Aizoaceae (Ice Plant Family) (Mesembryanthemaceae);
Subfamily Mesembryanthemoideae (cf.
Forms and Subspecies
Mesembryanthemum tortuosum L.
Canna:> canna-root, channa, gunna, kanna, kauwgoed,
kauwgood, kon ("quid"), kou, kougoed,
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
- 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.
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).
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
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.
Arndt, R. R., and P. E. J. Kruger. 1970. Alkaloids from
Sceletium joubertii L. Bolus: the structure of
joubertiamine, dihydrojoubertiamine and
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. (Goodbibliography. )