History of Use
Ibogaine is a naturally occurring psychoactive alkaloid found in plants in the Apocynacae family, such as Tabernaemontana undulate, Voacanga Africana, and Tabernanthe iboga. It is a psychedelic substance with dissociative properties.
The substance is especially prevalent in the root bark of the Tabernanthe iboga, a shrub found in central Africa. It has been in use for thousands of years by people who follow the Bwiti religion in various parts of Africa, who claim to have learnt its ritual and medicinal benefits from the pigmy peoples.
People with substance abuse problems have found that large doses of ibogaine can significantly reduce withdrawal from opiates and temporarily eliminate substance-related cravings.
The occidental use of this substance, especially with regards to its application in the treatment of substance use disorders, was pioneered by Howard Lotsof. It was in 1962 that 19 year old Lotsof serendipitously found that a single dose of ibogaine not only interrupted his physiological heroin dependence, but also eliminated his cravings to abuse the substance, all without inducing any withdrawal symptoms. Lotsof spent most of his remaining life advocating for the development of ibogaine as a prescription medicine.
In the early 1990’s, NIDA (the United States National Institute on Drug Abuse) began the official development of ibogaine by funding pre-clinical animal trials and Phase 1 safety trials on human subjects. The results confirmed that ibogaine decreases the self-administration of opiates, stimulants, and alcohol, in addition to a significant reduction in the withdrawal symptoms from opiates.
Soon after, the first regular ibogaine-assisted detox sessions were conducted by the Union of Danish Drug Users in Amsterdam. Since then, a global community of ibogaine therapy providers, dubbed a “medical subculture,” has developed to include physicians and drug users.
By 2007, it was estimated that well over 3,400 therapy sessions for substance use disorder, including for spiritual and personal growth, had been conducted worldwide using ibogaine. This numbers has been increasing since then, as has the number of clinics which advocate the treatment.
Uses And Benefits
Ibogaine alleviates the physical withdrawal symptoms of opiate detoxification by refreshing and resetting the opiate receptor sites. While no one yet understands how the substance achieves this, no other known substance has exhibited this mode of action. Once the opiate receptor sites have been refreshed, no further use of the substance is needed.
It works the same way as treatments that block or take residence in the receptor sites that normally harbor chemical substances. However, unlike suboxone or methadone, whose use often results in chemical dependency, ibogaine is not addictive and does not have to be taken on a continuous basis.
Ibogaine can treat most chemical dependencies by cleansing the body of drugs, then resetting the brain’s neuron-chemistry. After its use, it appears and feels as if the memory of chemical dependency is removed from the body.
The substance also helps rebalance brain chemistry by leveling out serotonin, dopamine, adrenaline, endorphins, etc. to the brain’s pre-addicted state. This way, the individual will feel much better, especially compared to what they would have gone through had they quit using drugs cold turkey.
It sometimes takes months for the brain’s neurotransmitters to regain balance after discontinuing use. Individuals who recently stopped using anti-depressants may also go through a similar experience. This is because it takes longer to recover from some pharmaceutical drugs than from certain street drugs.
They go deep into the mind and body and not only create a mental and emotional attachment, but a physical dependency too. This leaves the individual with a great need for physical recovery before they can get balanced.
Ibogaine treatment to affect such a recovery is most effective when combined with the initiation of a healthy lifestyle. However, with regards to the ravings that accompany all kinds of chemical dependency, the changes occur rather quickly.
It is for this reason that ibogaine works exceptionally well for stimulant addiction and sexual addiction associated with stimulant use. In many cases, sexual expression is a common motivator for people wanting to use drugs.
This is how ibogaine works to fight chemical dependency: soon after ingestion (it is available in the form of a powder) ibogaine is converted into nor-ibogaine as it passes through the liver. Nor-ibogaine is then stored up in the fat cells of the body.
This is the actual healing substance that overwhelms the central nervous system’s “faulty” programming and reset’s the individual’s neural composition. Nor-ibogaine is similar to an operating system that de-fragments its own hard drive in order to be able to process programs more efficiently.
Apart from treating street and pharmaceutical drug dependencies, ibogaine has also been shown to be effective at treating other conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, Tourette’s syndrome, and Hepatitis C.
