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Aizoaceae (Ice Plant Family) (Mesembryanthemaceae);

Subfamily Mesembryanthemoideae (cf.

Bittrich 1986)

Forms and Subspecies



Mesembryanthemum tortuosum L.

Folk Names

Canna:> canna-root, channa, gunna, kanna, kauwgoed,

kauwgood, kon ("quid"), kou, kougoed,

tortuose fig-marygold


Some three hundred years ago, it was reported that

the Hottentots (Khoikhoi) of southern Africa

chewed, sniffed, or smoked an inebriant that was

said to be known as kanna or channa (Schleiffer

1979, 39 ff.*). The enthusiasm with which the

Hottentots smoked was noted by all the early

travelers to the region. Unfortunately, most of

them neglected to provide any information about

the botanical source of the "tobacco" (e.g., Meister

1677,31 f.*). And so it was not until the end of the

nineteenth century that it was suggested that the

inebriant must have come from Mesembryanthemum

spp., for these species were then still

known by the name kanna in South Africa. The

effects that were experienced at that time, however,

were not nearly as dramatic and inebriating as had

been hoped (Meiring 1898). Around the same

time, Carl Hartwich was already suggesting that

the species in question was Mesembryanthemum

tortuosum (1911, 810*), which (following a taxonomic

revision) is now known as Sceletium tortuosum.

However, the first ethnobotanical evidence of

the psychoactive use of Sceletium tortuosum as

kougoed was obtained only a few years ago (Smith

et al. 1996).


The plant occurs only in South Africa, in the socalled

kanna land. Sceletium tortuosum and other

species (Sceletium strictum) have become rare in

South Africa and are increasingly difficult to find

(Smith et al. 1996, 128).


Propagation occurs through the seeds, which must

be treated in the same manner as cactus seeds. The

best method is to scatter them onto cactus or

succulent soil, press them down slightly, and water

(Schwantes 1953). Both the cultivation and care

are similar to that for the Cactaceae, which is the

most closely related family.


This herbaceous plant, which resembles a leaf

succulent, can grow as tall as 30 em. It develops

fleshy roots, a smooth and fleshy stalk, and lowgrowing

branches that spread laterally. The thick,

angular, fleshy leaves do not have stalks but are

attached directly to the branches. The pale yellow

flowers are 3 to 4 em across and are attached to the

ends of the branches. The plant produces angularshaped

fruits with small seeds.

Kougoed is easily confused with other members

of the genus Sceletium (as well as with Mesembryanthemum

spp.). Those species that not only

look similar but also have similar effects and

contai~ the same active constituent (mesembrine)

were presumably also referred to as kougoed and

used in the same manner (Arndt and Kruger 1970;

Jeffs et al. 1970, 1974; D. McKenna 1995, 101 *):

Sceletium anatomicum (Haw.) L. Bolus [syn.

Mesembryanthemum anatomicum Haw.]

Sceletium expansum (L.) L. Bolus [syn.

Mesembryanthemum expansum L.]

Sceletium joubertii L. Bolus288

Sceletium namaquense L. Bolus

Sceletium strictum L. Bolus

Psychoactive Material

- Entire plant with root

Preparation and Dosage

The method for preparing kougoed has only

recently been discovered and described in great

detail. The plant material-which should be collected

in October, when the plant is most potentis

harvested, crushed between two rocks, and

allowed to "ferment" for a few days in a closed

container. At one time animal skins or hemp bags

were used for this purpose, but plastic bags are

now used in their place. The first step entails

setting the bag containing the plant material in the

sun. During the day, the plant will exude its juice,

which condenses on the plastic and is later

reabsorbed by the plant material. During the

night, the material cools. After two or three days,

the bag is opened and the contents are stirred well.

Then the bag is sealed and placed outside again.

On the eighth day after this procedure was started,

the kougoed is taken from the bag and spread out

to dry in the sun. It can be used as soon as it has

dried. According to informants, the fresh leaves do

not have any potency; only the "fermented" plant

is psychoactive. The kougoed is now either

chopped or powdered. This process presumably

helps to substantially reduce the high content of

oxalic acid that is characteristic of the genera

Sceletium and Mesembryanthemum. Oxalic acid

can produce severe irritation and allergies. A more

hurried method involves simply toasting a fresh

plant on glowing charcoals until it has completely

dried and then powdering the result (Smith et al.

1996, 126).

The powder usually is taken orallyRoute of administration in which the subject swallows a substance. with some

alcohol and held in the mouth for about ten

minutes. The saliva that collects can be swallowed.

Two grams of the powder produces a "tranquil

mellowness" in about thirty minutes; approximately

5 g of the powder is a dosage sufficient to

relieve anxiety, and higher dosages can lead to

more profound effects (euphoria, visions) (Smith

et al. 1996, 126 f.).

The chopped plant material can be smoked

alone or in combination with Cannabis sativa (cf.

smoking blends). The finely ground powder

purportedly also can be sniffed, either alone or

mixed with tobacco (cf. snuffs).

