Sceletium tortuosum


Sceletium, kanna, kanna root, kougoed (Afrikaans)


Derivation of name and historical aspects

History records show that in 1662, Jan van Riebeeck bartered with the local inhabitants of Namaqualand and the Karoo – the Khoi and San communities. In return, he received sheep and ‘kanna’. This plant was prized by the Europeans as a ginseng-like herb. It was unlikely to have been hallucinogenic, although it was noted that the root was ‘the greatest Chearer of the Spirits, and the noblest Restorative in the World’.

The Khoi of the Little Karoo referred to sceletium and the eland antelope by the same term; ‘kanna’. Hence, the name ‘Kannaland’ was given to the Little Karoo by early European settlers – an area where sceletium and eland occurred in abundance. The scientific name ‘Sceletium’ is derived from the Latin ‘sceletus’, which refers to the prominent leaf veins that act as the skeleton-like structure of the dry leaves. The specific name ‘tortuosum’ means ‘twisted’ or ‘tortuous’.

Plant parts used

The leaves of this succulent are most commonly used in herbal remedies.

Medicinal Uses / Ethnopharmacological uses

Sceletium is traditionally used as a mood-altering remedy. It has been used to enhance mood, cause relaxation and relieve stress. Some users report a sense of euphoria, although it has not been proven to be psychoactive. The chemical compounds in the plant are also believed to alleviate hunger and pain, in addition to fighting depression and moodiness.

Health benefits

Sceletium contains chemicals that are thought to work in the brain to cause sedation or sleepiness. Scientific studies have shown that, in small doses, it can be a mood-enhancer and promote happiness, but in large doses, it acts as a sedative and relaxant. The pharmacological actions of an extract of sceletium are reported to be dual PDE4 inhibition and 5-HT (serotonin) reuptake inhibition, a combination that may offer potential therapeutic advantages.


Sceletium grows naturally in certain regions of the Little Karoo and Namaqualand. Its range extends to Montagu and Aberdeen. It prefers to grow in quartz patches and is usually found under shrubs in partial shade. There are eight species of Sceletium and each one has slightly different uses and chemical compounds.


Sceletium is not yet under threat and wild populations are quite numerous. According to the observations of some plant gatherers, however, sceletium is becoming increasingly scarce. This could be the result of possible overexploitation.


There are no current conservation efforts in place.

Botanical Description

Sceletium is a hardy succulent that grows near to the ground. The different subspecies are quite difficult to tell apart. The leaves are thick and pointed at the tip. The flowers are large, round and white with a yellow centre. The petals of the flowers are long and thin – almost feather-like, which creates a delicate but beautiful flower when in bloom. These flowers make the plant easily recognisable and often unmistakable in the wild.

The plants climb or creep along the surface of the ground. The fruits are 10 to 15 mm in diameter and open when wet. The species is readily distinguishable by the imbricate leaves with incurved tips.

Preparation and Dosage

The dried plant can be chewed or it can be mixed with hot water to make an infusion. Some users of this plant have also been known to smoke it or grind it into a dried powder and use it as a snuff. Other methods of consumption include fermentation or extracting the oils by crushing the plant. All of these methods are reported to promote a sense of well-being and relieve stress.

The correct dose of sceletium depends on several factors, such as the consumer’s age, health, and existing medical conditions. Be sure to follow the directions on our product labels and consult your healthcare professional before using the plant.

Active Ingredients

Chemical studies have indicated that nine alkaloids are present in Sceletium, four of the main ones being mesembrenone, mesembrenol, mesembranol, and mesembrine. There is also a combination of PDE4-inhibitors, 5-HT (serotonin) reuptake inhibitors or SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor).

Pharmacological Effects

Mesembrine is known for its effects on the central nervous system. The alkaloids in sceletium also act as antidepressants, minor tranquilizers and anxiolytics (anti-anxiety). These compounds are commonly used in the treatment of depression, psychological and psychiatric disorders where anxiety is present, major depressive episodes, alcohol and drug dependence, bulimia nervosa and obsessive-compulsive disorders.


According to the Red List of South African Plants, sceletium is considered as not threatened and is assessed as Least Concern (LC).


Wild populations of sceletium may be currently facing overexploitation, but the plant has not been proven to be under threat yet.



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