It’s not considered a “fun” hallucinogen. As a matter of fact, most people have even heard of it. It’s illegal in the United States (and nearly all other countries as well). It’s difficult to get a hold of, and if used improperly, it could kill you. But when it comes to fighting addictions and making pivotal life changes, no other drug in its class seems to compare. The substance in question? Ibogaine.
Ibogaine sure is an interesting substance, and certainly one worth learning more about. We’re an independent news publication covering topics in the cannabis and psychedelics fields. Follow along by signing up for The Cannadelics Weekly Newsletter, and make sure you’re first in line for all new product promotions, as they become available.
What is Ibogaine? And what is it used for?
Ibogaine is a naturally occurring psychoactive alkaloid found in many different plants, but primarily in the root bark of Tabernanthe iboga, a tropical shrub native to Central Africa. Ibogaine has been used ceremoniously by indigenous people for rite of passage and healing rituals, as well as medicinally to treat a multitude of different conditions. In low doses it can help with fatigue, pain, anxiety, and other day-to-day ailments, while in higher doses it can conjure up life-changing therapeutic breakthroughs in the form of intense psychedelic trips.
Although most psychedelics are touted as being effective for treating addiction, Ibogaine appears to be one of the most promising. Studies are limited, but a great deal of anecdotal evidence exists in the form of case reports and survey data, with hundreds of people sharing similarly successful stories of their Ibogaine experiences. And thanks to growing interest, human clinical trials for ibogaine and addiction are just on the horizon. In Spain, researchers began testing ibogaine in a small study group of 20 people who were addicted to methadone after trying to kick opioid addictions, and had excellent results. Trials are also underway at the University of São Paulo in Brazil, where researchers will try different doses of ibogaine on 12 different patients suffering from alcoholism.
For those who find it helpful, the trip seems to go a little something like this: One single dose of Ibogaine launches users into a deep, introspective journey that could be described as similar to lucid dreaming. According to firsthand accounts, users saw the most significant events from throughout their lives laid out in front of them. They were able to “forgive themselves” and “heal past traumas”. It is said to be particularly effective for eliminating bad habits in general. Opioid cravings and withdrawal symptoms disappeared, as did symptoms of alcohol and cocaine abuse. Some people even reported better eating and exercising habits after an Ibogaine trip. One person specifically stated that they developed an aversion to processed foods, sugar, and caffeine, and they were able to quit smoking also.
Unlike existing pharmaceutical options, Ibogaine actually helps users overcome their addiction completely, rather than replacing it with other drugs like buprenorphine or methadone. “Ibogaine seems to resolve these signs of opioid withdrawal by a mechanism that is different from an opioid effect, and I think that is what is so interesting about it,” says Dr. Kenneth Alper, a longtime ibogaine researcher and an associate professor of psychiatry and neurology at New York University School of Medicine.
And perhaps the most promising bit of information thus far, is the fact that these results are long lasting. You don’t need to do regular ibogaine treatments for the rest of your life or risk relapsing. Just one treatment can last anywhere from a few months to many years before people feel the effects wearing off, although some claim the changes are lifelong.
The reason for this remains a bit of a mystery, but it is not unheard-of for such substances to sort of rewire the brain. Psychedelics can change the structure of nerve cells, making them develop more spines and branches. There’s also some recent evidence suggesting that ibogaine specifically, may boost neurotrophic factors in the brain, which then encourages the growth and plasticity of neurons. But again, this can be said about most psychedelics. So, when it comes to ibogaine, it does seem that something more is happening there.
Ibogaine throughout history
The earliest documented use of iboga compounds dates back to the early 1800s, when members of the Bwiti religion in Gabon, Africa, would eat iboga bark shavings during various ceremonies to induce visions, and to make contact with deceased ancestors, spirits, and even Gods. The word ‘iboga’ means “to care for” or “to heal” in various tribal dialects of the Congo Basin. In addition to its use as a spiritual sacrament, tribes were also using iboga medicinally to treat pain, suppress hunger and fatigue, and as an aphrodisiac.
By the 1860s, Ibogaine extracted from iboga bark started to be used in Western medicine as well. According to an article published in the journal Progress in Brain Research, ibogaine was effectively treating fever, toothaches, and high blood pressure for years. In France, it was commonly sold as an antidepressant and stimulant under the name Lambarene. As a matter of fact, Lambarene was available for decades, until the French government banned the sale and possession of ibogaine in the 1960s.
But just as France was putting an end to the ibogaine industry, the substance was just beginning to make an appearance in the United States. In 1962, then 19-year-old American, Howard Lotsof, got his first taste of the power of ibogaine. Lotsof, along with a group of friends, all of whom were heroin addicts, inadvertently ingested ibogaine powder thinking it would have stimulant effects. It did not. But what the group of friends discovered after they came down from their ibogaine high, is that none of them were interested in doing heroin anymore. From that day forward, not only did they immediately quit using hard drugs, but Lotsof went on to become a well-known researcher and advocate for the use of ibogaine in drug treatment therapy.
In 1991, the National Institute on Drug Abuse sanctioned a small study on ibogaine using animal models, and found that it was in fact useful for treating addiction. When ibogaine was given to addicted rats, it reduced the amount of heroin, morphine, cocaine, and alcohol the animals consumed. Because of these early research successes, the FDA was set to approve a series of clinical trials on ibogaine, but due to lack of funding and contract issues, none of these trials ever came to fruition. To this day, there have been no real ibogaine trials completed on humans, although some are in the pipeline.
