Kanna (Sceletium tortuosum) is known to elevate mood, to decrease anxiety, stress and tension and to suppress the appetite. In a moderate dose it induces euphoria and has stimulating effects, which in a higher dose turn into sedation.
Kanna as tranquillizer
A small dose of Sceletium tortuosum provides relief from anxiety and stress. Insecurities, inhibitions and feelings of inferiority dissolve. Some users experience a feeling of meditative tranquillity, the ability to focus on inner thoughts or an enhanced appreciation of the beauty of nature.
The effects of kanna have also been described as ‘emotionally disengaging’, as users might experience more distance towards situations they are usually emotionally involved with. In some situations this is perceived as unpleasant. In other situations, for example when nervous about speaking in public, this can be seen as an advantage.
Social effects of kanna
Whereas some feel kanna makes them more reserved in social situations, others have described a deepening of social contacts. As anxiety and insecurities disappear a general euphoria and self-confidence prevails. That’s why kanna may be helpful in personal conversations. It’s not common, but some users report a heightened sensation of the skin and sexual arousal.
Kanna: both stimulant and sedative
In a moderate dose kanna gives an energy boost: some users describe ‘tingling sensations’ or the desire to dance and sing. Others report enhanced ability to think clearly and focus sharply. In a higher dose stimulating effects are exchanged for sedation, experienced by both mental and muscle relaxation. In this stage concentration and focus might become slightly impaired.
Kanna and appetite
Sceletium tortuosum suppresses the appetite. It’s also reported to suppress the effects of tobacco and the desire for nicotine.
Is kanna hallucinogenic?
Kanna is not hallucinogenic, though some users report a slight change in visual perception. Colours may appear softer or more accented and the user may perceive objects to be surrounded by a subtle glow. Stories about kanna being psychoactive can most likely be traced back to its traditional use in a herbal mix including cannabis sativa.
Kanna as antidepressant
Kanna is most well-known for its mood uplifting and antidepressant effects. Many of the active alkaloids (see Chemistry) in kanna function as Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor (SRI). This means they inhibit the decomposition of natural available serotonin in the brain and allow the brain to function with lower levels of this neurotransmitter. Most prescription antidepressants function in a similar way. Not unsurprisingly, an extract of several alkaloids from Sceletium tortuosum has been patented for use as a prescription medicine.
Kanna enhances the effects of alcohol and cannabis. Their combination may produce mild visions. The Khoikhoi were known to smoke kanna as part of a herbal mix including cannabis. Damiana, blue lotus flowers, wild dagga, tongkat ali and ginseng are other herbs that combine well with kanna.
Set and Setting
The effects of kanna largely depend on the set (mental state) and setting (physical and social environment) of the user. Sceletium tortuosum needs natural serotonin to work with: the herb prevents break down of this neurotransmitter, but doesn’t produce new supplies. Therefore it works best while already undertaking an activity that cheers you up (e.g. meeting with friends, sporting, watching comedies).
Although kanna can be experienced as a relief for those dealing with depressive feelings, be aware that mood regulation is influenced by many factors like for example food, social activities, (lack of) daylight and physical exercise. If you suffer from severe depression, don’t self-medicate with kanna before consulting a doctor.
Side-effects of kanna
Kanna elevates the blood pressure and may cause mild headaches and nausea (no vomiting). In case of an overdose this may turn into palpitations and anxiety.
Kanna may cause a soft or loose stool. Some users report a dry mouth and a haziness of sounds and colours.
Drowsiness might be another side-effect of kanna and therefore it shouldn’t be used while driving or operating machinery. Some users report insomnia, which can be prevented by not taking kanna late in the day.
When the initial effects of kanna wear off, some users perceive a transient increase in anxiety or irritability: things appear to be more annoying. Taking a second dose will shortly prevent this effect, but eventually the negative side-effects become more pronounced and will outweigh the positive effects.
Some users report ‘priming’ will enhance kanna’s effect. If you don’t feel a strong effect the first time, your body might need to get used to it. Take a small dose every day over the course of a few days, and see how the effect changes.
Others found they built up a tolerance for the substance, meaning they had to increase the dose when using kanna regularly over a prolonged period of time.
No adverse side-effects or withdrawal effects have been reported by long-term users of the herb. Safety tests have been conducted on dogs (2002) and cats (2004) by Hirabayashi et al. No adverse effects were found, except for a slight increase in daytime sleep for the cats. Kanna was actually found to have beneficial effects on cats that showed signs of stress and on dogs that were clinically diagnosed with dementia.