Meet Kanna. A plant that was raised in the heat of the South African sun. The plant has been revered by the locals for millennia.

Way back before the first of the explorers and established colonies arrived. This herb, which is also known as Sceletium tortuosum, has many qualities that make up why it is well liked.

At first, it was local to only one area that was named “Kannaland”.

The plant has traditionally been used for a large variety of reasons in the native’s daily lives as well as for ritual purposes. Recently, it was discovered that the alkaloids in Kanna function as serotonin reuptake inhibitors.

Which is why it works very similar to antidepressants as a mood enhancer, as well as a way to calm anxiety, stress, and other worries. Sceletium tortuosum, has been growing in popularity for recreational as well as medical usage.

Kanna (Sceletium tortuosum) has a long history with the Khoikhoi and San of South-Africa.

They chewed on the fermented plant material to elevate their mood and dispel fear and anxiety. Colonialists, like Dutch Cape governor Van der Stel in 1685, reported that Sceletium tortuosum was consumed on a daily basis by local inhabitants.

Kougoed’ (literally: good to chew), as the Dutch called it, also had a role in rituals, social gatherings, and healing. The plant was used by warriors returning from battle to help them overcome distress and fear.

More recently the plant gained worldwide attention for its stress-relieving and mood-uplifting qualities. Besides being used recreationally by a growing number of people, it has been commercialized as prescription medicine as an alternative to synthetic antidepressants.

Kanna, the eland antelope

The Khoikhoi who lived as pastoralists and the hunter-gatherers known as San both consider the eland antelope a sacred animal.

Strikingly it bears the same name as the plant: ‘kanna’. This shows the central place of Sceletium tortuosum in these cultures.

Kanna for tooth extractions and other indigenous medical treatments

The roots, leaves, and trunk of the succulent plant can all be prepared into a substance that one can chew, smoke, snuff or make a tea of.

When chewed the plant leaves an anesthetic effect in the mouth, the San therefore also used it with tooth extractions. In small portions, Kanna has been used to treat children with colic.

Some reports note Kanna tea being given to alcoholics to help them quit their addiction. The indigenous people from Namaqualand and Queenstown made a tea of Kanna leaves for its analgesic effects and to suppress hunger.

Is Kanna vision-inducing?

In the earliest reports of colonists about the Khoikhoi (then known as Hottentots) the plant was described as an ‘inebriant’ and a ‘vision-inducing entheogen’.

As itself is not hallucinogenic, these visions most likely could be attributed to a herbal mixture the Khoikhoi smoked ritually, next to Kanna it contained Cannabis sativa (which they called ‘dagga’). Ethnobotanist Christian Rätsch notes:

“Its smoke was inhaled for divination, and it was sometimes smoked collectively for healing dances.”

Kanna as an alternative antidepressant

By blocking the reuptake of serotonin, Kanna allows the brain to function with reduced levels of this neurotransmitter. Furthermore, Kanna gives the brain time to build up natural levels of serotonin.

Once natural levels are restored the need for more Kanna ceases to exist. This makes Sceletium tortuosum an effective natural antidepressant.

In 2012 a standardized Kanna extract called Zembrin was introduced as a prescription drug. It’s prescribed to cure light to moderate depression and depressive phases, and psychological and psychiatric anxiety states.

Additionally, it’s considered a useful aid in the treatment of alcohol, drug addiction, bulimia nervosa and compulsive disorders.


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