Flowers With Powers: What Is Kanna?

Flowers With Powers: What Is Kanna?
CBD’s lesser known cousin, Kanna is a South African botanical that’s clinically proven to lift mood and sharpen cognitive function.


Sceletium Tortuosum (Kanna)

There are a few varieties of Kanna plant, with Sceletium tortuosum being the most commonly cultivated. When exploring this “Botanical SSRI”, a great place to start is Third Wave’s comprehensive guide to Kanna. While Kanna is legal in all countries, it has received little attention outside of South Africa, and although some writers have described it as a hallucinogen, it is not considered a psychedelic. However it can instigate noticeable shifts in psychoactivity – affecting emotional and cognitive functions.


How Does Kanna Work?

Kanna contains alkaloids that affect serotonin, phosphodiesterase-4 (PDE4), and the adrenal cortex – which produces stress hormones such as cortisol. Users often report feeling energised with elevated moods, and heightened states of presence and connection, for this reason it is described by some as being “heart opening”. Kanna is also reported to be an acetylcholinesterase inhibitor and cannabinoid agonist, meaning that it works on the endocannabinoid system, but like most traditional plant medicines, it’s hard to reduce Kanna’s impact to one pharmacological mode of action.

In its commercialised format, the plant is increasingly being processed as Kanna-infused chews and tinctures. A popular brand is KA! Empathogenics, which offers full spectrum extracts. Generations of harvest, mainly for sale in local markets, has made wild Kanna harder to come by. However the herb ​​is not considered threatened and is assessed as Least Concern (LC) on the Red List of South African plants. To meet the demands of a new global interest, the plant is becoming a common crop and business opportunity.

Stephanie Wang is the Founder of Kanna Empathogenics, she shares that “the core ethos of KA! is to bring people together through a deeper connection to themselves, each other, and nature. We believe in the power of plants to help us remember this vital interconnection. It’s therefore very important to us to connect with the origin of Kanna and to honour its indigenous stewards by giving back and bringing this relationship full circle. It’s taken us many months, but we feel we are close to finding the right partner organisations in South Africa.”


Kanna Culture

Chewing Kanna is rooted in the traditions of the Khoi Khoi and San people of South Africa. The San are some of the oldest hunter-gatherers in the region, while the Khoi Khoi were a separate group of nomadic pastoralists before European colonisation. In Afrikaans, Kanna is called “kougoed,” meaning “chewing stuff.” In the wild, Kanna crawls along the ground of the Cape Provinces of South Africa, mostly hiding in the shade from the desert heat and producing white, yellow, or pale pink flowers.

Small amounts of Kanna roots are still chewed regularly in South Africa, used as an energy booster and health tonic. It is said to improve stamina while negating thirst and hunger, making it popular for enduring intense manual labour. Concoctions like tea or alcohol tinctures are more commonly used as medicines. Records show that Kanna has been used to treat pain, sedation, pregnancy nausea, as a laxative, and to treat alcohol addiction. There is also a spiritual side: the plant is associated with the sacred eland antelope, which serves as a symbol of divination, rain-making, and ceremony. Ceremonially, Kanna is used with trance-inspired drumming techniques and dance practices, which establish a connection to ancestors, as well as intra and interpersonal healing modalities.


How Safe Is Kanna?

Combining Kanna with MAOIs, SSRIs, SNRIs, and CNS depressants could be dangerous. It’s also not recommended during pregnancy; and you should always consult a healthcare provider for a more informed decision. Mesembrine (one extract from kanna) is reportedly a more potent inhibitor of the serotonin transporter (SERT) than fluoxetine (Prozac) – for this reason it is often touted by some sources as being a safer, non-addictive alternative.

Current dosing recommendations for a full plant extract sit at around 5 and 20 mg per 2.2 pounds of body weight, per day. The standardised extract most often seen on the market today is usually dosed at the 25 to 50mg range. However its emphasis as a herb, rather than a “drug”, shifts its use towards supplementation (popularised as “microdosing” within this type of market) as a neuroprotective, brain-balancing aid that does not substitute for a balanced diet.

The science is essential for safe use, as well as a deeper understanding and acceptance of plant sciences and extracts more generally. Yet, like many psychoactive properties, simply listing the neurotransmitter effects doesn’t capture the essence of the experience in its entirety. Be it through chemistry or imaginative alchemy, the unique properties of Kanna have more meanings to uncover, and lessons to teach, for those looking to listen.