Sceletium – a deep dive on this South African treasure

Sceletium – a deep dive on this South African treasure


LATIN: Sceletium tortuosum 

FAMILY: Aizoaceae

COMMON NAMES: Kanna, Channa, Tortuose fig marigold, Kanna, Kougoed, Tandtrekbos


“Sceletium is one of the most usable and functional herbs for mental and emotional wellness that exists in the world today.” - Dylan Johns, Cosmic bazaar 

The name Sceletium is derived from the Latin sceletus – this refers to the prominent leaf veins which remain present as the skeleton-like structure of the leaves dry. The name tortusosum translates into ‘twisted’ or ‘tortuoise’.

Sceletium tortuosum has been used as an indigenous sacred medicine by South African hunter-gatherers, the Khoikhoi, since times immemorial as a mood enhancing ally. The first written accounts of the use of the plant was by Jan van Riebeeck in 1662, however it became well known to colonisers of the Cape and had begun being cultivated in England from 1732 -  the Latin binomial was officially published by Carl von Linnaeus in 1753.

In Khoisan folk medicines it was introduced for its mood elevating properties. Traditionally, Sceletium was dried and chewed (where Kougoed – ‘something to chew’ comes from) and the saliva then swallowed. The Khoikhoi people were also known to smoke Kanna along with other herbs – including wilde dagga. Taken in large doses it was used to induce trance like states of euphoria, beginning with stimulation which would allow the men and women to invoke spirits, and then later resulting in sedation. It was further used by shepherds who utilised this medicine as an appetite suppressant whilst they were walking long distances in areas which were not abundant with foods available for gathering.

Khoisan rock art

In recent years preparations of Sceletium have become quite common as anti-depressant and anti-anxiety medication, being commercially grown due to the tremendous pressure which wild harvesting has placed on the conservation of the species. Preparations have included being made into capsules, teas, tinctures, snuffs, smokes, and full or partial alkaloid extracts.


Sceletium is a succulent plant which can be found in the Eastern, Northern and Western Cape of South Africa.

Plants can often be found covering the ground in the shade or amongst larger bushes, usually climbing or creeping. It has slender branches which become thick and slightly woody as they age. The leaves have curved tips with 3-5 veins, and has small water cells present, the incredible flowers (which bloom in spring and summer) are white to pale yellow, but even come in salmon or pale pink colours.


Generally speaking Sceletium is an incredible mood ally – it aids in elevating mood, decreasing symptoms of anxiety and aids in the management of stress and tension. Due to it being non-addictive chemically speaking, it has been used to treat depression particularly with those who have gone through rehabilitation. It has been topic of scientific inquiry for doctors, psychiatrists and psychologists alike for its abilities in healing and enhancing the body and mind collectively – namely emphasising its action not only as an antidepressant and anxiolytic, but also as an antimicrobial, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory.

The utilisation and celebration of this medicine has become increasingly recognised in order to treat:

  • Seasonal affective disorder (SAD)

  • Low mood or mood regulation

  • Phobias

  • Anxiety disorders

  • Menopause and PMS related irritability

  • Increase libido

  • Aid in treating PTSD and CPTSD when used alongside counselling programs

  • As an anti-depressant

  • Nervous system support

  • Treating alcoholism

  • Pain, headache and toothache.

  • Nausea, colic, abdominal cramps and constipation.

  • Asthma


Taken daily, in smaller doses, it can aid in relieving anxieties relating to stressful stimuli which may be triggering cortisol production – here acting as a nervine tonic by supporting nervous system health and resilience. It can also be used as an ‘in-situ’ treatment – where one may find themselves in a highly triggering circumstance and is need of support either before, during or after the event.

Sceletium has a range of therapeutic benefits which include but are not limited to:


Mood enhancement and regulation

As a mood booster, Sceletium aids in enhancing production and levels of serotonin in the brain (read more about serotonin here), also aiding in the mobility and function of serotonin – this results in a gentle uplifting feeling.

Emotional support

As a nervine tonic medicine – it aids in the integration of mind, body and emotion – supporting a calmer, clearer and more relaxed state of being. This is particularly effective for those who experience social anxiety or overactive mindsets. Allowing one to become more focused and concentrated it can also aid as a phenomenal focusing ally when working or studying.

