South African Bushmen have been chewing kanna (Sceletium tortuosum) for hundreds of years to reduce stress, relieve hunger and elevate their moods. Now there are plans to market the exotic plant worldwide as a new over-the-counter drug, according to PhysOrg.com.
The first license ever issued to market kanna was given to the South African company HGH Pharmaceutical, who intend to sell it as a dietary supplement.
"We're positioning [the product] for everyday people who are having a stressful time in the office, feeling a bit of social anxiety, tension or in a low mood," said Nigel Gericke, director of research at HGH.
Though the company intends to produce their kanna product in pill form, the plant is traditionally chewed, smoked or made into a tea. When it is consumed, users are said to receive a head rush similar to the effect of smoking a cigarette, but without the risk of chemical addiction or health concerns.
At intoxicating levels, kanna taken alone can cause euphoria and sedation. Users also claim increased personal insight, as well as a grounded feeling without any perceptual dulling.
Aside from its potential health benefits and mood-altering qualities, the plant is also well known for its ability to enhance the effects of other psychoactive drugs-- particularly cannabis. Thus, its role as a potentiator for more controversial drugs could lead to road blocks in getting approval by U.S. regulators. The American company working with HGH to distribute the product in the U.S. said it did not know when exactly it could be available for consumers, though they were tentatively planning a product launch sometime in 2011.
"It's a product with huge potential," said Ben-Erik Van Wyk, a University of Johannesburg botanist. "Anyone who has chewed it and has experienced the sensation of the plant definitely knows there's something happening."
Van Wyk also said that he hopes the product can draw attention to the ancient wisdom of the San Bushmen, and raise awareness about the need to protect cultural diversity around the world. There is also great optimism that the marketing and production of the plant could boost local economies.