Described in scientific literature as Sceletium Turtuosum, this plant is largely unknown to the general public outside of its home region, but that might not be the case for much longer.
Psychoactive plants grow on every continent except Antarctica, and African flora contains quite a few species capable of altering the state of mind. Kanna (Sceletium turtuosum) has been used in this capacity for centuries, but it remains clouded in mystery to this day. Native to South Africa, kanna was first mentioned as popular among Hotentots more than 300 years ago, but Western science continued to ignore it until late 20th century. That’s why the recent surge of interest for this natural intoxicant is both surprising and encouraging.
In terms of biology, kanna is a succulent plant that grows up to 30 cm in height, with fleshy leaves, white or yellow flowers and small fruits filled with dark seeds. It is believed to be related to cacti, but represents its own genus with 8 individual species found in the wild. Its flowering time is typically from June to September, followed by a period of inactivity during the winter. In the present time, kanna has become relatively rare in the nature thanks to intense harvesting and destruction of its habitat, but it can be cultivated artificially without excessive difficulties. Rarity has definitely contributed to its obscurity, allowing the plant to remain a well-guarded South African secret for a long time.
Kanna can be consumed in various ways – it can be smoked, chewed or snorted depending on user’s preference and the method of preparation. Chewing and swallowing the juice is the traditional ingestion route, which is reflected in the popular name for this plant, Kougoed, which literally means ‘something to chew on’. Today, it is usually sold in the powder form, dissolved in liquid content and consumed orally, but gel caps or tinctures can sometimes be found. Most of the commercially available quantities were grown indoors since Sceletium Turtuosum can easily be cultivated in a small pot. For this reason, kanna is getting more popular in countries located far away from its South African homeland.
There are several active substances from the alkaloid group present in Sceletium turtuosum that take up approximately 1.5% of the plant’s mass and are responsible for its range of effects. Main among those are mesembrine, mesembrenone, mesembrenol and tortuasamine, the first two of which are known to be serotonin reuptake inhibitors, with additional impact on the release of monoamines. While a lot remains to be learned about those substances, most existing studies indicate that human consumption is not harmful. However, proper preparation is necessary in order to reduce the amount of oxalates that can be dangerous for health in high concentrations.
Subjective effects of kanna are usually described as mildly euphoric, with the power to decrease psychological tension and eliminate the damaging influence of acute or long-term stress. Although some users reported visual effects, this is not a hallucinogenic drug as it is sometimes mistakenly believed. Increased sensitivity, better self-esteem, heightened libido and appetite suppression are among commonly cited occurrences associated with kanna, although there are significant individual variation and the tendency for the effects to change with the dose. Kanna has a synergistic relationship with cannabis since it will greatly amplify the psychedelic aspect of weed and produce a deep feeling of connectedness and wellbeing. Synergies with other drugs, such as MDMA or alcohol, also exist but are not so well understood at this time.
Stress reduction properties make this plant an interesting target for the pharmaceutical industry. It may be too early to draw conclusions, but there seems to be some potential for development of anti-depressant medications on the basis of Sceletium Turtuosum. A lot more research would have to be completed before this can become reality, and kanna is increasingly coming into scientific focus in recent years. It remains to be seen whether it can go full circle from folk medicine to mainstream medicine, but it appears that this African plant is destined to greater prominence. As a legal and non-addictive alternative to psychoactive drugs and psychiatric drugs, it is likely to attract the attention of anyone looking for a natural answer to psychological challenges typical for fast-paced modern life.
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