Stress management and sleep

Chronic stress is an increasingly prevalent condition – when it comes to work, information overload, life expectations, time scarcity and lack of balance within ones lifestyle there is a rise in cortisol production within the body and mind, therefore registering as stress within the being. A study conducted in 2021 concluded that participants had a positive experience and effects on their overall wellbeing when taking the extract, including improved stress management and resilience as well as having experienced better quality of sleep – thereby allowing for better rest and reset for cortisol levels to be released from the body.

Anti-Depressant & Anti-anxiety

Sceletium has been studied extensively as an alternative to chemical SSRIs (Selective Serotonin ReUptake Inhibitors – see more below) – however not having side effects which are more often than not, undesirable. Sceletium binds to serotonin transporters within the brain – through the inhibition of reabsorbing this neurotransmitter from the synapse of neurons, it allows for an increased concentration of serotonin in the synaptic cleft – allowing for feelings of happiness, calmness, focus and emotional stability. The second mechanism present is in its abilities in inhibiting phosphodiesterase-4 (PDE4).

– I know this all sounds a bit like a science class but stay with me-

PDE4 is simply an enzyme which hydrolyses a secondary messenger called cyclic AMP and is present in parts of the brain such as the amygdala, hippocampus and nucleus accumbens - which are involved in the formation and recalling of memories, anxiety and depression. Studies related to PDE4 inhibitors have shown that it can aid in reversing depression, alleviate depression and improve cognition overall.

It has been suggested that SSRI’s and PDE4 inhibitors work synergistically – they in effect have a capability of making each others actions more effective and therapeutically beneficial within the body than either could on their own – and it’s all present within this humble succulent.

(Note: Sceletium should not be taken at the same time as chemical SSRIs)


Sceletium has shown an incredible effect in aiding those who are trying to stop smoking, drinking or other substance use and/ or addictions. It aids in alleviating compulsions and obsessions present in the mind about the substance in question and additionally has shown to aid in reducing withdrawal symptoms.

If you or someone you know are looking for help with regards to substance abuse please contact your trusted healthcare provider or call 0800 12 13 14

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Please note: When using to treat serious ailments/illnesses such as depression, please consult us or your doctor/healer before use

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Chemistry and Pharmacology

Sceletium is packed with alkaloids referred to as mesembrine-type alkaloids, and also contains mesembranol and mesembranone.

Mesembrine is known as a nervine tonic and is the most studied and active alkaloid present in Sceletium's function as a SSRI’s – meaning that they inhibit the decomposition of available serotonin and allow for the brain to function with lower levels of this neurotransmitter. In specific doses this is what allows Kanna to act as an anti-depressant, minor tranquilizer and anxiolytic – even aiding in the treatment of bulimia nervosa and OCD. (P)

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Sending blessings of radiant wellbeing


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  • Brendler T, Brinckmann JA, Feiter U, Gericke N, Lang L, Pozharitskaya ON, Shikov AN, Smith M, Wyk BV. Sceletium for Managing Anxiety, Depression and Cognitive Impairment: A Traditional Herbal Medicine in Modern-Day Regulatory Systems. Curr Neuropharmacol. 2021;19(9):1384-1400. doi: 10.2174/1570159X19666210215124737. PMID: 33588735; PMCID: PMC8762184.
  • Brendler T, Brinckmann JA, Feiter U, Gericke N, Lang L, Pozharitskaya ON, Shikov AN, Smith M, Wyk BV. Sceletium for Managing Anxiety, Depression and Cognitive Impairment: A Traditional Herbal Medicine in Modern-Day Regulatory Systems. Curr Neuropharmacol. 2021;19(9):1384-1400. doi: 10.2174/1570159X19666210215124737. PMID: 33588735; PMCID: PMC8762184.
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  • O'Donnell JM, Zhang HT. Antidepressant effects of inhibitors of cAMP phosphodiesterase (PDE4). Trends Pharmacol Sci. 2004 Mar;25(3):158-63. doi: 10.1016/ PMID: 15019272.
  • Olatunji TL, Siebert F, Adetunji AE, Harvey BH, Gericke J, Hamman JH, Van der Kooy F. Sceletium tortuosum: A review on its phytochemistry, pharmacokinetics, biological and clinical activities. J Ethnopharmacol. 2021 Nov 15;280:114476. doi: 10.1016/j.jep.2021.114476. Epub 2021 Jul 30. Erratum in: J Ethnopharmacol. 2022 Apr 6;287:114711. PMID: 34333104.
  • SMITH, M.T., CROUCH, N.R., GERICKE, N. & HIRST, M. 1996. Psychoactive constituents of the genus Sceletium N.E.Br. and other Mesembryanthemaceae: a review. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 50: 119-130.