Mesembrine is a chemical compound found in the kanna plant, also known as Sceletium tortuosum. This chemical is believed to have mood-altering effects and may have antidepressant properties. In the United States, in 2011, it is not a controlled substance, but neither has it been approved for human consumption. Studies are being conducted on mesembrine to determine whether it is safe and whether its effects can be medically beneficial.
No published studies discuss the effects of mesembrine on humans, but preliminary studies suggest that it is a serotonin re-uptake inhibitor, a type of drug that prevents serotonin from being absorbed out of the blood stream. A number of drugs that are currently used as antidepressants have this same effect on blood chemistry. If studies show that mesembrine is more effective than other drugs like it, or if they show that it has fewer side effects, it may continue to undergo scientific testing. This testing can eventually lead to United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval to use mesembrine as a medication.
Aside from its potential usefulness as a serotonin re-uptake inhibitor, there are a few other potential uses for mesembrine as well. It may balance levels of the neurotransmitters epinephrine and dopamine, which could increase its mood-boosting effects. It also may help the brain function properly without the need for elevated levels of serotonin, making it possible for a person to feel emotionally normal even though the levels of serotonin in his or her bloodstream are less than optimal.
Though no official studies of the use of mesembrine in humans have been conducted, the herb kanna has been used in regions where it is endemic. People who take mesembrine rarely experience any serious side effects. Drowsiness is the most common side effect, which can make it dangerous for a person to drive or operate machinery after taking this drug. There may be other side effects that are not yet known because it is still untested in human subjects.
There is a potential for mesembrine to cause a serious reaction in some patients. The interaction between this medication and other medications is unknown, which could make it dangerous to take mesembrine along with any other medications. The effects of the drug on fetal development are unknown, and it may be unsafe for women who are pregnant to take it.