effects of Sceletium tortuosum
by Groot van der Gros
Mesembryanthemaceae contains many pharmacologically active species.
One of the most utilized by native peoples in South Africa was the
genus Sceletium, for which whole tribes would travel hundreds of
miles to pick a years supply. The plants of the Sceletium genus were
utilized as an intoxicant; however much of the information available
has been spotty and contradictory.
In an effort to
clarify the role and usage of Sceletium in it's historical context a
search was done on Medline which yielded the following information,
derived from a report in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology (#50 1996
As early as 1662 it
is reported that a man named van Riebeck bartered with the local
inhabitants for sheep and Sceletium, which was very plentiful and
considered the "greatest clearer of spirits, and the noblest
Restorative in the world". In 1685 it was recorded by the second
colonial governor of the Dutch Cape Colony, van der Stel, of the
natives; "They chew mostly a certain plant which they call "Canna".
They use it as the Indians use betel or areca, and are of a very
cheerful nature it is held by them in great esteem as the betel or
areca with the Indians."
"They chew its stem
as well as the roots, mostly all day, and become intoxicated with
it, so that on account of this effect one can expect some profit
from its cultivation."
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 immediately after
fermentation, it intoxicates."
Laidler in 1928
noted that it 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."
chewed, there are reports of it being taken as a tea (Jacobsen 1960)
and also as a snuff (Jacobson 1960). Thunberg wrote in his journal
in 1794, in reference to the San peoples; "These people chew 'Canna'
(Mesembryanthemum) and afterwards smoke it."
Paterson, one who
traveled in the same region wrote in 1789; "this is called the
Channa land; and derives it's name from a species of
mezembryanteimum (sic) which is called Channa by the natives, and is
exceedingly esteemed among them. They make use of it both in chewing
and in smoaking (sic); when mixed with Dacka (sic) is very
intoxicating, and which appeared to be of that species of hemp which
is used in the East Indies by the name of Bang."
There have been
many additional reports from self-experimenters who used the
traditionally prepared material orally and most of these found a
marked anxiolytic effect. "One informant used approximately 5ml of
powdered 'kougoed' (sceletium) orally before giving a lecture that
he was anxious about. He reported feeling relaxed throughout the
lecture, with no cognitive impairment one user claimed she felt that
'kougoed' was a truth drug some felt that there was a synergistic
effect with alcohol, and with smoked 'dagga' (cannabis sativa) the
chewing of 'kougoed' was reported to greatly enhance the
psychoactivity of an inferior grade of cannabis smoked shortly
thereafter some reported euphoria as well as a feeling of meditative
Several users felt
that the relaxation induced by 'kougoed' enabled one to focus on
inner thoughts and feelings, if one wished, or to concentrate on the
beauty of nature. Some informants reported heightened sensation of
skin to fine touch, as well as sexual arousal.." (M.T. Smith, N.
Gericke, et al).
In light of the
above, some Sceletium tortuosum herb, perpared in the manner of the
Hottentots was procured from South Africa and the following
Sceletium is here
understood to mean the dried herb, powdered herb or the tincture of
experiment consisted of combining approx. 50mg. Of dried Sceletium
tortuosum with another smoking herb, the one most preferred by the
Hottentots. After smoking the herbs, it was immediately apparent
that there was a strong effect similar to Cannabis at first but
without the dulling of Cannabis. Empathic feelings beyond normal
were noted. There were no hallucinations per se, but there was a
definite visual "softening" in the appearance of objects and a
subtle glow to everything. Feelings of euphoria were noted and a
strong desire to dance and sing. This was offset somewhat by a
slight, easily correctable effect on one's balance. The balance
deficit was slight and temporary. After two hours the effects were
still quite noticable but had waned somewhat. At this time I went to
bed and had a good, restful nights sleep.
The next experiment
was the following morning when I ingested approx. 50mg of the
powdered Sceletium tortuosum as snuff. The effects were unlike those
of the previous evening; in fact, there did not seem to be much of
an effect at all, just a slight uneasiness. After 1 ½ hours, I again
tried some of the Hottentot herb and was amazed at the difference it
made. The full effects of the previous night returned, along with a
stronger empathy than before. Joy and euphoria were the keywords of
this session, and the effects lasted for over two hours when I
became tired as it changed effects to sedation. This is an effect
that has been noted throughout the history of this plant and led to
the contradictory descriptions of its effects among the early
explorers. I took a long nap and awoke feeling almost normal, just a
little of the Sceletium in the background.
afternoon I smoked some more with a friend, this time around 100 mg.
The friend only smoked a small part of it, but stated that he felt
calmer and had noticed that he was talking less loudly and in a more
calm tone before he left. I finished the remainder, and became
concerned over having used too much. Visual distortions were noted,
similar to looking through a pane of wet glass; some things seemd in
focus and others not. This was somewhat unpleasant, but did not last
long enough to be of serious concern. The euphoria and well
being/empathy was stronger than before. There was also a slight
feeling of minor discomfort, possibly balance related and tending
towards a slight dizziness. At times there seemed to be a slight
headache, but it never developed into one, and was soon gone.
Early in the same
evening, I tried another round of the snuff, this time more than the
first time. It was harder to get to the euphoria and joy this time,
possibly because I was tired and trying to keep up with the friends
I was visiting. The friends did not try any. After a short while,
the pleasant effects wore off and I found myself unhappy with the
situation and short tempered with the people. I left and came home,
noticing on the way that my perceptions were altered enough that I
had to pay special attention to driving, even though it was late at
night an there were no cars on the freeway.
The next day: After
trying to sleep for hours, I got up at around 1 am and combusted
some cannabis pollen. This was a big mistake; I became more awake
than ever and felt flu-like physical symptoms all night. I finally
managed to fall asleep around 5 am but was up again by 6;30 am.
After being up a while, the flu-like symptoms dissipated leaving me
just tired. Now, and all day so far, I have felt the "call" of this
substance. It is as cloying in it's seduction as cocaine, and keeps
wafting in and out of my conciousness.
The message is "It
felt so good, and this doesn't". This just feels ordinary; what's
wrong with feeling good? Try some more". The problem, as I
discovered yesterday, is that a little bit is nice; too much makes
you feel nauseous for a short while and kind of dopey and out-of-it.
That and the visual distortions.
The joy that a
small dose brings is very much worth it. After the initial joy, in
about 45 minutes to an hour or more, a kind of calm contentedness
sets in. One is emotionally detached and can put up with all kinds
of bothersome people without any stress. After a while, that wears
off, though, and they become more bothersome than originally. Unless
you take more. This reminds one of cocaine, again. And, again, with
another dose, the slight unpleasant effects become more accented as
well as the good ones until they can overshadow the good ones, and
it is time to stop.
The visuals remind
one somewhat of mushrooms, but things do not melt (at least for me,
at low doses) they just get "soft" looking, like being slightly out
of focus. The colors and textures are accented.
As far as being a
potentiator of cannabis, there is no doubt that sceletium has this
effect. Much more was gotten from much less when sceletium was
added. Overall, it is my opinion that the pleasant effects of this
substance, when used in moderation far outweigh the negative ones.
Furthermore, the effects on cannabis potentiation are marked.