This and other species were used as psychoactive

additives to beer or to induce fermentation

(Smith et al. 1996, 127).
Ritual Use

The South African Bushmen (San) use the same

name for Sceletium tortuosum as they do for the

eland antelope (Taurotragus oryx Pallas): kanna.

The eland is regarded as the "trance animal" par

excellence; since prehistoric times, it has played a

central role as a magical ally in many ceremonies and was closely associated both with the rainmakers

and with divination, healing, and the

communal trance dances (Lewis-Williams 1981).

Kanna appears to have been used as part of these

rituals (cf. also Ferraria glutinosa).

The Hottentots (Khoikhoi) apparently chewed

Sceletium for their ritual and healing dances or

smoked it together with dagga (Cannabis sativa).

They also use the name kanna for the magical

eland antelope (Smith et al. 1996, 120).

In contemporary South Africa, kougoed is now

used primarily as an agent of pleasure; it is used as

a party drug in the same way that Cannabis sativa

is used in Western society.Artifacts

It is possible that a great deal of the rock art of

South Africa, some of which appears to be

extremely visionary, was inspired by kougoed

(Lewis-Williams 1981).

Medicinal Use

The natives of Namaqualand and Queenstown

(southern Africa) drink a tea made from the leaves

as an analgesic and to suppress hunger (Smith et

al. 1996, 128).


The leaves and stalks of the plant contain 0.3 to

0.86% mesembrine (empirical formula

C17H23N03), along with some mesembrinine and

tortuosamine (Smith et al. 1996). The leaves

appear to also contain oxalic acid (Frohne and

Jensen 1992, 125*). It is possible that tryptamines

may occur in the plant as well. Methyltryptamine

(MMT) and N,N-DMT have been detected in a

Delosperma species, a close relative from the same

family (Smith et al. 1996, 124).


The South African users describe the important

effects of small dosages of kougoed as relief from

anxiety and stress, deepening of social contact,

increase in self-confidence, and dissolution of

inhibitions and feelings of inferiority. "Some

reported euphoria as well as a feeling of meditative

tranquility. Several users felt that the relaxation induced by 'kougoed' enabled one to focus on

inner thoughts and feelings, if one wished, or to

concentrate on the beauty of nature. Some

informants reported heightened sensation of skin

to fine touch, as well as sexual arousal" (Smith et

al. 1996, 127f.).

Higher dosages, especially when combined

with Cannabis sativa and alcohol (whiskey), produce

mild visions. Chewing kougoed shortly after

smoking Cannabis can considerably potentiate the

effects of the hemp. Kougoed suppresses both the

effects of tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum) and the

desire for nicotine.

Commercial Forms and Regulations

Seeds of Sceletium tortuosum and other Sceletium

species-usually under the synonym Mesembryanthemum-

are occasionally available through

flower shops and ethnobotanical specialty sources.

Living members of the genus are sometimes

offered by cactus dealers and shops.


See also the entries for Mesembryanthemum spp.

and kanna.

Arndt, R. R., and P. E. J. Kruger. 1970. Alkaloids from

Sceletium joubertii L. Bolus: the structure of

joubertiamine, dihydrojoubertiamine and

d~hydrojoubertiamine.Tetrahedron Letters


Bittrich, V. 1986. Untersuchungen zu

Merkmalbestand, Gliederung und Abgrenzung

der Unterfamilie Mesembryanthemoideae

(Mesembryanthemaceae Fenzl). Mitteilungen aus dem Institut fur Allgemeine Botanik (Hamburg)


Bodendorf, K., and K. Krieger. 1957. Uber die

Alkaloide von Mesembryanthemum tortuosum L.

Archiv fur Pharmazie 62:441-48.

Jeffs, P. W., G. Allmann, H. F. Campbell, D. S. Farrier,

G. Ganguli, and R. L. Hawks. 1970. Alkaloids of

Sceletium species III: The structures of four new

alkaloids from Sceletium strictum. Journal of

Organic Chemistry 35:3512-28.

Jeffs, P. W., T. Cappas, D. B. Johnson, J. M. Karle, N.

H. Martin, and B. Rauckman. 1974. Sceletium

alkaloid VI: Minor alkaloids from Sceletium

namaquense and Sceletium strictum. Journal of

Organic Chemistry 39:2703-9.

Laidler, P. W. 1928. The magic medicine of the

Hottentots. South African Journal ofScience


Lewis-Williams, 1. D. 1981. Believing and seeing:

Symbolic meanings in southern San rock paintings.

London: Academic Press.

Meiring, 1. 1898. Notes on some experiments with

the active principle of Mesembryanthemum

tortuosum. Transactions of the South African

Philosophical Society 9:48-50.

Schwantes, G. 1953. The cultivation ofthe

Mesembryanthemaceae. London: Blandford Press.

Smith, Michael T., Neil R. Crouch, Nigel Gericke,

and Manton Hirst. 1996. Psychoactive

constituents of the genus Sceletium N.E. Br. and

other Mesembryanthemaceae: A review. Journal

ofEthnopharmacology 50:119-30. (Good

bibliography. )

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