What is Sceletium Tortuosum?

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  • Written By: N. Phipps
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 09 February 2020
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Kanna (Sceletium tortuosum) is a climbing or creeping succulent plant with pale white, pink, or yellow flowers. Native to South Africa, the plant was introduced to Westerners around the 17th century. Kanna plants were commonly used in folk medicine and in some places still are. The plants have also been grown commercially.

Kanna is considered to be a mood-altering plant. Containing an alkaloid called mesembrine, Sceletium tortuosum is well known for its effect on the nervous system. In most people, it produces feelings of euphoria, decreasing anxiety, depression, tension, and even appetite. In fact, preparations of the plant are oftentimes used in the treatment of depression and psychological or psychiatric disorders.

Other remedies derived from the kanna plant have included treatment for drug and alcohol dependence and OCD, otherwise known as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Sceletium tortuosum has been deemed somewhat effective in the treatment of the eating disorder, bulimia, as well. It was once commonly traded as a mood enhancer, which colonists called “clearer of spirits.”

There are various methods employed for taking kanna remedies. While the plant may be prepared and taken as tea or made into tinctures, Sceletium gel caps are also available. However, its most common method of use usually comes from chewing the stem and roots, like snuff, and swallowing the saliva. Kanna remedies can also be smoked.


Taking Sceletium tortuosum remedies doesn’t pose too much of a threat, as it’s been used for centuries without many side effects. Nonetheless, it should be used with caution. In large doses, people may become overly anxious or agitated and experience slight nausea. Therefore, it is often advised to start small and work up to larger doses over a period of time. This is normally achieved by taking a small amount and chewing it with gum.

Due to over-harvesting in the wild, many Sceletium species have been deemed endangered. However, kanna plants are fairly easy to grow when given the proper conditions. Seeds are sprouted much like that of cacti plants. Cuttings root easily and this is the best method for propagating the plant.

Unlike many plants, their active growth is during fall and on into spring and winter. They become dormant in summer. Sceletium tortuosum is best grown in containers with well-draining, loamy soil. The soil should be allowed to dry out between waterings. The plant require lots of light for blooming and should be placed in a sunny windowsill. In warm climates, these plants can be grown outdoors.


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