“We're not just a mind, we're a mind, body, heart, and soul,” says Stephanie Wang, the founder and CEO of KA! Empathogenics. “When we start to truly understand that and come into full presence with all aspects of ourselves, we're able to be more present with other people, whether it's our loved ones or not.”
Who Is Stephanie Wang?
With every plant medicine journey comes the potential for evolutionary growth and expansion. Wang mentions that through her path to healing she developed a relationship with plants and became an ally and advocate for plant medicine. Her varied path of self-discovery led her through multiple healing modalities while she pursued successful careers in finance and film, before being opened to a new dimension of personal transformation through the power of plants, in particular, entheogenic and psychoactive plants. Initially she made the switch to the plant-based wellness space through joining the conscious lifestyle company Evolver Holdings Corp., and launched its dynamic botanical retail brand The Alchemist’s Kitchen soon after. Then, just a few years ago, Wang decided to follow her heart and share what she had learned through her own healing journey. Not only did she start her own podcast, How Things Connect, that discusses insights and wisdom on evolution, empowerment and the regenerative culture, she also came full circle back to the very first sacred plant medicine that she had connected with - kanna.
What Is Kanna and KA! Empathogenics?
Kanna (sceletium tortuosum), a succulent with psychoactive properties, would form the basis for Wang’s newest venture, KA! Empathogenics, which launched just this summer and combines modern science with ancient healing wisdom. Found in South Africa, the kanna plant has been essential to the indigenous Khoi Khoi and San communities for millennia. In their healing traditions, these hunter-gatherers unearthed this revolutionary plant to enhance energy, focus, and mood.
“There are amazing aspects to this plant,” Wang describes regarding kanna’s benefits. “Kanna has an ability to lower stress and anxiety, to increase endurance and focus, and to suppress hunger and thirst. That makes it ideal for multi-day hunts [how the indigenous traditionally used kanna]. And you feel more alive, more connected to everything in nature, to those in your party. It’s this openness and connection that adds layers [to the experience].”
As Wang learned, kanna has played a key role in the medicinal, social, and spiritual culture of South Africa’s indigenous Khoi Khoi and San people, and now it’s being introduced to people around the world.
“I've always felt, in many ways, indebted to all the amazing wisdom traditions that include shamanism,” Wang says. “[This] exposed me to this modality of growth, healing, and learning. I first experienced kanna in a shamanic plant ceremony, which is a South American plant ceremony, particularly through this shaman who had a worldview of all plants. I was very fortunate in that way… [Kanna] has this extraordinary ability to break down all the masks and barriers that we have between us so we can connect to this very primal love that is always there, but which we don’t often feel so much because of stress and intervening factors of our daily lives.”
Kanna's Wellness Benefits: What Does Science Say?
Wang describes her experience with kanna as one of the most powerful plant ceremonies she has taken part in. She believes this plant has the power to open the heart and mind. This distinguishes kanna from other kinds of psychedelic plant medicines, which take you out of body; kanna, by contrast brings you into your heart, making the participant intensely aware of how they feel within, and how they are a fractal part of the universe.
“People feel the oneness with everything around them,” she says, “to feel a deeper connection with themselves.” With Wang discovering kanna’s benefits, she began integrating it into her life and creating products she felt that the world needed to experience the open-heartedness she has. “I really dug deep, especially on the scientific side of how it works with the human body, and brought that into a product that can be accessible to more people.”
Here is the science behind how kanna works: It acts as a natural serotonin reuptake inhibitor and is also a natural serotonin releasing agent through the activation of a protein called VMAT2 (Vesicular Monoamine Transporter 2) that transports neurotransmitters out of cells. Kanna also activates receptors for GABA, opioids, cholecystokinin and melatonin, thus helping to calm brain activity, decrease anxiety, create a sense of wellbeing, reduce hunger, prevent inflammation in the gut and improve sleep quality. In addition, kanna also boosts energy use in the body by blocking an enzyme called PDE4 (phosphodiesterase 4). This is the reason why kanna has both the effect of calming while also providing grounded energy at the same time.
KA! Kanna Chews: A Modern Kanna Experience
Enter KA! Empathogenics’s signature product, KA! Kanna Chews. The small chewy squares contain 30 milligrams of high-potency, standardized kanna extract, along with a proprietary blend of pure botanicals for maximum neuroprotective benefits. Ingredients include lavender, mint, snow lotus, the “tongue and spirit-tickling” acmella plant, and biodegradable acacia gum (which gives the squares their chew). This treat is vegan, gluten-free, and produced with intention; even the packaging is compostable and eco-friendly and the chews are lovingly and artisanally handcrafted in New York.
“These other plant ingredients help to amplify the ability for the neuroreceptors to be activated in sync with kanna,” the founder explains. “Sensorially, biochemically and through olfactory neuroscience, it creates this full spectrum of an enlivening effect.”
Not only do the KA! Kanna Chews have synergistic plant ingredients, but they are healthy and first-of-its-kind. “We were able to create these chews without any plastics, elastomers, or sugars,” Wang says. “And there's zero calories, no GMOs, and no preservatives. So that was a breakthrough for us.”
How Does KA! Empathogenics Work With Indigenous Communities?
KA! Empathogenics also works with a supplier in South Africa that directly shares profit with the Khoi Khoi and San. This ensures they get to participate in the business benefits of kanna. Giving back to indigenous and ancestral communities is of critical importance to Wang, who believes that stigmas around plant medicine are being broken in large part because the wider world is reconnecting with indigenous cultural traditions that are part of our collective ancestry.