Risks & Side Effects
Ataxia is among the first noticeable side effects of ingesting large doses ibogaine. This manifests as a difficulty in coordinating muscle motion, which makes walking and standing difficult without assistance. Vomiting, Nausea, and Xerostomia (dry mouth) may follow. These symptoms can persist for a long time after taking ibogaine, in some cases ranging from 4 to 24 hours. The substance is, in some cases, administered via rectum to avoid vomiting and nausea.
At therapeutic doses, ibogaine can also cause long QT syndrome, by blocks hERP potassium channels in the heart.
In animal studies carried out by the US NIDA, no neurotoxicity was observed at doses of 25mg per kg of body weight. However, a third of the rats developed patches of neuro-degeneration at doses of 75 mg per kg of body weight and above. However, all rats exhibited a characteristic pattern of degeneration of Purkinje neurons, mostly in the cerebellum.
All psychiatric medications are strongly contraindicated in ibogaine therapy due to its adverse interaction. In some studies, the substance had adverse interaction with certain heart conditions.
Since ibogaine is one of the many substances that are partly metabolized by the cytochrome P450 complex, caution must be exercises to avoid foods and other drugs that are similarly metabolized by CP450. This is especially the case for foods containing bergamottin or bergamot oil, such as grapefruit juice.
While ibogaine is currently not approved for medical use in the United States where it is classified as a Schedule I drug, Ibogaine clinics have emerged in Canada, Mexico, South Africa, the Netherlands, and New Zealand. All these clinics operate in what is described as a “gray legal area.”
There also are a few treatment centers in Costa Rica, most notably run by Lex Kogan, one of the leading proponents of ibogaine use for medical purposes. However, covert neighborhood clinics are known to exist throughout the United States despite active DEA surveillance.
Clinical guidelines for ibogaine-based detoxification were released in 2015 by the Global Ibogaine Therapy Alliance, but some addiction specialists warn that using ibogaine to treat drug dependence in non-medical settings without specialist supervision and unaccompanied by appropriate psychosocial care can be dangerous – about one in every 300 cases are potentially fatal. Deaths from ibogaine consumption have been attributed to Bradycardia, lethal combinations with other drugs, liver problems, and a few other causes.
Both pre-and-post-treatment medical supervision and monitoring is essential to the success of any effective ibogaine treatment program. Essentially, this is what differentiates these treatment centers from other rehab, detox, and recovery programs. The treatment procedures are designed to focus on the whole person – emotional, spiritual, and physical.
The ibogaine is administered in doses that ensure that the substance only occupies those specific areas of the brain responsible for fantasy creation and cyclical thought production. This helps ensure that the individual working towards a lasting recovery from depression, addiction, or addictive behaviors goes through the process successfully.
The treatment process explained:
- The patient ingests a hydrochloride extract of the celebrated rainforest botanical on an empty stomach. This is after a preparatory phase that usually lasts a few days.
- Introducing iboga alkaloids in small amounts orally stimulates the CNS.
- As the initial dose starts taking effect, the user will start noticing an increase in sensory awareness, alongside enhanced tactile sensation.
- The stimulating effect of ibogaine brings the patient to a state of mental clarity devoid of associative thought processes. This state of enhanced external awareness and central focus creates a sober sense of clarity.
- During this type of therapy, iboga alkaloids and their metabolites bind to various receptor sites, inducing rapid eye movement, dissociation in relation to time through nor-ibogaine’s agonism to kappa receptors, and early childhood memory recalls.
- During this phase, the primary metabolite, nor-ibogaine, induces an agonist effect at the mu-receptor simultaneously, thereby reversing opiod tolerance and withdrawal, all the while sedating and comforting the individual taking the medicine.
Ibogaine Treatment Conclusion
For thousands of years, humans have used plants for healing the mind, body, and soul. Iboga is one of the plants whose healing properties have recently been recognized after studies were carried out on their use as sacred medicines by people in the equatorial regions of Africa for deep spiritual healing.
The efficacy of Ibogaine-assisted detox has been explored in recent studies conducted by the multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS). Preliminary results indicated that between 30% and 50% of clients remained free from their primary drug of abuse.
Some of the factors influencing this range were suggested to be the ease of follow up, proximity to sources of the offending drugs, and plans for continuing care. Ibogaine therapy has also shown promising results in the treatment of conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, Hepatitis C, and Tourette’s syndrome.