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A Chewable Cure “Kanna”: Biological and Pharmaceutical Properties of Sceletium tortuosum

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Madira Coutlyne Manganyi,1,* Cornelius Carlos Bezuidenhout,2 Thierry Regnier,3 and Collins Njie Ateba4

Natalizia Miceli, Academic Editor

Abstract

Sceletium tortuosum (L.) N.E.Br. (Mesembryanthemaceae), commonly known as kanna or kougoed, is an effective indigenous medicinal plant in South Africa, specifically to the native San and Khoikhoi tribes. Today, the plant has gained strong global attraction and reputation due to its capabilities to promote a sense of well-being by relieving stress with calming effects. Historically, the plant was used by native San hunter-gatherers and Khoi people to quench their thirst, fight fatigue and for healing, social, and spiritual purposes. Various studies have revealed that extracts of the plant have numerous biological properties and isolated alkaloids of Sceletium tortuosum are currently being used as dietary supplements for medicinal purposes and food. Furthermore, current research has focused on the commercialization of the plant because of its treatment in clinical anxiety and depression, psychological and psychiatric disorders, improving mood, promoting relaxation and happiness. In addition, several studies have focused on the isolation and characterization of various beneficial bioactive compounds including alkaloids from the Sceletium tortuosum plant. Sceletium was reviewed more than a decade ago and new evidence has been published since 2008, substantiating an update on this South African botanical asset. Thus, this review provides an extensive overview of the biological and pharmaceutical properties of Sceletium tortuosum as well as the bioactive compounds with an emphasis on antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, antidepressant, anxiolytic, and other significant biological effects. There is a need to critically evaluate the bioactivities and responsible bioactive compounds, which might assist in reinforcing and confirming the significant role of kanna in the promotion of healthy well-being in these stressful times.

Keywords: Sceletium tortuosum, kougoed, well-being, biological properties, bioactive compounds

1. Introduction

In a developing country such as South Africa, a feasible dual health care system is practiced by incorporating current Western medical practice with traditional medical health care. Approximately 80% of the world’s population and 52% of South Africans, especially blacks, use traditional medicine and practices for primary health care. In addition to the fact that it is part of their cultural heritage, the traditional health care system provides an affordable, personalized, and culturally accepted alternative to the costly modern clinical system. The South African health care system is overwhelmed by the private and public health care system, however, the ratio of traditional healers to allopathic doctors is estimated at 10 to 1 [1,2,3].

Indigenous medicinal plants have been a key resource used for centuries in various native tribes around the world. Most South Africans use plants to treat physical and psychological illnesses/issues [4]. Furthermore, South Africa is rich in traditional healing methods and diverse fauna and flora, with approximately 30,000 flowering plant species, which account for 10% of the world’s higher plant species. There has been a universal trend toward the use of medicinal plants for various human diseases and aliments for social and economic benefits [5]. Bioactive compounds such as alkaloids, phenolic, flavonoids, tannins, glycosides, saponins, and terpenoids have been isolated from medical plants [6,7].

Sceletium tortuosum is no expectation, as extensive research has been conducted on the chemistry of S. tortuosum alkaloids [8] as the plant contains a large profile of alkaloids such as mesembrine, mesembrenone, mesembrenol, tortuosamine, and chennaine, and alkaloids have an effect on a number of central nervous system targets. For example, an ethanolic extract of S. tortuosum with purified alkaloids mesembrine, mesembrenol, and mesembrenone showed inhibitory effects on serotonin (5HT) reuptake and phosphodiesterase4 (PDE4) activity [9]. S. tortuosum is a succulent, flowering plant casually known as kougoed or kanna, indigenous to South Africa [9]. The plant is a member of the Mesembryanthemaceae family [10]. In addition, Sceletium is well-known as “Kanna, Channa, and Kougoed”, meaning something to chew or is chewable. The plant is traditionally known for its ability to elevate mood, reduce stress, tension, anti-anxiety and its tranquilizing properties [10].

Furthermore, it is used for illnesses such as abdominal pains, toothache, and some people chew, smoke, or use it as tea or snuff mostly for pressure. The antidepressant and anxiolytic clinical effects of S. tortuosum have been found both in case reports [11] and more recently, double-blind studies [9]. Anecdotal records reveal that the Khoikhoi and San people have used this plant since ancient times as an essential part of the indigenous culture and materia mediac. Hunter gatherers and pastoralists use S. tortuosum for the endurance of hunting attacks and management of stress that comes with living in dry and challenging environments of Bushman land, Namaqualand, and the Karoo [12].

Bennett and colleagues [13] reported that S. tortuosum showed potent anti-inflammatory capacity in the context of chronic disease. Furthermore, high levels of mesembrine extracted from S. tortuosum displayed potential cytoprotective and mild anti-inflammatory properties in the setting of acute inflammation in the peripheral compartment. In addition, it has also been proved to target specific enzymes in the adrenal cortical steroid synthesis pathway and reduce glucocorticoid synthesis. In terms of diabetes and obesity, this is significant since the etiology of both conditions is linked to chronically elevated pro-inflammatory cytokine and glucocorticoid levels [13].

S. tortuosum including other species have become attractive commodities in the commercialization of South African medicinal plants. Various forms of the plant are currently being sold, for example, tea bags, often mixed with Red Bush Tea (Aspalathus linearis), or Honeybush tea (Cyclopia spp.), are purchased in South African supermarkets. Extracts of the plant are accessible in raw powdered plant material, tablets, and capsules, which are frequently traded over the Internet and individuals use it to improve their sense of well-being and reduce stress [8]. Furthermore, S. tortuosum plants provide an effective, efficacious, and affordable natural treatment for veterinary and pharmaceutical purposes. Historic reports have shown that Sceletium plants are culturally used by traditional healers for psychological, spiritual, and medical functions [1]. Thus, the purpose of this review was to establish a brief historical overview, origin, phytochemistry as well as a comprehensive outlook in recent pharmacological, veterinary, and medicinal advances with regard to a chewable South African succulent genus, Sceletium.

Reference:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8124331/

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