A small lake at the Golden Gate Highlands National Park in Clarens, South Africa.

What is “Kanna?”

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For centuries, medicinal plants were used by our ancestors for everything from toothaches to insomnia, and local plant knowledge was passed down from generation to generation. Now, with the convenience of pharmaceuticals and conventional doctors, much of this knowledge is being lost.However, among those seeking to live more naturally, a renewed interest in botanical plants is bringing traditional herbs back into the public eye. And thanks to the internet and extensive global trade networks, we can now enjoy the benefits of plants from around the world—such as the kanna plant!

The Kanna Herb: A Chewable Wonder from South Africa

What is kanna? The kanna plant or Sceletium tortuosum from South Africa is a succulent that has received special attention among those seeking relief from pain, anxiety, and those looking for a natural lift in mood. Although scientific research on the substance is scarce, we can look to the way this herb has been used in its traditional context.

For millennia, the Khoikhoi tribes have lived in South Africa—starting as hunter-gatherers and transitioning to a nomadic pastoralist lifestyle. At the time when Dutch colonists and travelers began to explore the country in the seventeenth century, they noticed that these local peoples chewed regularly on the “canna,” or kanna plant, and preserved a year’s supply at a time by bruising the roots and stems between stones and storing them in sewn-up sheepskins where they fermented.

On the Western Cape, the Sceletium tortuosum plant grew in abundance on the hills where it often appeared with another herb called “Eland.” In fact, these two plants were so often found together that one area has become known to the locals as “Channaland.”

What is Kanna Used for Traditionally?

South African children cheering.

According to anthropological studies on kanna, it appears that the kanna plant was used to satisfy both thirst and hunger, to fight fatigue, and also had a role in traditional medicinal, social, and spiritual practices. In fact, the kanna herb was so highly prized that it was used by the Khoikhoi as a kind of currency with which to barter for cattle and other commodities. By the mid-nineteenth century, kanna was sold in centers around the country and was considered a general remedy for adult insomnia and diarrhea in children.

What is Kanna Used for by Non-Traditional Peoples?

After nearly four centuries of mixing between indigenous and non-indigenous peoples in South Africa, the kanna plant has come to play an important role in the society as a whole and is known by the nicknames of “kuogoed” and “channa.”

In South Africa today, kanna is sold in the form of a powder, whole fermented leaf, spray, capsules, liquid extract, and snuff. The plant is cultivated in South African nurseries—as the wild supply has diminished due to overharvesting, disease, and environmental changes. It is also possible to buy kanna around the world via online shops.

What the Research Says

So far, there have been a few studies conducted on Sceletium tortuosum that have sought to isolate the active compounds and determine the usefulness of the kanna plant in conventional medicine.

Alkaloids in Sceletium Tortuosum

The first alkaloid that was isolated from the kanna herb was mesembrine in 1898. However, when fermented, kanna actually has higher levels of mesembrenone. Variations between kanna batches and preparation methods (fresh or fermented) have made it difficult to determine the exact alkaloid composition of kanna. So far, 31 alkaloids have been identified in the plant, including:

  • Mesembrin(e)
  • Mesembrenon(e)
  • Mesembrenol
  • Mesembranol
  • Tortusamine

In 2001, a patent was taken out on a kanna plant extract containing the first three of these alkaloids. This standardized kanna extract was then launched as a prescription medicine by HG&H Pharmaceuticals in 2012 under the name of Zembrin®. Zembrin is currently being promoted as an anxiety-reducing and cognitive-enhancing drug for healthy people.

In response to concerns from the local San population about kanna being exploited for foreign gain, some companies have agreed to return part of the profit from kanna-product sales to the local population.

What is Kanna Useful for?

So far, research on the kanna plant has focused on its cognitive and mood-boosting properties.

  • Anxiolytic
    A 2013 study on Zembrin (as a standardized kanna extract) indicated that the kanna herb might have potential as an anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) due to reduced amygdala reactivity and amygdala-hypothalamus coupling after a single 25mg dose of Zembrin.
  • Cognitive Enhancer
    A 2014 proof-of-concept study examined the effect of kanna extract (Zembrin) on Phosphodiesterase-4 in “cognitively healthy subjects.” The researchers found that a daily 25mg dose of Zembrin improved cognitive set flexibility significantly when compared to a placebo. The subjects also reported improved mood and better sleep.

It is important to note that kanna interacts with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and MAO inhibitors, and can cause harm if combined with these substances.

Shop All-Natural Kanna at Kratora

If you’re keen to gain access to the kanna plant, you can find all-natural, ethically-sourced kanna in our collection of kratom alternatives. In our premium collection, we sell kanna in three different presentations: Kanna powder, Fermented kanna, and Kanna extract 10X.

What is the strength of our kanna extract? While the 10X extract might sound like it is ten times stronger than the regular powder, this number actually refers to the amount of plant material that is concentrated down into the final product and may not be reflected in the final strength.

As always, please contact us with any questions about your order or request a free kanna plant product sample when you place your order. Shop with us today to receive same-day shipping on orders submitted before 3 PM EST Monday through Friday and 1 PM EST on Saturdays (excluding holidays).

Please note that none of the products sold on our website are intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease or medical condition.

Please note that the US FDA has not approved this product to be sold for human consumption, sold for external use only. None of the products sold on our website are intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease or medical condition.

Want to learn more about kratom quality and value? Start here:
Why Buying Cheap Kratom Can Be Dangerous

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Colleen is a part owner of Kratora along with her brother David. Kratora was founded in 2013 by David with Colleen joining the team later in 2017. The siblings were born and raised in the Bay Area and spent most of their professional years working in Silicon Valley. Their interest in botanicals began in the early 2000s as they cared for a sick family member and quickly grew into the passion that formed Kratora.

Colleen and the team at Kratora are dedicated to providing the best quality botanicals on the market along with the best customer service. They believe their loyal customers are what makes Kratora so special! Over their many years in business it has always brought them joy to work with their customers and see how botanicals are changing lives for the better.

Kratora’s vision is to help their customers live a better life by consistently providing the highest quality, safest, and purest botanicals on the market. Colleen and her team specialize in regular kratom, kratom extracts, liquid kratom, even kratom gummies — plus a lot of kratom alternative products. Kratora is always looking to expand their product line while remaining true to their high standards.

Colleen believes in transparency between the Kratora team and the expert farmers in South Asia which is why they follow Fair Trade policies. Without these farmers, Kratora would not have any products to sell. As part of Colleen’s commitment in providing the highest quality botanicals, Kratora invests highly into third-party lab testing for all of the products they sell.

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