Kanna: The Legal, Natural ‘Heart Opener’ Similar to MDMA

Kanna: The Legal, Natural ‘Heart Opener’ Similar to MDMA

You may have heard of a new psychoactive (but not psychedelic) substance called kanna. Some people are using it to treat depression, anxiety and other issues. While others are calling it ‘nature’s MDMA’. The truth is it has been around for centuries. Here’s everything you need to know about kanna.

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What is Kanna?

Of the 200+ psychoactive plants that have been identified around the world, nearly 90% originate in the Americas. Kanna is a rare exception to the norm.

Kanna, also known as Sceletium tortuosum, (and also goes by the names Channa and Kougoed) is a succulent plant native to South Africa that has been used for centuries by the San and Khoikhoi people. They have traditionally used it as a mood enhancer, appetite suppressant, and pain reliever. In recent years, it has gained popularity as a recreational drug and natural remedy for anxiety, depression, and stress.

While the plant is believed to have been used by native African peoples of the San and Khoikhoi tribes for millennia, one of the first known instances where it was documented was in 1685 by Dutch colonist and Cape of Good Hope Governor Simon van der Stel. van der Stel wrote that kanna had a “curious, stimulating effect” on the local tribesman.

Academics Gericke and Viljoen wrote one of the most comprehensive articles on kanna in 2008. They said that the plants had been used “for the relief of thirst and hunger, to combat fatigue, as medicines, and for social and spiritual purposes by San hunter-gatherers (historically referred to as Bushmen) and Khoi pastoralists (historically referred to as Hottentots) for millennia before the earliest written reports of the uses of these plants by European explorers and settlers.”

The active compounds in kanna, known as mesembrine alkaloids, have been shown to have anxiolytic (anxiety-reducing) and mood-enhancing effects. They work by inhibiting the reuptake of serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine, which are neurotransmitters that play a key role in regulating mood, motivation, and emotional well-being.

RELATED: Our 5 Favorite Kanna Extracts, Capsules and Products

What Does Kanna Feel Like?

There’s a reason that many people refer to it as the legal and natural version of MDMA, and a “heart opener.” When taken in doses larger than microdoses, kanna has a rather powerful calming yet euphoric effect that increase levels of empathy (something we all could use a little more of.) It can reduce anxiety while making your body feel light and stimulated. This makes it ideal for building community and connection with those who take it together. This “heart opening” creates a feeling of a safe space and connection that can be profound in some.

When taken as a microdose it can have a wide range of effects — from helping with mood, depression, energy, focus and anxiety.

How is Kanna Consumed?

The term kanna literally means to chew or chewable. And while some people chew the plant, it is available in various forms. Including raw plant material, extracts, teas, capsules, tinctures, and powders. It can be bought online or at some health food stores and alternative medicine shops. However, it is important to note that the production and sale of kanna are not regulated in most countries. So the quality and purity of the products can vary widely

Kanna Dosage Guide

One of the most interesting aspects of kanna is that it can be consumed any number of ways. Each method of consumption provides slightly different results. Which allows you to find the best way that’s suited for you.

Chewing Kanna — the most traditional form of kanna consumption:

Microdose: 10-30 mg
Light: 50-150 mg
Common: 150-250 mg
Strong: 300-500 mg

Pros of chewing kanna: You get to feel like you’re consuming kanna in the most authentic way possible.
Cons of chewing kanna: Chewing plant matter, swallowing your saliva and spitting out what’s left can get a little messy. Even if you combine it with flavored chewing gum.

Kanna capsules — the most common form of consumption:

Microdose: 3-20 mg
Light: 500-750 mg
Common: 750-1500 mg
Strong: 1500-2500 mg

Kanna Tea

Microdose: 100 mg
Light: 200 mg
Common: 400 mg
Strong: 800 mg

Pros of kanna capsules and tea: Capsules are the easiest way to consume kanna. And that’s also why it’s the most common.
Cons of kanna capsules and tea: There’s no glaring cons to kanna capsules or tablets. But kanna tea isn’t as potent as the capsules. The lack of potency isn’t necessarily a con, but just know that kanna tea is better suited for relaxation. And kanna tea doesn’t taste great.

Sublingual Tincture — held under the tongue; liquid form:

Microdose: 5-25 mg
Light: 50-100 mg
Common: 100-200 mg
Strong: 200-300 mg

Pros of sublingual consumption: Holding a kanna tincture under your tongue is a great way to consume lower doses of kanna.
Cons of sublingual kanna consumption: Most brands that offer kanna sublinguals deliver it with an extremely powerful minty flavor. Which makes it difficult to consume a lot of it. Be prepared.

Smoking or Vaping:

Light: 50-100 mg
Common: 100-200 mg
Strong: 200-400 mg

Pros of vaping kanna: Vaping or smoking allows you to feel the effects of kanna much faster.
Cons of vaping kanna: Be very careful if you’re vaping kanna for the first time as you can easily overdo it. Start extremely low and slow until you figure out what’s best for you.

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How Long Does Kanna Last?

