Kanna vs Kava: Who wins?

Nature's Brew: Unveiling the Mystique of Kanna and Kava

Kanna and Kava both stand out in the realm of natural remedies and traditional medicine for their centuries-long use in their respective cultures. Kanna, known scientifically as Sceletium tortuosum and native to South Africa, enhances mood with its remarkable properties.

Kava, known as Piper methysticum, from the Pacific Islands, is renowned for its calming and sedative effects. This article provides a comprehensive guide to understanding these plants and their role in modern wellness.

Kanna plant

Kanna: The Cheerful Stimulant from South Africa

Kanna, known scientifically as Sceletium tortuosum is a botanical treasure native to South Africa that is celebrated for its ability to enhance emotional well-being and mental clarity. This section explores Kanna's rich historical background alongside its modern wellness applications(3).

Historical Use

Kanna has a long and significant history in South African indigenous cultures. People have used it for centuries, not only for its therapeutic properties but also in social and ceremonial contexts.

  • Traditional Practices: Historically, hunters and gatherers chewed Kanna for its mood-lifting and appetite-suppressing properties to benefit their survival in challenging scenarios.
  • Social and Ceremonial Uses: Kanna played a role in rites of passage and social ceremonies. Communities often consumed it before communal dances, integrating its use into the fabric of social life.
  • Historical Significance: The indigenous Khoisan people of South Africa traditionally used Kanna for its psychoactive properties. They valued it for its ability to elevate mood and reduce fear and stress during challenging times.
  • Trade and Value: Because of its high value, communities often treated the plant as currency and traded it amongst themselves.

Mood Enhancement

Kanna acts as a natural serotonin reuptake inhibitor, which contributes significantly to mood enhancement(4).

  • Elevating Mood: By increasing serotonin levels, Kanna helps to enhance mood. It offers a sense of well-being and positivity.
  • Stress Reduction: Its effects on the brain help in reducing stress and anxiety. This makes it a potential aid for those experiencing mental strain.

Natural Alternative for Mood Disorders

Kanna's unique properties have garnered interest as a natural alternative for mood disorders.

  • Mental Focus and Clarity: Besides improving mood, Kanna enhances mental focus and clarity.
  • Ongoing Research: Contemporary research is investigating its efficacy as a natural antidepressant, exploring its potential in mental health treatment.

Safety and Interactions

While generally considered safe, Kanna requires careful consideration in its use.

  • Responsible Consumption: Start with low doses of Kanna and monitor the response.
  • Interactions with Medications: There is a potential for interaction with psychiatric medications, particularly SSRIs, which necessitates caution and possibly consultation with a healthcare professional.


Kanna's role as a mood enhancer is deeply rooted in its historic usage in South African indigenous cultures. Its historical significance is well-documented. Modern research delves into its mental health benefits.

This research highlights Kanna's potential as a natural aid for emotional well-being and mental clarity. However, understanding its historical context, effects, and safety considerations is crucial for anyone considering its use.

Kava plant

Kava: The Pacific Elixir of Tranquility

Kava, scientifically known as Piper methysticum, is a renowned plant from the Pacific Islands and is celebrated for its remarkable ability to induce tranquility and relaxation. This section delves into Kava's deep cultural roots, sedative properties and traditional uses, along with its relevance and safety considerations in the modern world(1).

Cultural Roots

Kava's significance in Pacific Island cultures is profound. It has a rich history that intertwines with the social and ceremonial fabric of these societies.

Traditional Ceremonies: Kava has been an essential part of religious and cultural ceremonies in the Pacific Islands. It has often been used to mark important events and rites of passage.

Symbol of Community: In many Pacific cultures, Kava ceremonies symbolize unity, hospitality, and respect, playing a pivotal role in community gatherings and conflict resolutions.

Historical Context: Historically, chiefs and tribal leaders consumed Kava during important decision-making processes. It has been integral to spiritual and social rituals for centuries.