There is the phrase, “universal ibogaine”, which is incredibly relevant right now considering people are traveling all over the world for access to these treatments. Then there is the company, Universal Ibogaine, Inc., a publicly traded, research and development company focused on building a network of Ibogaine clinics, starting in Canada and expanding globally.
Looking at the latter, I really want to emphasize that this is a publicly traded, international company that is listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange. It speaks to the level of acceptance we’re seeing in the industry, even regarding the more off beat and unconventional substances. Universal Ibogaine is one of the more popular industry startups and they’re unique because they deal exclusively with Ibogaine. They are currently pursuing Health Canada approval to conduct clinical trials on the safety and efficiency of using ibogaine to treat opioid addiction. In 2017, Canada added ibogaine to their Prescription Drug List, making it legal by prescription, although still strictly regulated.
Ibogaine boasts various levels of legality in other parts of the world. Throughout most of Europe, including the UK, it is illegal, but it has been decriminalized in Portugal and Denmark. In Mexico, where Ibogaine retreats and treatment centers are very popular, one might be surprised to discover that it is in fact illegal there. However, Ibogaine is not regulated in Mexico, so even though it’s not legal, it’s overlooked by law enforcement. Similarly, Ibogaine is not regulated in the Netherlands, and many clinics/treatment centers are available for pharmacological tourists.
The only country, that I know of, where it is completely legal to possess ibogaine no matter the reason or amount, is Uruguay. But, in that vein, all drugs are legal in Uruguay, so that’s not saying anything particularly special about ibogaine. In New Zealand, Ibogaine is legal to possess with a prescription, and less stringently regulated than in Canada.
Meanwhile, in the United States…
Ibogaine is on the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Schedule I list (added in 1970 along with LSD), meaning it has no currently accepted medical value and is believed to have a high potential for abuse and addiction (which is ironic because it’s being used to eliminate addictions to more dangerous drugs that for some reason are more leniently scheduled), and that anyone caught with it could face some type of legal ramifications.
Despite still being far from mainstream, ibogaine has become a hotter topic of debate in the medical community because of how effectively it rids patients of their vices. According to the CDC, just opioids alone kill over 130 Americans daily, then factor in amphetamines, alcohol, and other substances, and we have hundreds of people dying from preventable deaths every single day. There is no understating the need for better treatment options – it’s real and it’s imperative.
As stated above, the US is way behind when it comes to ibogaine research (or most useful drug research for that matter), but there is one place where researchers do study ibogaine, and have been doing so since the 1990s, and that’s Miami. For instance, a Florida-based subsidiary of Atai Life Sciences, DemeRx, is currently working on two ibogaine and noribogaine derivatives for opioid dependence. It’s one of the few companies trying to create ibogaine-like medications that still retain the psychoactive effects. Other companies like Massachusetts-based startup Delix Therapeutics and New York based MindMed, are both in the process of developing non-hallucinogenic ibogaine derivatives.
Ibogaine could certainly be considered a sort-of miracle drug for curing addiction, but that’s not to say there are no risks involved. Most psychedelics have pretty good safety profiles, and ibogaine is no different, but there does seem to a somewhat higher risk of certain unwanted side effects and possible death in some groups of people. Those with existing heart conditions or underlying schizophrenia or psychosis are advised to refrain from ibogaine treatments, but that could probably be said for all psychedelics.
A case report published in Therapeutic Advances in Psychopharmacology, a critical care doctor from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, Jeremy B. Richards, outlines a situation in which a 40-year-old male died after using ibogaine for symptoms of heroin withdrawal. In this case, the patient suffered from acute cardiac arrest and cerebral edema which led to his death.
These scenarios are relatively rare, but frequent enough that it has prompted researchers to explore the possibility of alternative, synthetic versions of ibogaine; ones that could produce the neuroplasticity one would expect from a psychedelic, but without the risk of developing a serious heart condition. Several studies and projects are in the works that aim to develop ‘chemically tweaked’ versions of original psychedelic compounds.
The success with ibogaine is “a promising first step,” says Gabriela Manzano, a postdoctoral fellow at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York and a co-author of a commentary on the study. “This provides a road map on how we could start tweaking these chemical compounds to make them very useful in the clinic,” she says. “Keep the good parts, get rid of the bad parts.” For decades, psychedelic drugs, including ketamine and psilocybin, have shown promise in treating people with mental health problems including addiction, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Very little is known about psychedelics in general, but this is especially true regarding ibogaine. Likely because it’s not used much recreationally, and by getting people off of opioids, it also steps on the toes of the pharmaceutical industry. It’s not hard to see why they would be against a natural drug that could, in one single treatment, eliminate years of addiction symptoms in a patient. Afterall, the only way they make money is by making us dependent on their drugs, so don’t expect to see much as far as ibogaine legalizations just yet.
But regardless of legal status, it’s important to understand the full potential of this compound, because it is substantial. When used under the care of an experienced medical professional, it’s unlikely for one to experience many negative side effects and the possible life-changing outcomes certainly seems to outweigh the alternative. With addiction rates at an all-time high, the fact that we’re not falling over ourselves to learn more about ibogaine (and all psychedelics, really), is honestly absurd. But sadly, that’s the state of hypocrisy that we live in; a world that sells deadly treatments like oxycontin rather than natural cures like ibogaine.
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