Sceletium Tortuosum (“Kanna”): The Anti-depressant & Mood Enhancing Herb

Kanna (sceletium tortuosum) is an herb that has traditionally been taken for its calming effect. Growing studies show its ability to help relieve anxiety in stressful situations. Southern Africa’s inland desert climate is perfect for growing kanna. This low-growing, herbaceous subshrub absorbs plenty of moisture from the seasonal rains to produce flowers and thrive throughout the year. Its leaves are flat and succulent, its roots fibrous, its branches willowy, and its wispy flowers range from yellow and pink to white. As a member of the ice plant family, kanna loves to spread and blanket the ground. It is also being studied for its anti-depressant effect. Nearly all clinical anti-depressants prescribed these days are of the SSRI-class (Selective Serotonin Re-Uptake Inhibitors) and sometimes of the SDRI-class (Serotonin-Dopamine Re-uptake Inhibitors). Their primary mode of action is to increase serotonin in the brain, and this does of course happen to a degree, but the side-effects, which are very well documented, are universally unpleasant, undesired and best avoided. Kanna accomplishes its action primarily by being an SRA (a Serotonin Releasing Agent), coupled with a small amount of SSRI activity. Releasing Agents in general have always been found to be more effective, balanced, humanly profound and in harmony with natural neuronal function than Re-Uptake Inhibitors (which are nearly always problematic). In addition, there are none of the harsh side-effects of chemical SSRIs.

Kanna is an excellent broad-spectrum mood enhancing and emotion-mediating herb. It integrates mind, emotion and body and allows for deep bodily and mental relaxation. It calms obsessive thinking, is emotionally grounding and supports freer expression of thought, feeling and speech. It is altogether healing on the psyche and the heart, and engenders a profound integration of mind, body and emotion. Kanna has found incredible efficacy in treating Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. By allowing the mind to settle and integrate with the body and heart in a deep way, it grants a centered peace and fundamental sense of acceptance to the one who was otherwise suffering this condition – and this state is essential to non-obsessive and non-compulsive behaviour.

A calm mind is an intelligent mind. When we are relaxed, creativity springs freely and unbidden, memory performs when it is needed and overall cognition is improved. Both mesembrine and (even more strongly so) mesembrenone, key components in Sceletium, are known PDE4 Inhibitors. PDE4 Inhibitors are known to have strongly pro-cognitive (including long-term memory improving), wakefulness-promoting and anti-inflammatory effects. Kanna taken in a single, but lower dose, would be found to be very useful in a formal therapeutic context, assuming the therapist’s skill, professionalism, experience working with people in heightened states of awareness, and of course personal experience with Sceletium.

Sceletium enhances body and breath based awareness. It allows the mind to calm and, most importantly, shifts attention from the mental realm to the domain of body, breath and feeling. By abiding more easefully as the body and more integrated with one’s breath, mediation practice is enhanced. Additionally, larger doses of kanna have a marked empathogenic effect, leading to deep stillness and open-hearted feeling. By revealing our innate capacity to feel and love more deeply, Sceletium reveals a facet of that central quality of our being to which the practice of meditation is ultimately proceeding. And having this experience is clarifying, aligning and motivating in spiritual terms.

Mesembrine and mesembrenone are the two main alkaloids identified, and are what researchers believe give this herb its mood-enhancing and anti-depressant properties.

While short-term use appears to be safe, further placebo-controlled clinical studies on kanna and its purported uses are needed before establishing its efficacy and safety with long-term use.

Researchers remain hopeful that this herb holds the potential to help people living with anxiety, depression and chronic stress.

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