If you haven’t heard of Kanna, you’re in for a treat. The South African herb has been lovingly dubbed “nature’s MDMA,” and it offers a great alternative to typical party drugs and anxiety medications. Whether you’re down to try it or just curious how Kanna works, we’re here to give you the full rundown.
What is kanna?
Kanna (Sceletium tortuosum) is a plant native to the Cape Provinces of South Africa. It’s a blooming succulent that was first discovered by the South African Khoisan, foragers who included the San and Khoikhoi tribes.
The indigenous people quickly incorporated Kanna into their traditional medicine practices. Its leaves have been commonly used to soothe babies with colic, and it’s often used by hunters who take it to improve focus and elevate their moods.
This herb has strong roots in alternative medicine, but it’s taken a long time for the Western world to discover it. Today, most people are still largely unaware of what Kanna is or what it can do for them.
The alkaloid mesembrine is thought to be the primary cause of its effects; acting as a serotonin reuptake inhibitor, mesembrine acts similarly to an antidepressant.
As you do some more research, take note that Kanna is also known by these names:
Is Kanna safe?
Currently, clinical research surrounding Kanna is primarily linked to Zembrin, a kanna extract supplement used for anxiety relief and mood boosting.
If you take any prescription meds, it’s important to ask your doctor whether trying Kanna would have any consequences.
The standard dosage of Kanna is 6 mg per kg of your body weight, or no more than 420 mg per day for the average adult.
Is Kanna plant legal?
In the United States, Kanna isn’t a scheduled drug, so you can buy it and sell it to your heart’s content, unless you’re in Louisiana. The state has banned consuming any plants from the mesembryanthemum species, which bans Kanna.
In Canada, Health Canada regulates Kanna consumption, so consuming it can be easier there. In the U.S., you have to do a bit more research.
Make sure you choose a company with a good reputation, transparent manufacturing, and local sourcing.
Kanna Plant Benefits
If you’re considering Kanna, then it’s best to know what it’s side effects and benefits are. Just keep in mind that these benefits are potential perks, not guarantees, and everyone’s experience with Kanna is unique.
- Less Anxiety
Researchers exploring the immediate effects of Zembrin found that out of 16 participants in a double-blind, placebo-controlled study, all of them had a reduced fear response in their amygdalas. This could contribute to less anxiety symptoms in some people.
The fMRI study found less amygdala activity was present after a 25 mg dose of Zembrin. Specifically, the researchers cite dual 5-HT reuptake inhibition and PDE4 inhibition as the potential biological mechanics of the reduced fear response.
- Reduce Stress
While we don’t have enough large-scale studies to definitively prove kanna is a stress-buster, current evidence is promising. One clinical study from 2016 found that 1 mg of Sceletium extract resulted in lower stress levels and blood pressure.
In the mental health world, even the American Psychological Association has published books by authors who explore Kanna’s potential benefits. An entire chapter is dedicated to Sceletium tortuosum in “Complementary and Integrative Treatments in Psychiatric Practice” (2017).
Authors note that the plant has a “rapid onset action” and “low side-effect profile,” which makes it a promising point for future study. If you’re trying to keep your cortisol in check, Kanna could be worth exploring.
- Improve Cognitive Function
Sometimes this benefit can be thrown around for a lot of substances, so let’s break down what it really means. “Cognitive function” is a collective term that refers to processes like learning, memory, reasoning, problem-solving, and decision-making.
While the body of research surrounding Kanna is still growing, current evidence suggests it may have a positive impact on brain performance, including improved attention and memory. Right now, the bulk of clinical literature focuses on Zembrin, so more clinical studies with other types of Kanna extract and doses are needed to make definitive claims.
- Increase Libido
Kanna alkaloids inhibit serotonin reuptake and PDE4A, potentially enhancing sexual potency and libido.
Kanna also contains serotoninergic, GABAergic, and opioid properties, and it is marketed as a supplement to improve mood. This plant can increase relaxation and warmth towards others and heightened enjoyment of tactile (touch) sensations.
Kanna Plant Side Effects
Like we mentioned earlier, you should avoid Kanna and other psychedelics if you have mental illness, especially any disorders with psychotic features.
Dr. Monika Wassermann, MD, spoke with VeryWell Mind about Kanna and its safety. She has tried it herself and recommends it as a safe alternative to traditional party drugs. She did, however, warn against overuse.
How long does it take for Kanna to work?
Everyone’s body is different, but it’s generally fast-acting and lasts for 1 to 5 hours depending on the dosage. If you chew on Kanna, which is the most traditional way of taking it, you’ll likely experience effects for 1 to 2 hours.
If you drink Kanna tea, then it could take an hour-and-a-half to two hours for effects to kick in, but the effects can be much longer lasting (up to 5 hours).
It really all depends on how you take Kanna and the dosage you consume. To emphasize what we said earlier, it’s important to always start with a small dose. Don’t overdo it. Appreciate the effects Kanna can give you without trying to amplify them with higher quantities.
Tips for Dosing
The clinical research available suggests that Kanna is highly effective in low doses. A typical dose of Zembrin is 25 mg, and it can deliver benefits in around 2 hours.
FAQs About Kanna
How does Kanna work in the brain?
Kanna affects PDE4, an enzyme that affects inflammation, and the reuptake of 5-HT (serotonin receptors). The resulting euphoric effects can help people feel less stressed and anxious.
Does Kanna help with depression?
More research is needed to definitively say Kanna helps depression, but its mood-elevating effects may be able to help alleviate symptoms.
Is kanna an adaptogen?
Yes, it’s a natural stress reliever that helps reduce cortisol hormone levels and soothe stress throughout the body.
What other plants can help with stress and anxiety?
Plants like L-theanine, Mucuna Pruriens, Sam-e, Cordyceps, Lion's Mane, Ginseng, Rhodiola, and lemon balm, can all help reduce anxiety, improve sleep quality, boost mood, and enhance the body's stress response.
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