How long a Kanna experience last depends on the way it’s being consumed. Here’s a breakdown of how long the effects of kanna last based on consumption methods:

Chewing Kanna:
How Long it Takes to Kick In: 30-60 minutes
Duration: 3-5 hours

Kanna Capsules:
How Long it Takes to Kick In: 20-60 minutes
Duration: 4-6 hours

Kanna Tea:
How Long it Takes to Kick In: 15-30 minutes
Duration: 1-3 hours

Sublingual Kanna:
How Long it Takes to Kick In: 5-20 minutes
Duration: 1-3 hours

Smoking or Vaping:
How Long it Takes to Kick In: ~1-2 minutes
Duration: 1-2 hours

What are the benefits of Kanna?

While the drug is known for its potentially euophoric effects, there are key differences in the ways that kanna and MDMA effect the human brain that are worth looking into. MDMA produces serotonin, while kanna acts as a serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SRI), meaning that it binds to serotonin receptors and disables them. These serotonin receptors are part of the cannabinoid system. Among other things, the cannabinoid system effects appetite, mood, and energy – explaining why it is generally seen as an appetite suppressant and mood enhancer.

Sinisi, who has used kanna, described the benefits of the drug: “Roughly two hours after consumption, people feel markedly calmer, more content, and happier. The world feels like all is as it should be, and life seems worthwhile.”

Kanna has been studied for its potential therapeutic benefits in several areas, including anxiety, depression, stress, and cognitive function. While there have only been a limited number of studies measuring its effects, there is some evidence demonstrating its positive effects.


There is some tentative evidence showing that kanna can help with concentration and cognitive ability. In one study, subjects who received a single 25mg or 50mg dose of Zembrin performed better on measures of cognitive function and memory than subjects who were given a placebo.

Stress Reduction

Kanna has also been studied for its potential benefits in lowering stress. In a small study of 10 healthy volunteers, a single dose of kanna extract was found to significantly reduce cortisol levels, a hormone that is often higher in response to stress. However, more research is needed to determine whether kanna can effectively reduce stress in clinical populations.

Two studies published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology found that kanna extract had anti-depressant and anti-anxioltic effects when given to rats, with the researchers suggesting that kanna may have similar effects in humans.

In a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of 36 healthy older adults, a daily dose of kanna extract for four weeks was found to significantly improve cognitive flexibility, attention, and executive function compared to placebo. It’s a small sample size. But it’s promising.

Used as an SRI

A serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SRI) is a type of medication that works by blocking the reuptake of serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that regulates mood, appetite, and sleep, among other functions. SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors) are a class of SRIs commonly used to treat depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders. By inhibiting the reuptake of serotonin, SSRIs increase the amount of serotonin available in the brain, leading to an improvement in mood and a reduction in anxiety symptoms.

Kanna also works as a serotonin reuptake inhibitor, but it contains a different set of alkaloids than those found in SSRIs. Some research suggests that it may be a promising alternative to traditional SSRIs. Unlike prescription SSRIs, which can take several weeks to start working, kanna can take effect within minutes to hours of ingestion. Additionally, it has a lower risk of side effects compared to traditional SSRIs, making it a potentially safer alternative for those who cannot tolerate the side effects of prescription medications.

Kanna is not regulated or controlled at the federal level in the United States. However, some individual states have their own laws and regulations regarding the use, sale, and possession of Kanna.

There are no U.S. states that had specifically banned kanna. However, it is important to note that its legal status may change over time, so it is important to check with your local laws and regulations.

In some countries, kanna is regulated or banned. For example, in Australia, kanna is considered a controlled substance, and its use, possession, sale, and importation is illegal without a license or permit. In some European countries, such as Denmark and Switzerland, it is regulated as a medicinal plant, and its use and sale is allowed only under certain conditions. It is important to note that laws and regulations regarding this plant can vary widely depending on the country and jurisdiction, and can change over time, so it is always advisable to check with your local laws and regulations before using or buying anything.

What are the potential risks?

Kanna is generally considered safe. But there is limited research on its long-term effects and potential interactions with other medications or supplements. It is also important to note that the quality and purity of kanna products can vary widely. So it is important to purchase from a reputable source and start with a low dose.

Kanna can cause a range of side effects, including nausea, dizziness, headache, and dry mouth. It may also interact with certain medications, such as antidepressants, so it is important to talk to your healthcare provider before trying kanna if you are taking any other medications.

Dan Smith

Dan Smith

View all posts by Dan Smith

Daniel Smith is an Inside Analyst who currently resides in Miami, Florida. A native of Brooklyn, New York, Daniel spent the last four years as a PhD candidate in Politics and International Studies at Cambridge University in the United Kingdom. He is fascinated by tech, business, politics, venture capital, and everything in between. When he’s not writing for Inside he can be found kicking a ball on the nearest rugby pitch.

Abid Nazeer

This post was medically approved by Abid Nazeer

Dr. Nazeer is the Founder and President of APS Ketamine/Advanced Psychiatric Solutions, which he established in 2016 as the first psychiatric outpatient ketamine clinic in Illinois. He is board certified in Psychiatry as well as Addiction Medicine. He completed his psychiatry residency at Louisiana State University Health Sciences in Shreveport where he held the role of Chief Resident. Dr. Nazeer is providing medical oversight to the growth plan of Wesana Clinics, with the model of comprehensive psychiatry clinics specialized ketamine and psychedelic therapies, integrated brain health and wellness centers, and technology utilization of Wesana Solutions remote patient monitoring product.

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