Sceletium herb benefit, side effects by Ray Sahelian, M.D.
February 10 2016

Sceletium tortuosum is a plant from South Africa purported to have mood enhancing and psychoactive properties. Little human research has been published with sceletium. See this link for natural ways to improve depression.

Plants of the genus Sceletium (Mesembryanthemaceae) have been used as natural medicine for the relief of thirst and hunger, to fight fatigue, and for social and spiritual purposes by San hunter-gatherers for millennia before the earliest written reports of the uses of these plants by European explorers and settlers. Wild resources of Sceletium have also been diminished by over-harvesting, poor veld-management, and possibly also by plant diseases.

The use by the Khoisan of South Africa of Sceletium plants in psychoactive preparations has often been alluded to in the literature. However, much of it is fragmentary and contradictory. Apart from chewing the dried product, after "fermentation', there are reports of uses as tinctures for sedation and analgesia, chewing the material directly and smoking the residue after chewing. The symbolic connections of Sceletium with eland antelopes, the "trance animals' par excellence of the San hunter-gatherers is noted. There is no evidence to support the view that "kougoed' or Sceletium alkaloids are hallucinogenic. Chemical studies have indicated as many as nine alkaloids in Sceletium which fall into three distinct structural categories. Mesembrine, the alkaloid first isolated and named is not the dominant constituent of plants and is weakly narcotic. Evidence is assembled to suggest that traditional and contemporary methods of preparation serve to reduce levels of potentially harmful oxalates, which are found in Sceletium and other Mesembryanthemaceae.

Use for depression
Sceletium plant species that contain alkaloids are claimed to have mood elevation and anti-anxiety properties, especially after the plant material has been fermented. The fermented preparation is locally known as "kougoed" or "channa" and has been emphasized and advertised for its increased potency when incorporated in commercial products.

J Ethnopharmacol. 2011. Pharmacological actions of the South African medicinal and functional food plant Sceletium tortuosum and its principal alkaloids. The South African plant Sceletium tortuosum has been known for centuries for a variety of traditional uses, and, more recently, as a possible source of anti-anxiety or anti-depressant effects. A standardised extract Zembrin) was used to test for pharmacological activities that might be relevant to the ethnopharmacological uses, and three of the main alkaloids were also tested. A standardised ethanolic extract was prepared from dried plant material, along with the purified alkaloids mesembrine, mesembrenone and mesembrenol. These were tested on a panel of receptors, enzymes and other drug targets, and for cytotoxic effects on mammalian cells. The extract was a potent blocker in 5-HT transporter binding assays (IC(50) 4.3 μg/ml) and had powerful inhibitory effects on phosphodiesterase 4 (PDE4) (IC(50) 8.5 μg/ml), but not other phosphodiesterases. There were no cytotoxic effects. Mesembrine was the most active alkaloid against the 5-HT transporter, while mesembrenone was active against the 5-HT transporter and PDE4. The activity of the Sceletium tortuosum extract on the 5-HT transporter and PDE4 may explain the clinical effects of preparations made from this plant. The activities relate to the presence of alkaloids, particularly mesembrine and mesembrenone.

Safety, side effects
J Altern Complement Med. 2013. A randomized, double-blind, parallel-group, placebo-controlled trial of Extract Sceletium tortuosum (Zembrin) in healthy adults. The objective of the study was to evaluate the safety and tolerability of two doses (8 mg and 25 mg once daily) of a 2:1 standardized extract of the South African medicinal plant Sceletium tortuosum (L.) N.E. Br., trademarked Zembrin,(®) in healthy adult volunteers over a three-month period. Participants were randomized to receive either one of two doses of study medication, or an identical placebo, taken once daily for 3 months. Of the 37 subjects, 12, 12, and 13 subjects received 8 mg extract Sceletium tortuosum (Zembrin), 25 mg extract Sceletium tortuosum (Zembrin), and placebo treatment, respectively. There were no apparent differences between the three treatments with regard to vital signs, 12-lead ECG, body weight, and physical examination from screening to the end of the 3-month treatment period. No significant changes were observed in hematology or biochemistry parameters between initial screening and the end of the study. Both doses of extract Sceletium tortuosum (Zembrin) were well-tolerated. The most commonly reported AE was headache, followed by abdominal pain and upper respiratory tract infections, all with greater incidence in the placebo group than in the treatment groups. Unsolicited positive effects on well-being were noted in patient diaries by some participants taking extract Sceletium tortuosum (Zembrin), including improved coping with stress and sleep.CONCLUSION:Both doses of extract Sceletium tortuosum (Zembrin) (8 mg and 25 mg) were well tolerated when used by healthy human subjects once daily for 3 months.

Q. Do you have any experience of the herb sutherlandia sometimes referred to as 'African ginseng'? I started taking one 300mg tablet last week and I must say it has a very pleasant and relaxing effect. I note that I get a very good sleep with it. It reputedly has high levels of Gaba in it. There is another South African herb called sceletium which I have not tried but maybe you have. I would certainly value your opinion.
   A. I personally have not tried these African herbs but they sound interesting.

I am 42 years old and have battled with high levels of anxiety and bulimia for many years. I was advised by a psychiatrist to take 100mg of sceletium capsule a day for a few months. I have found the effects really unbelievable. I had energy, felt more balanced and my appetite decreased so that I ate ‘normally’. It doesn’t give one that spaced-out feeling, or wired to the ceiling feeling that some prescription drugs do, and it works immediately. Also my sleeping patterns were totally unaffected even though I had more energy. I have taken it for the past five months, but sadly now I have stopped because there doesn’t seem to be any research on the long-term effects. I have read that some long-term herbal medications can be the catalysts for auto-immune diseases and I am scared of doing harm. Can you give me any advice? I would love to hear that there are no long-term side effects, and I doubt that that is known.
    Unfortunately hardly any human studies have been published with this herbal product, therefore long term benefits and dangers are not fully understood. Some people prefer to alternate different mood lifters so as not to be exposed to the same one all the time.

I find it most intriguing the results of my experiment tonight, I have chewed dry capsule of sceletium in my mouth and it was very bitter but as you will ask any person who drops pills if you crush it activations!!!I smoke marijuana and I thought to myself, if sceletium is made in Africa why not add some spice. I am enjoying this very much and holding my head listening to Tiesto Timeless.