What can kanna (Sceletium tortuosum) help you with?

What is kanna (Sceletium tortuosum)? 

Kanna is the colloquial name for Sceletium tortuosum, an indigenous medicinal succulent plant from South Africa. It’s also known as kougoed and channa, which translates to “something to chew” or “is chewable.”
The plant has been used as an herbal remedy by Indigenous tribes for hundreds of years, according to a 2021 review article1 in Molecules. Its first use has been documented as early as the 17th century2 (1685, to be exact). While kanna teas and tinctures dominated its use for centuries, in the 21st century, the nootropic botanical extract can now be found in select capsule, tablet, and raw powder formulas.


Evidence behind Kanna potential effects

Kanna’s popular for its effects on human mood. However, there aren’t many studies on kanna itself. Most research focuses on Zembrin, a supplement that’s made with the active compounds of kanna.
Here’s what we know right now about kanna’s effects.

  • 1.May relieve anxiety

The most common reason people use kanna is to ease anxiety and stress. The theory is that kanna can impact the amygdala. (That’s the part of the brain that processes fear and threat.) But does it actually work? That’s still unclear, but there has been some research surrounding the question.
A 2011 study involved restraining rats for a period of time. Some of the rats had the placebo, some were given kanna extract. The results showed a small positive effect on the anxiety levels of the restrained rats. FYI: These results don’t mean that the effect would be similar in humans.
One study with only 16 human participants did actually look at the effects of Zembrin. It found that the supplement reduced anxiety-related amygdala activity. This study is super small, though, so a lot more research is needed before researchers can be sure it actually works.

  • 2.Could promote pain relief

Some people say that Kanna can ease some physical pain, but there’s very limited scientific evidence to decide if this is true.
One 2014 study that involved rats suggests that there’s potential here. In these animals, scientists observed that there was some kind of pain-relieving effect. But that doesn’t mean it will help humans. More research is needed in this area.

  • 3.Might reduce stress

Kanna may be a bit of a sedative. It could promote a sense of calm or even sleepiness in people who are stressed. Once again, though, scientific evidence that this is true is very minimal.
One 2016 study found some suggestions that kanna extract could have some beneficial effects on people’s stress and hypertension levels. But the study authors concluded that a lot more research was needed before firm conclusions could be drawn.

  • 4.May combat depression

People claim that kanna boosts their mood and alleviates some of their symptoms of depression.
There’s a rat study on kanna extract that did show it had some antidepressant properties. However, it also caused a pretty big side effect in the rats, too, including ataxia. (Ataxia means they lost full control of their bodily movements.) Again, it’s not possible to conclude that this will happen in humans, but it’s something to keep in mind.

  • 5.Might improve brain function

Some claim that kanna can help increase cognitive function. Others say it can boost your flexibility, memory, and reaction speed.
One study on rats showed some enhancement from kanna in the form of Zembrin, and one small trial on humans showed some promise of improving executive function, mood, and sleep.

How to Use It

Over-the-counter kanna extracts and other supplements are not yet widely available in the U.S., Canada or Europe. it can be found online and potentially in some health food stores.
In terms of dosage recommendations, Zembrin has been used in studies in doses ranging from 25 to 50 milligrams per day. It’s typically taken for up to six weeks but may not be safe to use long term.