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For centuries, tribes in Southern Africa have enjoyed the mood-enhancing benefits of the herb Sceletium tortuosum, or kanna.
These hunter-gatherer tribes used kanna in their religious rituals, and to ease many mind-body maladies.
The San tribe’s word for “something to chew” is kanna, which is how the herb was originally ingested although its flavor is bitter. Presumably, the ancient tribes put up with bitter because it made them feel better.
Research involving kanna is scarce, but the Journal of Ethnopharmacology lists the herb’s nine psychoactive (mood altering) compounds. One of them is mesembrine, an alkaloid that is said to work as an SSRI, or serotonin selective reuptake inhibitor.
An SSRI prevents the feel-good neurotransmitter serotonin from being absorbed by neurons, so more serotonin remains available in the synapse or signaling areas between neurons. For many individuals, having more serotonin milling about in the brain results in an elevated mood.
Some of today’s antidepressants function as SSRIs (e.g., Prozac, Paxil). However, an herbalist may hint that kanna is more effective than a pharmaceutical because the kanna plant contains supportive nutrients not found in antidepressant pills.
Other compounds found in kanna increase mental clarity, reduce anxiety, and the herb is anecdotally reported to relieve bouts of psychosis. Kanna creates a soothing meditative state, a “tranquil mellowness” without fogging up the capacity to think clearly - according to those who enjoy using it.
People taking an SSRI medication, or using MAO inhibitors, should not use kanna. Pregnant women should consult with their doctor before using this herb.
This herb is also used as an anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, an appetite suppressant and for pain relief.
It has been used to treat:
An addiction to kanna has never been reported, and its use does not lead to impaired judgment. It is not intoxicating, even in large doses, and is not hallucinogenic.
Thankfully, we no longer have to chew on bitter roots to get this herb’s benefits. Kanna can be purchased as powdered leaf, powdered stem, a tincture, capsule, or tablet. A typically recommended dose of dried and milled herbal material is 50mg to 200mg.
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