered by the PDE4 angle of action. Clinical studies of 5-HT reuptake inhibitor-based treatments have shown that repeated treatment upregulates PDE4. Long story short: over time, sensitivity to such treatment decreases.
Kanna on the other hand inhibits PDE4 too. This way, not only does it act upon anxiety and depression, it does so in a way that does not lose efficiency over repeated treatments.
There are four active alkaloids in Kanna (and in Zembrin):
Some of the products sold out there are mesembrine extracts. Mesembrine makes up a minute proportion of Kanna however, so it should be considered a super-concentrated extract of the plant, and it should be dosed as such.
Is Kanna legal?
The legal status of the plant and its various extracts depends on the jurisdiction where you reside.
That said, there do not seem to be many jurisdictions where Kanna is a controlled plant. The only countries where the problem of legality even comes up, are the US and the UK.
In the US, the plant is uncontrolled for the most part. On a federal level, people are free to buy, hold, cultivate, and distribute Kanna the way they see fit. Kanna supplements are governed by federal supplement laws and if sold as food, the plant is subject to the regulations of the FDA.
The state of Louisiana is the only exemption in this regard. There, Kanna is in fact controlled. It is therefore illegal to cultivate, possess, buy, and distribute.
The same is true for the entirety of the UK. The Psychoactive Substance Act, which went into effect in May 2016, has classified it a controlled substance. That means it cannot be imported into the country, possessed, or used in any shape or form.
If you reside anywhere else in the world, you are most likely allowed to legally purchase and use Kanna. Take a closer look at your local laws before committing to Kanna consumption though. It is always a good idea be extra cautious in this regard.
Final Words & Buy Kanna
Kanna is a great cannabis alternative or additive to various smoking mixtures. When taken as a tea, it doesn’t just serve as a dream potentiate and perhaps a sleep enhancer, but also it is a natural SSRI which may be used to treat depression and anxiety instead of synthetic SSRIs.
When you decide to buy Kanna, make sure you get it from a reliable source. Also, be aware that the cheapest product is not necessarily the best.
Just make sure you fully understand how your particular product needs to be dosed.