**Disclaimer: Northpoint Recovery does not endorse the use of ibogaine for addiction treatment or for any other purpose as it is not currently approved by the FDA as safe or effective at treating any medical disorder**
Ibogaine has gained attention recently as an addiction treatment alternative to many potentially harmful options like methadone and buprenorphine. While the research is still out on this naturally occurring substance’s true power for curbing addiction, lessening the impact of withdrawal symptoms, and eliminating cravings altogether, ibogaine is viewed by some treatment centers as the safest route to a drug-free existence.
This article discusses a bit about the history of this substance as well as how it is currently being used by treatment centers around the world to combat the ever-growing problem of substance use disorders.
What is Ibogaine?
Ibogaine is a naturally occurring psychoactive substance that comes from the Apocynaneae family of plants like the Tabernaemontana undulata and the Tabernanthe iboga. Some have claimed that it’s psychedelic and dissociative properties aid in the recovery from substance addiction by blocking intensely painful withdrawal symptoms, mainly in opioids like heroin but also in alcohol, methamphetamine, and nicotine addiction.
Despite these claims though, ibogaine is still considered a Schedule I drug in the United States. That means that, according to DEA, it is at the highest risk of abuse and has no currently accepted medical treatment properties. Other drugs categorized as a Schedule I are heroin, marijuana, and LSD.
Due to its illegality in the United States, information regarding the specifics of ibogaine and its effects on the body have not been studied extensively and are more limited than other substances. What we do know about ibogaine is that it’s observed properties for curbing addiction are, as of now, mainly psychological.
Just because it is illegal in the United States, though, does not mean other countries aren’t taking advantage of it for treatment purposes. In fact, the United States along with Norway and Sweden are some of the only countries in the world that outlaw the use of ibogaine. As such, clinics in Canada and Mexico are regularly used by United States citizens in order use ibogaine for addiction treatment.
As each facility is different, some build their treatment plans around the physical medical effects of ibogaine while others concentrate on the spiritual aspects of the drug. As such, treatment methods range from a well-monitored treatment plan involving blood and urine testing along with EKGs and close medical observation. Others, however, may lean more towards wilderness retreats, spiritual journeys, and Shamanistic rituals.
The difficulty with treatment plans that are not medically monitored is that ibogaine has been shown to be a potentially harmful substance if taken without proper medical advice.
Ibogaine: A Brief History
Iboga, the plant from which ibogaine is extracted, is originally found in Central Africa and has historically been used in a variety of rituals and spiritual ceremonies. The plant was first officially named and categorized in 1889.
It was in 1901 that ibogaine was first isolated from the plant and in subsequent years was sold as both a mental and physical stimulant. Sales continued through the 1960s until it was ultimately deemed a dangerous substance that can cause dependency by the World Health Assembly. The same year, the United States Food and Drug Administration classified it as a Schedule I substance where it has remained ever since.
Howard Lotsof is credited with having discovered the purportedly anti-addictive nature of ibogaine in 1962. He later went on to secure a patent for ibogaine in tablet-form for testing purposes in 1985. Testing was also conducted by the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) but was ultimately abandoned due to intellectual property disputes.
Since the 1980s, testing for its properties in addiction treatment has varied widely in terms of well-documented medical practice and the proper scientific method. Part of this is due to the fact that ibogaine has for so long remained in a legal grey area. Despite it not being accepted as a legitimate medical alternative to current addiction treatment methods, there is a medical subculture of fervent ibogaine proponents that insist it can be used as a healthier and safer alternative to products like methadone and buprenorphine.
Possible Complications Resulting from Ibogaine Treatment
As mentioned above, scientific trials of ibogaine are limited. There have been a range of adverse reactions that have occurred while under the treatment of ibogaine though. Some of these include:
- Ataxia (losing control of bodily movements)
- Bradycardia (an abnormally slow heartbeat)
- Hypotension (abnormally low blood pressure)
- Mild Tremor
It is important to note, however, that more testing needs to be completed before research is able to point specifically to ibogaine itself for these effects rather than an interaction with other drugs in the system or a confounding medical history.
Taking ibogaine can also have potentially fatal consequences. There were, for example, nineteen ibogaine-related fatalities reported between 1990 and 2008. However, in twelve of the fourteen cases that actually had adequate postmortem data it was discovered that the individuals had a number of factors that could have been partially, if not wholly, responsible for their deaths including preexisting cardiovascular conditions as well as a history of substance abuse that could have created the same effects.
What’s more, the effects of ibogaine are not limited to a short duration of time. In fact, studies have shown that the heart-slowing effects of ibogaine can actually last for up to several days after consuming the chemical. As such, avoiding any stimulants or depressants immediately after the ingestion of ibogaine is crucial for maintaining healthy cardiovascular function.
Ibogaine has also been reported to intensify the effects and toxicity of opiates. While much research still needs to be conducted on this topic, if such an effect does exist it can help provide an explanation for why such fatalities occurred in previous drug users.
