Kanna (aka canna or Sceletium tortuosum) is a succulent that’s native to South Africa. It has green leaves and blooms with white and yellow flowers. And it isn’t just a pretty plant. It’s a supplement that may help:
- ease anxiety
- promote pain relief
- reduce stress
- combat depression
- improve brain function
But are these potential health benefits legit? We found out what the science has to say about this supplement.
Kanna’s been used for centuries in South Africa as a traditional medicinal herb by San and Khoikhoi people. The plant can be chewed, brewed into teas, or smoked.
Traditionally, South African people use kanna to relieve anxiety or stress, quench their thirst, fight fatigue, or for healing and spiritual purposes.
European colonial farms used it as a psychotropic in tincture form (which means they soaked it in alcohol or vinegar).
Until relatively recently, the plant remained largely unknown outside of South Africa. It’s beginning to attract attention, though, because of the benefits it may offer (like promoting relaxation and boosting your mood).
Kanna’s popular for its effects on human mood. However, there aren’t many studies on kanna itself. Most research focuses on Zembrin, a supplement that’s made with the active compounds of kanna.
Here’s what we know right now about kanna’s effects.
May relieve anxiety
The most common reason people use kanna is to ease anxiety and stress. The theory is that kanna can impact the amygdala. (That’s the part of the brain that processes fear and threat.) But does it actually work? That’s still unclear, but there has been some research surrounding the question.
A 2011 study involved restraining rats for a period of time. Some of the rats had the placebo, some were given kanna extract. The results showed a small positive effect on the anxiety levels of the restrained rats. FYI: These results don’t mean that the effect would be similar in humans.
One study with only 16 human participants did actually look at the effects of Zembrin. It found that the supplement reduced anxiety-related amygdala activity. This study is super small, though, so a lot more research is needed before researchers can be sure it actually works.
Could promote pain relief
Some people say that Kanna can ease some physical pain, but there’s very limited scientific evidence to decide if this is true.
One 2014 study that involved rats suggests that there’s potential here. In these animals, scientists observed that there was some kind of pain-relieving effect. But that doesn’t mean it will help humans. More research is needed in this area.
Might reduce stress
Kanna may be a bit of a sedative. It could promote a sense of calm or even sleepiness in people who are stressed. Once again, though, scientific evidence that this is true is very minimal.
One 2016 study found some suggestions that kanna extract could have some beneficial effects on people’s stress and hypertension levels. But the study authors concluded that a lot more research was needed before firm conclusions could be drawn.
May combat depression
People claim that kanna boosts their mood and alleviates some of their symptoms of depression.
There’s a rat study on kanna extract that did show it had some antidepressant properties. However, it also caused a pretty big side effect in the rats, too, including ataxia. (Ataxia means they lost full control of their bodily movements.) Again, it’s not possible to conclude that this will happen in humans, but it’s something to keep in mind.
Might improve brain function
Some claim that kanna can help increase cognitive function. Others say it can boost your flexibility, memory, and reaction speed.
However, there’s very little scientific evidence to support these beliefs.
One study on rats showed some enhancement from kanna in the form of Zembrin, and one small trial on humans showed some promise of improving executive function, mood, and sleep.
Because kanna hasn’t been widely studied, there isn’t much evidence showing the plant’s short- or long-term effects on your body.
That also menas there’s no formal recommended dose of the kanna that’s considered effective or safe and effective to consume. Most studies involving Zembrin tested 25 milligrams, but those studies were small and didn’t look for long-term effects.
Researchers also don’t know how kanna would affect people with pre-existing conditions. For this reason, people who are pregnant, breastfeeding, or experiencing chronic health conditions should avoid kanna.
There’s not a lot of scientific evidence to support kanna’s potential benefits, but there are other things you can try if you’re looking to get the same effects.
For example, if you experience anxiety or depression, talk with your doctor about your options. Anxiety medications could help relieve your symptoms. And if you’re more interested in natural remedies, here are a few things you can try:
- Talk therapy. Working with a licensed therapist (either in person or online) can help you develop useful coping mechanisms for the stressors in your life.
- Exercise. Several studies have shown that even mild exercise, such as going for a walk, a mile run, or doing yoga, can reduce anxiety.
- Cut back on the caffeine. Caffeine’s a stimulant, which can make your anxiety symptoms worse.
- Take vitamin D. Several studies have linked vitamin D deficiencies to anxiety disorders and depression. That’s likely because a deficiency causes your serotonin levels to dip. You can take vitamin D in a supplement form, spend 15 to 30 minutes in the sun (depending on your skin’s amount of melanin), or eat vitamin D-rich foods.
- Drink chamomile tea. Chamomile is a mild, natural tranquilizer because it contains the antioxidant apigenin, which may decrease anxiety and boost sleep. It’s also been better researched than kanna.
- Cannabidiol (CBD) oil. CBD is derived from the cannabis plant, but it’s not the component that makes you feel “high.” So far, research suggests it’s safe to use to reduce anxiety.
Kanna, or Sceletium tortuosum, is a plant that’s been used in South Africa for generations to ease anxiety, boost mood, and improve focus.
However, there’s little scientific research to prove that it has any of those effects on the human body. There’s also not much evidence that it’s a safe alternative therapy. If you’re interested in overcoming anxiety or depression, there are several alternatives you can try that are backed by science until there’s more information available on kanna’s effects.