“We're revisiting or remembering a lot of these ancient plants that have been with us for a long time,” she claims. “And a lot of that has to do with the stewardship by indigenous cultures.” Emphasizing that many of these communities’ ways of life are marginalized and under threat around the world, Wang feels it’s imperative that we respect their healing gifts and wisdom derived from nature. For example, with the Khoi Khoi and San, she explains that although “they’ve been in existence for hundreds of thousands of years, their language is not part of the eleven languages that South Africa officially recognizes. There are a lot of community and local organizations trying to rectify that, but it’s not an easy road. We [at KA! Empathogenics] are doing this in such a small way, but even just letting people know that these ancient and relevant tribes exist is super important.”
Wang is also in the works of actively seeking an aligned Khoi Kohi and San non-profit in South Africa for her company to partner with while exploring collaborations with nonprofits and social equity groups in the U.S. to provide greater education around kanna and the wider scope of plant medicine and adaptogens. Today, 80 percent of the world relies on plant medicines, yet thousands of people rely solely on pharmaceuticals, many of which have negative side effects and can lead to addiction. There are more natural solutions that exist which can provide additional options for people seeking to improve their health.
“There are a lot of plants that many people aren’t even aware of,” she notes. “The plant and fungi kingdoms are massive… We forget [the] people who have been safeguarding a lot of this plant knowledge and wisdom, and also really keeping those traditions alive.”
How Can KA! Kanna Chews Work for You?
Beyond the historical aspect of plant medicine, Wang feels that the human-plant relationship needs to be contemplated more deeply. She says that our existing paradigm is one which treats the natural world as a resource to be exploited, in a transactional exchange. When we can actually come into a healthy relationship with nature that is respectful and regenerative, we begin to understand our role in the ecosystem we live in, and recognize how our own health and wellbeing is intricately tied to the kind of relationship we have with the environment.
“We are living systems, and we are all part of greater living systems,” she states. “The more we can understand this relationship, the more powerful our own healing will be.”
That’s why Wang advocates trying different plant medicines to see what works for you since it’s never a one-size-fits-all. Every person is unique, with different genetics, sensitivities and medical histories. Seeing how particular plant medicines interact with you is a personal journey. It requires feeling and noticing the effects physically, emotionally and energetically over a period of time. Some plants pair together well in conjunction with others. For example, the KA! Kanna Chews combine well with cannabis as they help to ameliorate any paranoia sometimes experienced by cannabis users. “It’s a beautiful way to smooth out the edges and have a softer kind of experience.” Wang says.
The entrepreneur clarifies that kanna can benefit anybody. Wang suggests taking the chews with intention. “We really encourage people to kind of ‘chews’ their own adventure in a sense,” she remarks with a smile. “They are subtle. This is not a drug.”
KA! Kanna Chews for Innovators and Overthinkers
For the innovator, who labels herself an overthinker, Wang prefers to start her day with a Kanna Chew on an empty stomach before breakfast. “It basically sets the tone for the day for me,” she explains. “It allows me to tackle all the things I need to do in sequence without feeling overwhelmed.”
KA! Kanna Chews for Creativity, Focus, Exercise or Anxiety
Other KA! Empathogenics customers take the chews for more creativity and focus at work, or during meditation, yoga, and many different types of exercise because of their ability to help center and increase endurance. The chews are also a great alternative to drinking alcohol, especially if you have some social anxiety. Kanna has been referred to as “onse droë drank” (meaning “our dry drink” in certain Afrikaans speaking Khoi-descendent cultures in South Africa).
KA! Kanna Chews for Intimacy
Some people take the chews in intimate situations with their partner(s) or friends. “Because it does act as a heart-opener,” Wang observes, “you’re able to have an intimate conversation. Things come up and you can actually connect more deeply. So it’s kind of sexy that way. Alternatively, it could be taken in the same way, but for challenging conversations. Someone has an issue with a friend, and they both take [one chew], and then they’re like, ‘Okay, this has been bothering us. Let’s just have it out now.’ Then they talk and it shifts everything. I wouldn’t describe [kanna] as a truth serum, but when we can actually come to a conversation without being stressed, and we can really be in presence with someone else, that alone is huge.”
Opening Your Heart With KA! Empathogenics
Being more heart-mind connected is of utmost importance to Wang. “We live in a world that values the mind and not so much the heart,” she assesses. “A big reason I wanted to create this product is because it’s so needed in the world. We have a great deal of intellect but that’s not the same as wisdom. When you’re heart-connected, boom, you’re centered back in your body. Most of us are so disassociated from our feelings and our bodies; we’re on our digital devices or God-knows-where. But when we come into presence, we start feeling ourselves. That brings us back to connecting to the wholeness of who we are, our innate intelligence. It’s those moments that actually help us reconnect to be human.”
When we calm our stress we are able to experience more homeostasis in our bodies and open our hearts. We can access more love which helps to bring more healing and peace into our lives. Wang reminds us that the emotion the Khoi Khoi and San most associate with kanna is joy, but connecting to our full selves means feeling the full spectrum of our emotions which is our aliveness.
Joseph Campbell, the American author famous for his synthesis of mythology, modern science, psychology, art history and literature once declared, “People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive.” Is this how you will “chews” your own adventure? If so, KA! Empathogenics is waiting with their KA! Kanna Chews in hand.
To experience KA! Kanna Chews for yourself, visit ohmyka.com. Get a 20% discount off all purchases with code HONEY20.
A version of this article was published in Honeysuckle's milestone 15th print edition. Click here to get your copy now!
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Featured image: KA! Empathogenics founder Stephanie Wang (C) KA! Empathogenics