Sedative Properties

A group of active compounds known as kavalactones largely contribute to Kava's calming effects(2).

Mechanism of Action: Kavalactones work by affecting the neurotransmitter activity in the brain, particularly in the areas responsible for regulating stress and anxiety.

Anxiety and Stress Relief: The sedative properties of Kava make it an effective natural remedy for reducing anxiety. It also promotes mental relaxation and aids in sleep without significant cognitive impairment.

Traditional Preparation and Use

The traditional preparation of Kava is not just about making a beverage. It's a ritual that holds cultural and therapeutic significance.

Method of Preparation: Traditionally, Kava root is ground or pounded into a fine powder and then mixed with water to create a ceremonial drink.

Cultural Rituals: The act of preparing and consuming Kava often involves specific rituals and protocols that reflect its sacred role in Pacific Island societies.

Modern-Day Relevance and Safety

Kava is gaining global recognition as a natural relaxant. Understanding its contemporary relevance and safety considerations is crucial.

Global Popularity: The use of Kava has extended beyond the Pacific Islands. It has gained attention worldwide as a natural means of stress and anxiety relief.

Quality and Consumption: Emphasizing the importance of using high-quality Kava and adhering to traditional consumption practices can mitigate potential risks.

Kava's role as a natural relaxant deeply ingrained in Pacific Island culture is both significant and fascinating. Its historical use in ceremonies and modern-day application as a stress reliever underscore its importance. Its cultural heritage and soothing properties have long been appreciated. 

Kanna and Kava natural environment

Kanna and Kava: A Tale of Two Remedies

Comparing Kanna and Kava highlights their distinct characteristics and ideal uses.

Kanna: The Energizing Herb
  • Stimulant Properties: Enhances mood and mental alertness.
  • Ideal for: Uplifting experiences, increasing energy, and improving focus.
  • Caution: Potential overuse or adverse effects may occur when mixed with certain medications.
Kava: The Relaxation Root
  • Sedative Qualities: Promotes calmness and aids in sleep.
  • Ideal for: Stress relief, anxiety reduction, and relaxation.
  • Caution: Using improperly cultivated Kava can harm the liver making it important to consume Kava responsibly. Always ensure the use of high-quality, properly sourced Kava.

The choice between Kanna and Kava depends on the desired effect - Kanna for mood and energy enhancement, and Kava for relaxation and stress relief.


Kanna and Kava, each with its unique history and effects, offer fascinating options for natural wellness. Understanding their roles, benefits, and safety considerations is key for anyone interested in natural mood management. As nature's gifts, they highlight the rich tapestry of traditional knowledge and nature's potential to enhance well-being.

South African beach


1.) Wang Y, Su C, Zhang B, Niu Y, Ren R, Zhao X, Yang L, Zhang W, Ma X. Biological Activity, Hepatotoxicity, and Structure-Activity Relationship of Kavalactones and Flavokavins, the Two Main Bioactive Components in Kava (Piper methysticum). Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2021 Aug 20;2021:6851798. doi: 10.1155/2021/6851798. PMID: 34471418; PMCID: PMC8405297.

2.) Khan A, Akram M, Thiruvengadam M, Daniyal M, Zakki SA, Munir N, Zainab R, Heydari M, Mosavat SH, Rebezov M, Shariati MA. Anti-anxiety Properties of Selected Medicinal Plants. Curr Pharm Biotechnol. 2022;23(8):1041-1060. doi: 10.2174/1389201022666210122125131. PMID: 33480339.

3. Manganyi MC, Bezuidenhout CC, Regnier T, Ateba CN. A Chewable Cure "Kanna": Biological and Pharmaceutical Properties of Sceletium tortuosum. Molecules. 2021 Apr 28;26(9):2557. doi: 10.3390/molecules26092557. PMID: 33924742; PMCID: PMC8124331.

4. 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.

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