woman holding tincture bottle over background of kanna plants

Kanna Extracts—Everything You Need to Know About “Nature’s MDMA”

It's "kind of like MDMA without the hangover."

DoubleBlind Mag

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Updated February 16, 2024

The first time I participated in a ceremony with kanna, an herb from South Africa, I was astonished by how similar it felt to MDMA. I experienced euphoria, jaw tension, and extreme mental clarity that caused me to furiously scribble my plans for the coming year in a journal. I was even more astonished to learn that kanna is legal. I ordered a supplement called Kanna Bliss from Amazon, and while it was not as powerful as what I took in the ceremony, it gave me a similar feeling of elevated mood and creative inspiration, which allowed me to breeze through a writing project I’d been sitting on. 

Kanna is “kind of like nature’s MDMA without the hangover,” says Tricia Eastman, an initiated medicine woman, founder of Psychedelic Journeys and Ancestral Heart, and author of Seeding Consciousness: Plant Medicine, Ancestral Wisdom, and Psychedelic Initiation. However, not all kanna you can get is the same. For instance, some ceremony leaders mix their kanna with MDMA or a similar drug called MDA, which might explain why it had such an MDMA-like effect for me. Kanna supplements can also be mixed with other herbs; Kanna Bliss, for instance, contains rhodiola and cordyceps.

There are different ways of consuming kanna: It can be taken as a capsule, powder, or tincture—and in South Africa, people even chew or smoke kanna leaves. Kanna extract is made when kanna is processed to decrease its concentration of oxalic acid, which can be harsh on the stomach, explains Ryan Latreille, founder of Kanna Extract. Latreille’s company has advertised with DoubleBlind in the past. Extracts are usually made by soaking kanna plant material in alcohol. An extract can be a powder, resin, capsule, tincture, or even edibles like chocolates. “Powder and capsules may contain either kanna herb or kanna extract,” says Stephanie Wang, founder of KA! Empathogenics. KA! has also advertised with DoubleBlind in the past. “Tinctures are usually extracts by definition.”

Safety Note

Mixing kanna with MDMA might be risky. “We don’t know about the safety of that mixure,” says Gomez-Escolar, “Mixtures trend to be more dangerous than isolated drugs, and serotonin syndrome is always more likely when combining drugs with serotoninergic effects, like kanna and MDMA.” Curious about MDMA? Learn more here.

What is Kanna Extract?

Kanna extract is a processed and concentrated product made from the kanna plant. Kanna (Sceletium tortuosum or Mesembryanthemum tortuosum) comes from a succulent plant native to South Africa and Namibia. It sprouts white and yellow flowers. Kanna extract is typically made from the stems and leaves, according to Wang. Kanna contains over a hundred alkaloids, but the ones most responsible for its effects are mesembrine, mesembrenone, and delta 7 mesembrenone, says Latreille. The concentrations of these alkaloids will influence the effect of any given kanna preparation. 

“With a higher mesembrine product, it’ll be definitely a more uplifting, outward, stimulating experience,” says Latreille. “The other two alkaloids are responsible for most of the relaxing, anti-anxiety effects that kanna is capable of.”

Kanna Extract Benefits

Kanna extracts have much of the same effects and benefits of the kanna plant—only they’re more concentrated than the plant itself. Kanna is a serotonin reuptake inhibitor, meaning that it stops your brain cells from absorbing the neurotransmitter serotonin, leaving more serotonin in the synapses— the spaces between cells—in your brain, explains Anton Gomez-Escolar, a psychopharmacologist and psychedelics expert at Drogopedia. Serotonin is linked to feelings of happiness and relaxation, so when you have more loose serotonin in your brain, you’ll likely feel good. “Elevated serotonin levels are associated with mood elevation and anxiety reduction, similar to common SSRI antidepressants,” says Gomez-Escolar. “Some users also report increased sociability and mental clarity. The intensity and nature of these effects can vary a lot depending on the dose and individual physiology.”

Kanna plant
Kanna comes from a succulent plant known as Sceletium tortuosum or Mesembryanthemum tortuosum, which grows in South Africa and Namibia, sprouting white and yellow flowers | Image via Wikimedia Commons

Zembrin, a supplement whose main ingredient is Kanna extract, has been studied for its anxiety-reduction properties. A 2013 study in Neuropsychopharmacology found that the amygdala—a part of the brain involved in the fear response—was less active in participants who looked at fearful faces after they’d taken 25 mg of Zembrin than in those who had taken a placebo. 

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“Given that anxious people get more easily distracted by these faces due to amygdala reactivity, this effect of Zembrin could indeed promote anxiety reduction,” says study author David Terburg, professor of neuroscience at Utrecht University. “A second experiment showed that Zembrin also reduced the coupling of the amygdala with the hypothalamus, which is also a sign of reduction of acute anxious reactivity. So, taken together, we concluded that Zembrin can indeed dampen neural processes that support anxiety and fear reactions.”

Kanna may also have physical health benefits. The Khoisan and San tribes in South Africa have chewed it for pain relief for centuries. The San have also used kanna for hunting, as it boosts stamina and suppresses hunger and thirst, says Wang. Though the research is inconclusive, some studies have also suggested that kanna may have antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, antioxidant, and immune-boosting properties.

Kanna Extract: Risks and Contraindications

Because kanna drastically increases the amount of serotonin in your brain, you will want to avoid using it while taking other serotonin-enhancing drugs, such as SSRI antidepressants or monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), says Gomez-Escolar. An excess of serotonin in the brain can lead to a potentially fatal condition called serotonin syndrome, which involves symptoms such as shaking, fever, insomnia, confusion, muscle tension, and possibly seizures.

