Kanna Herb: Effects, Benefits, Dosage, and Safety

kanna herb for health

If you’re concerned about any upcoming stressful events and looking for an herbal solution to better cope with them, you have probably heard of kanna herb, a medicinal plant with psychoactive effects. It has traditionally been chewed prior to stressing endeavors for thousands of years. Not only anxiety and stress, but kanna also provides many other brain health benefits too, from cognitive performance to mood. Wanna know more about the health benefits of kanna? Keep reading till the end.

This article will explore some of the most common effects of kanna herb according to research findings. But before we get into how kanna can help with human health, we’ll need to learn the fundamentals of this herb a little bit more. So, let’s dig deeper.

What is kanna?

Kanna or otherwise called canna is a medicinal succulent plant, botanically known as Sceletium tortuosum that grows in South Africa. The plant has a long history of traditional uses as an herbal remedy for thousands of years within indigenous tribes of South African culture.

While the use of kanna teas and tinctures is outstandingly popular in traditional medicine, the botanical extract of the herb has been found to have several nootropic benefits as well. Nootropics are substances used to enhance brain functions including memory, thinking, and learning, especially in conditions where these functions are affected.

Today, kanna extract is widely found in various forms of kanna supplements such as raw powders, tablets, and capsules.

How kanna extract is made?

Kanna herb is rich in alkaloids that are usually soluble in alcohol. The powdered plant materials are soaked into a solution of 99% isopropyl alcohol or food-grade ethanol so that the alkaloids can move into the solution from the plant materials.

After a while, the alcoholic solution is filtered and the plant materials are wrung well and removed. The solution is washed out and the isopropyl or ethanol is completely evaporated. Any residual alcohol is unsafe and can be toxic for therapeutic use.

Once the alcohol is fully evaporated, the result is a pure kanna extract full of alkaloids that resembles tar resin. It can be kept and used as it is or can be mixed with various kanna products or other herbal remedies.

herbal supplements

Effects of kanna herb 

While uncontrolled traditional uses of kanna have been believed to cause an intoxicated excitation, the effects of kanna in controlled dosages are impressively different. These effects may include a noticeable reduction in anxiety and stress (anxiolytic), an increase in feelings of relaxation, tranquility, euphoria, self-confidence, and overall well-being, and a gentle decrease in feelings of isolation, allowing a person to improve the quality of social and personal life [1].

Kanna may also act as an aphrodisiac and enhance skin and touch sensitivity. Higher doses may cause mild visions and it has a few reported adverse effects too. We’re coming to the points of side effects and precautions soon.

The feelings of relaxation and tranquility induced by kanna can provide a range of therapeutic benefits, especially those related to brain health, ranging from mood to concentration to cognitive flexibility. Let’s have a look at some common potential benefits of kanna:

Potential benefits of kanna herb

Kanna promotes a healthy response to anxiety and stress

Kanna extract has been found to have anxiolytic (anxiety-reducing) effects that can help build resilience to anxiety and stress (check out blog about herbs for stress and anxiety). It is significant adaptogenic herb with effects on the brain, supporting the cognitive ability to be emotionally harder in potential upcoming stressors.

In a 2013 robustly designed placebo-controlled trial, researchers used 25 mg of kanna extracts on 16 healthy participants and investigated the reactivity of the amygdala, the part of the brain responsible for anxiety and fear. The results showed a noticeable reduction in reactivity to fearful stimuli [2].

Kanna supports mood

Kanna and the alkaloids it contains can help enhance mood by impacting the levels of the brain chemicals such as serotonin. A 2011 preclinical study showed that kanna extract has inhibitory effects on serotonin and a specific nerve enzyme called phosphodiesterase-4 (PDE4) [3]. This dual action on brain chemicals synergistically can help promote relaxation and lift mood.

Kanna may improve cognitive flexibility

Kanna has shown positive effects on cognitive flexibility. Cognitive flexibility is the brain’s ability to flex and adapt thoughts and actions depending on situations. Kanna can help manage thoughts and emotions and act in a more positive manner.

A 2014 double-blind clinical study investigating the neurocognitive effects of kanna extract found that supplementing 25 mg of this herb extract for three weeks improved various aspects of cognitive function, including complex attention, psychomotor speed, and processing speed, compared to the placebo group. In this study, researchers also noticed positive changes in sleep and mood as well [4].

Kanna may help alleviate pain

Kanna has long been used as an effective natural remedy for pain relief by many native tribes in South Africa. The herb is traditionally chewed or smoked to help alleviate pain. Preliminary research also substantiated its pain-relieving properties. But more clinical trials on humans are required to evaluate this claim.

One animal study in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology showed that mesembrine, a primary alkaloid in kanna, has pain-relieving (analgesic) actions without affecting coordination and balance [5].

How to use kanna herb supplements

Though kanna leaves have traditionally been chewed and swallowed, the plant extract has been studied for oral administration for similar effects. The exact dosage of kanna herbal supplements depends on personal needs and the aim of taking.

However, most studies used kanna at doses of 25 to 50 mg. It’s recommended to consult with a licensed herbalist or naturopathic doctor to determine the personalized dose.

Side effects and precautions

In scientific studies, including animal research and human trials, kanna has shown quite a strong safety profile. Side effects are usually very rare and uncommon which may include mild headaches, stomach upset, and constipation.

Besides, kanna may affect the levels of brain chemicals such as serotonin and interact with other herbs, medications, or supplements. Therefore, it’s always essential to speak with a licensed herbalist or naturopath prior to introducing kanna to your health regimen.

Final words

Kanna or Sceletium tortuosum is an ancient medicinal herb with a long history of traditional use for thousands of years. It contains unique types of plant alkaloids, which offer multidimensional health benefits, especially by improving various aspects of brain health, including anxiety, stress, mood, and cognitive flexibility. If you want to give a boost to your brain power, kanna might be a choice for what you need.

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