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What is Sceletium Tortuosum

Also known as Kanna, and by the brand name Zembrin, Sceletium Tortuosum is a herb which has long been used for its psychoactive and analgesic properties. It has recently made its way into a number of pre-workout and weight loss supplements.

Where does Sceletium Tortuosum come from?

Sceletium tortuosum is a flowering succulent herb, native to South Africa, where it is believed to have been used in traditional medicine since prehistoric times. The plant is traditionally prepared for consumption by crushing it in its entirety (leaves, stems, flowers and sometimes roots), fermenting for up to a week, and drying the fermented material in the sun. Alternatively, the plant can be picked and dried without the fermentation step. The dried plant material would then, traditionally be chewed. Sceletum tortuosum extract used in supplements is produced in a similar way.  The plant is also commonly made into a tincture.

Sceletium Tortuosum Benefits

This plant has a variety of benefits which are attributable to the alkaloids that are found naturally throughout the plant, particularly mesembrine and mesembrenone.

Sceletium tortuosum has traditionally been used to reduce anxiety, and many people report a calming, sedative effect after ingestion of this plant (1). Research has shown that it inhibits the action of two proteins in the brain called PDE4 and 5-HT transporter, which are involved in generating the body's response to stress (2). This is regarded to be the mode of action, although there is some evidence that the plant extract may also inhibit serotonin reuptake, acting in a similar way to some antidepressants to reduce anxiety and boost mood (3).

Some people use Sceletium tortuosum because they believe it may enhance cognition. Early clinical trials have been performed in patients suffering Alzheimer-related dementia with very promising results (5).

This plant has traditionally been used to provide pain relief, and initial research has confirmed this to be the case (4).

This plant is traditionally used to curb hunger, and it has been included in fat burner formulations for this reason.

Sceletium Tortuosum Benefits for Bodybuilding

It is predominantly the calming, feel-good effect of Sceletium Tortuosum that has attracted the attention of the bodybuilding world. People who associate exercise with a good mood are more likely to train longer, harder, and more often. The calming effect not so much diminishes, but 'takes the edge off' some of the more stimulant heavy pre-workout formulations, producing, instead of anxiety and jitters, a sense of euphoria.

The cognitive effects of Sceletium Tortuosum can help build and maintain a strong mind-muscle connection. This is important for optimising performance and training with good form.

The appetite suppressing and mood boosting properties of Sceletium Tortuosum, in addition to its safety, make it an ideal inclusion in fat burner supplements.

Sceletium Tortuosum Side Effects, Negatives & Safety

Sceletium Tortuosum has been used in Africa for thousands of years without adverse effect. It is non-toxic, and studies have shown that this extract, in recommended dosage, is extremely safe.

However, the plant is used by some people as a 'legal high', as it has the potential to cause drug-like feelings of intoxication and euphoria. A lot of products use Zembrin, which is a proprietary formula standardised for potency, but as with any botanical extract, levels of active ingredient may vary, as may the effect the substance has on the individual. It is possible that some people may feel intoxicated when using supplements containing Sceletium Tortuosum. This may be resolved by lowering the dosage.

While some very promising research has been done into potential uses for Sceletium Tortuosum, this is still in its early stages, and much of what we know has been determined in experiments on animals, which may not produce the same results as experiments in humans. We do, however, have thousands of years of strong anecdotal evidence supporting the safety and efficacy of this plant in humans.

This product has the potential to interact with some medications, including antidepressants. If you use these medications of suffer chronic disease, it is worth speaking to your doctor before using Sceletium Tortuosum.

Sceletium Tortuosum Legality

Use and possession of Sceletium tortuosum is legal in Australia, as it is in other countries.

Sceletium Tortuosum Recommended Dosage & Ingredient Timing

Like any botanical extract, the amount of active ingredient can vary between preparations. The optimal dosage of Zembrin, a standardised extract, has been calculated at 25mg per day.

Sceletium Tortuosum Supplements

Sceletium Tortuosum is available as a stand-alone supplement, but it is being increasingly as an ingredient in formulated supplements. Look out for Sceletium Tortuosum in pre-workouts and fat burners.

Stacking Sceletium Tortuosum

Sceletium Tortuosum stacks extremely well with stimulants, incuding caffeine, green tea, and amine derivatives like PEA, working to boost mood and energy, and suppress appetite.

(1)Harvey AL, Young LC, Viljoen AM, Gericke NP. Pharmacological actions of the South African medicinal and functional food plant Sceletium tortuosum and its principal alkaloids. J Ethnopharmacol. 2011 Oct 11;137(3):1124-9.
(2)Terburg D, Syal S, Rosenberger LA, Heany S, Phillips N, Gericke N, Stein DJ, van Honk J. Acute effects of Sceletium tortuosum (Zembrin), a dual 5-HT reuptake and PDE4 inhibitor, in the human amygdala and its connection to the hypothalamus. Neuropsychopharmacology. 2013 Dec;38(13):2708-16.
(3) Smith C. The effects of Sceletium tortuosum in an in vivo model of psychological stress. J Ethnopharmacol. 2011 Jan 7;133(1):31-6.
(4) Loria MJ, Ali Z, Abe N, Sufka KJ, Khan IA. Effects of Sceletium tortuosum in rats. J Ethnopharmacol. 2014 Aug 8;155(1):731-5.
(5) Chiu S, Gericke N, Farina-Woodbury M, Badmaev V, Raheb H, Terpstra K, Antongiorgi J, Bureau Y, Cernovsky Z, Hou J, Sanchez V, Williams M,Copen J, Husni M, Goble L. Proof-of-Concept Randomized Controlled Study of Cognition Effects of the Proprietary Extract Sceletiumtortuosum (Zembrin) Targeting Phosphodiesterase-4 in Cognitively Healthy Subjects: Implications for Alzheimer's Dementia. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2014;2014:682014.

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