Mixing kanna with MDMA might also be risky. “We don’t know about the safety of that mixture,” says Gomez-Escolar. “Mixtures tend to be more dangerous than isolated drugs, and serotonin syndrome is always more likely when combining drugs with serotoninergic effects, like Kanna and MDMA.”

kanna extract powder
Kanna extract can take the form of a powder, resin, capsule, tincture, or even edibles like chocolates | Image via The Honest Drug Book

Kanna can increase your body temperature, so one should exercise caution with it in hot settings, such as summer music festivals, says Gomez-Escolar. “Other potential risks include gastrointestinal disturbances, headache, and, in rare cases, allergic reactions,” he adds. “It’s also advisable for individuals with psychiatric disorders, particularly those on medication, to consult healthcare professionals before using kanna.”

In my experience, kanna can also have a bit of a comedown like MDMA,  even in small doses. As the effects fade, I sometimes feel a bit down and tired, so I don’t use it if I have something important to do later in the day. I have also felt blue the day after taking large amounts of kanna. In addition, Eastman cautions against taking kanna at night because it’s stimulating and may keep you awake. “In higher dosages, it actually has a purgative effect and can have some side effects potentially of dizziness or nausea,” she adds.

Test That Stuff!

One of the biggests risks with underground MDMA is adulteration. Prohibition makes safe access to clean MDMA few and far between. Testing your drugs with a reagent kit is vital and can save a life—but there are still some things testing won’t tell you. Learn more about testing your MDMA here.

Kanna Extract Dose

Kanna may have slightly different effects depending on how you consume it. “Generally, ingesting a capsule will have a longer onset since it is going through the gastrointestinal tract, but effects may last longer,” says Wang. “With sublingual use of kanna tincture, the felt effect is much more immediate, since it is being directly absorbed through the mucosal membrane in the mouth, but effects do not last as long.” Some companies also make kanna extract chews, which tend to hit you quickly and last long since they’re absorbed by both the mouth and the GI tract.

Structures of the four main mesembrine alkaloids that are quantified by HPLC to define the alkaloid content and composition of the extract of Sceletium tortuosum
Structures of the four main mesembrine alkaloids that are quantified by HPLC to define the alkaloid content and composition of the extract of Sceletium tortuosum | via Neuropsychopharmacology. 2013 Dec; 38(13): 2708–2716

Wang recommends that those who are new to kanna start with a low dose, such as 5 to 10 mg of kanna extract. If they’d like, they can gradually work up to a higher dose; a dose of 30-50 mg is considered high. “Try it at different times of day and under different circumstances,” says Wang. “Feel and observe how your body reacts for you to find your perfect dosage. Kanna is a subtle plant medicine. Often, less is more.”

It’s also important to remember that extracts are more concentrated than traditional kanna. “More concentrated means more effects and also more side effects,” says Gomez-Escolar. “It’s like taking a higher dose of regular kanna.” Generally speaking, it’s important to follow package directions of kanna products. 

Kanna Ceremonies

Many facilitators offer kanna as part of a ceremony or guided experience. Again, some of these people mix the kanna with other drugs like MDA, MDMA, and 2CB. “I have seen lab tests of that substance that they use in ceremonies, and it tests for MDMA,” says Latreille. “So what I suspect is that it’s a blend of the two—its MDMA combined with kanna.” MDMA is different from kanna in that it has amphetamine properties, so it has a more stimulating effect, Latreille explains.

While mixing kanna with other drugs is not necessarily dangerous, Eastman cautions against working with someone who doesn’t disclose what they are giving you. She suggests getting a facilitator recommendation from someone you trust, then asking the facilitator about their background and what exactly is in their medicine. “The best practice is to really look at their experience, how they’ve apprenticed, what they understand about this medicine and its traditional use, and if you truly feel a connection with this individual,” she says. “And obviously, someone who has a good reputation in the community.”

You should also be thoughtful about the timing of a kanna experience and make sure your schedule is clear afterward. “The most important thing is to give yourself space and time for integration and inner reflection,” says Eastman. “If you are doing it on a Friday, you should give yourself the whole weekend. Or even if you are doing it on a weekday, I would not do it when you have anything intensive scheduled.” In the days after the ceremony, it’s helpful to speak with your facilitator or a psychedelic integration specialist in order to process the experience.

Experiences With Kanna

In Latreille’s experience, Kanna can mix well with other substances like mushrooms to bring a lighter and calmer effect. But, there’s still very little research on mixing kanna with other psychoactive substances. The kanna really takes whatever that base experience would be with that substance on its own, and it really brings that experience into the heart and the body,” he says. “I really like it socially and recreationally … I feel more open, more connected to people. I feel more relaxed and in my body, and I don’t drink alcohol, so it’s such a nice alternative.” He has also used kanna to calm his nerves in situations when he’s speaking publicly. 

Wang likes to use kanna in the morning, as it “helps me stay calm and centered throughout the day,” she says, adding that kanna has “noticeably improved my energy and ability to continue working throughout the day without crashing. It’s like a brain boost for productivity.”

Eastman describes kanna as “a powerful supplement for opening the heart.” She sometimes mixes small doses of kanna extract with cacao in the morning to elevate her mood for the day. “The two together amplify each other, and it can be very nice, either if it’s a weekend and you want something non-alcoholic that’s a mood enhancer or during the week to create a flow in your work. […] It’s just a really beautiful blend that can open the creative channels.”

Loved this article on kanna extracts? Learn more about staying safe with its supposed doppelganger.

When it comes to MDMA, color isn’t an indicator of purity. Blue molly may more easily disguise adulterants, experts say.

Purple MDMA might not be much better. Here’s what you should know before you imbibe.

In other news, a study suggests that mixing MDMA with other psychedelics might make for a calmer trip. But, there’s still a lot we don’t know—and it can be hard to find clean MDMA.

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