Beyond that, the form ibogaine is taken in can vary from treatment center to treatment center. The iboga shrub’s bark from which ibogaine is extracted is sometimes given directly to patients in certain treatment centers. This can become problematic because it is difficult to determine the exact amount of the psychoactive chemical that is truly contained in the bark. As such, a patient is likely more at risk of overdosing on ibogaine when ingesting the bark directly rather than in an extracted, measurable form.
Consequently, it is crucial that anyone enrolling in an ibogaine treatment program is certain that the facilities they are staying at are adequately equipped to handle any medical emergencies that may result from taking ibogaine. Be sure to check for equipment such as first aid kits, blood oxygen monitoring equipment, blood pressure monitoring equipment, a professional medical staff, and ideally defibrillators, heart monitors, and oxygen machines.
The Ibogaine Treatment Process
As there is still a fair amount of scientific research to be done on how best to administer ibogaine treatments, each center tends to handle the procedure differently than the next. Some centers will perform an extensive medical diagnostic before starting the ibogaine treatment while others will shirk such treatment essentials in favor of nature walks and yoga.
Some treatment centers will insist on certain cleansing practices before ingesting ibogaine to heighten the effects of the drug. Kambo, for example, is a popular substance that is sometimes consumed before treatment. This substance that is secreted from a frog from the Amazon rainforest will cause intense vomiting shortly after ingestion. Other authorities on ibogaine, like the Global Ibogaine Therapy Alliance founded by Howard Lotsof, claim that fasting and cleansing before using the drug can actually be detrimental to your health and is not advised.
Other treatment centers focus on providing your body with a variety of healthy foods, a helpful practice that is supported by scientific evidence. Once again, as standard practices have not been fully established for ibogaine, the treatment methods will vary from facility to facility.
In contrast to the varied methods of treatment, patients often seem to report that the actual “high” created by ibogaine can be broken down into three distinct phases:
- The Acute Dreamlike Stage – This is the first stage of the ibogaine experience. Patients will normally receive their dose of the substance in the morning. This particular stage is expected to last anywhere from 4 to 8 hours.
Opioid addiction sufferers will likely feel their withdrawal symptoms subside within around an hour of taking the dose. As withdrawal symptoms will typically present themselves in addiction sufferers during the morning hours, this time frame is ideal for taking the ibogaine.
The experience itself may consist of visual hallucinations that are typically only present when the eyes are closed. These hallucinations are reported to be based on memories from the patient’s past. It is this journey through the past, some believe, that helps an addiction sufferer re-evaluate their life choices from an observer’s perspective rather than from their own. As such, addicts may decide to change their future behaviors based on finally seeing the truth of their past actions.
This stage is usually accompanied by dizziness and vomiting and, as such, the patient is normally laying down to avoid any unnecessary discomfort. Many treatment centers will provide an observer to make sure your experience is both medically and emotionally safe.
- The Evaluative Stage – This stage follows the acute stage and consists primarily of self-reflective therapy. Lasting about 12 hours, patients report that this stage is marked by intense introspection brought about by the exposure to past memories that may have been forgotten.
Patients will also tend to look at the experiences they have just observed in a new way and, as such, may re-evaluate their own choices in life that have led them to this point. This stage of the process can be likened to supplementary addiction treatment such as counseling which have proven to be crucial aspects of a successful rehab treatment.
Beyond reliving the experiences from hours before, an ibogaine treatment patient will likely be experiencing an unfamiliar sense of clarity due to the purported inhibition of withdrawal symptoms. This particular feeling may lead to realizations that an addiction sufferer would be incapable of coming to had their minds been clouded by the constant desire to use.
- The Stimulation Stage – This stage is characterized by a slow subsiding of ibogaine’s effects. There may be a minimal stimulant effect that remains for an additional 36 hours but the intensity will be nowhere near what it was in the previous two stages.
During this stage, patients will typically undergo additional therapy, counseling, and other aftercare activities to help them process their experiences. For many patients, this will be a crucial part of their treatment as it will help solidify the realizations they came to under the drug’s influence.
While full treatment programs may last anywhere from a few days to several weeks, engaging in continued aftercare treatments like group meetings and counseling can help decrease your chances of relapse.
Some therapies such as art therapy and music therapy can also be conducted by yourself to help you manage cravings that may return after therapy. No matter how you learn to cope with overcoming your addiction, finding the right method to keep yourself from using again is an integral part of every treatment method.
Benefits of Ibogaine
Although the true benefits of ibogaine have not been scientifically verified through proper trials and procedures in many countries, it’s worth mentioning the benefits of this treatment purely based on comparisons with other types of treatments, particularly when it comes to opioids.
Methadone, for example, is a common medically-assisted treatment for opiate addiction but also has a slew of drawbacks including a high potential for abuse and a long list of negative side effects as well. Buprenorphine is a less harmful alternative to methadone but will also carry with its use the risk of becoming addicted.
When compared to traditional opioid treatment options like methadone and buprenorphine, ibogaine seems to be a healthier alternative without any risks of addiction. The only things standing in its way of being the default treatment method for addiction are, of course, it being illegal and whether or not it actually works.