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Sceletium tortuosum: What is it?

Sceletium tortuosum (Kanna) has been used by South African pastoralists and hunter-gatherers as a mood-altering substance since prehistoric times. The earliest written records of the use of the Kanna plant date back to 1662. Sceletium was an item of barter in the time of Jan van Riebeck, and there is documentation of trade from the Castle in Cape Town, South Africa. The traditionally prepared dried sceletium was often chewed as a quid after fermenting it, but it has also been made into teas and tinctures. Less commonly, it has been reported that Sceletium tortuosum used to be inhaled as a snuff, or smoked with the addition of other herbs.

Kanna elevates mood and decreases anxiety, stress and tension, and it has also been used as an appetite suppressant by shepherds walking long distances in arid areas. In intoxicating doses it can cause euphoria, initially with stimulation and later with sedation. Long-term use in the local context followed by abstinence has not been reported to result in a withdrawal state. The plant is not hallucinogenic, and no severe adverse effects have ever been documented.

Historically Sceletium tortuosum was eaten/chewed, smoked or used as snuff producing euphoria and alertness which gently fade into relaxation. If chewed in sufficient quantity Sceletium has a mild anesthetic effect in the mouth, much like kava, and is used by the San tribes if you are about to have a tooth extracted, or in minute doses, for children with colic. A tea made from Sceletium (Kanna) is sometimes used to wean alcoholics off alcohol.

Thunberg, during his 1773 expedition reported: “The Hottentots come far and near to fetch this shrub with the root, leaves and all, which they beat together, and afterwards twist them up like pig-tail tobacco; after which they let the mass ferment and keep it by them for chewing, especially when they are thirsty. If chewed after fermentation, it intoxicates.” Laidler in 1928 noted that Sceletium Tortuosum was “chewed and retained in the mouth for a while, when their spirits would rise, eyes brighten and faces take on a jovial air, and they would commence to dance. But if indulged in to excess, it robbed them of their senses and they became intoxicated.

Further Kanna Reading

  • Kanna’s Effects – A Subjective Report
  • Empathogenic Effects – of Sceletium tortuosum
  • Cultivation – Growing this beautiful succulent
  • Khoisan – the South African Tribe who discovered this plant
  • Kougued – Another name for Sceletium tortuosum (Kanna)
  • Medical Potentials – From a Research Company
  • Meditation & Kanna – A Personal Story
  • Mesembrine – An isolated alkaloid
  • Plundered – How the Khoisan Stand to Lose Everything!
  • Psychoactive Properties of Kanna – The Definitive Work