is a plant with both hallucinogenic and dissociative properties. This
means it produces both hallucinations and feelings of detachment.
Ibogaine-containing brews have been used in rituals in the African
spiritual tradition of Bwiti – this is a tradition practised by the
Fang people of Gabon and it incorporates animism, ancestor worship
and Christianity. The Fang people, among others in Gabon, claim that
ibogaine promotes spiritual growth, preserves community and family
structure and can even cure pathological problems. It is used in
initiation rites and also as a medicine. As a hallucinogenic plant it
causes introspection and closed and open-eyed visuals; but it also
has some nasty side-effects, including sleeplessness, nausea and
vomiting even a day after consumption.
Lotsof, an American researcher, was addicted to heroin at the age of
19. But he then stumbled upon ibogaine and found that it had
anti-addictive properties – by ingesting the plant he managed to
kick his heroin habit. Current treatment for drug addiction falls
into two categories. The first is called replacement therapy
and includes treatments such as methadone for heroin addicts and
non-tobacco nicotine for smokers. The second is called aversion
therapy and includes drugs which
interact with the drug of abuse in a way which causes unpleasant
side-effects such as physical pain, nausea and vomiting. The hope is
that while on one of these drugs, the addict will avoid the abused
substance out of a desire to avoid these unpleasant effects.
seems to have some clear advantages over both of these treatments.
Firstly, both replacement and aversion therapy are long-term
treatments, meaning many visits to a clinic over a long period of
time. But as Lotsof has pointed out, ibogaine treatment involves less
frequent sessions, usually just the one, and also because of this
fact it is not as time-consuming as replacement or aversion therapy.
Secondly, unlike drugs such as methadone, ibogaine does not appear to
be addictive – either physically or psychologically. The ibogaine
experience can be mentally and physically disturbing, so there
doesn’t seem to be a reason why anyone would want to abuse it.
Methadone, on the other hand, is highly addictive and a lot of the
time just creates a new addiciton on top of a heroin addiction.
is a lot of evidence which suggests that ibogaine is effective in
treating drug addiction. Case studies and anecdotal reports show that
ibogaine can prevent opiate and cocaine addictions for 6 months or
longer. In one case a man named Thillen Naidoo had been addicted to
crack cocaine for 15 years of his life and had tried to quit several
times, with no success. As a last resort someone recommended he try
ibogaine and after several medical tests he was given a pill of the
drug at the Minds Alive Rehab Centre in South Africa. Scenes from his
childhood surfaced and flashed before him – these hallucinogenic
effects wore off overnight, but for the next few days he was still
affected by the experience. When he returned home a week later he
longer felt any urge to use cocaine and six months after the
experience he is still clean. Dr Anwar Jeewa, from the Minds Alive
Rehab Centre, said he has treated around a thousand addicts with this
plant, but it is still not recognised as a suitable treatment in the
mainstream medical community.
terms of how ibogaine works to treat addiction, scientists understand
that ibogaine creates a protein that blocks receptors in the brain
which usually trigger cravings. This stops the symptoms of withdrawal
and so gives the addict no incentive to use the substance again. Dr Stanley Glick in the 90s researched the effects of ibogaine
on rats. The rats were able to self-administer morphine through a
tube, but when given ibogaine they voluntarily stopped.
effect of ibogaine is less understood. This is the dream-like state
it produces. In this state the participant becomes highly
introspective, allowing the addict to address issues in their life
which may be responsible for their abuse of drugs or alcohol. Lotsof
was so convinced by the power of ibogaine that he set up a private
clinic in the Netherlands in the 80s. Similar clinics have emerged in
Canada, Mexico and South Africa. However, ibogaine is a schedule I
drug in America , meaning it is recognised as having a “high
potential for abuse” and has “no currently accepted medical use”.
It is also llegal in the countries which have ibogaine treatment
centres set up. A small group of scientists are trying to bring
ibogaine into the mainstream so that the legal status of it can
depressing but possible reason why pharmaceutical companies won’t
fund research with ibogaine is because it is a natural substance and is therefore difficult to patent and make money from.
Luckily though, the non-profit organisation MAPS (Multi-disciplinary
Association for Psychedelic Studies) is currently studying ibogaine
treatment in centres in Mexico and New Zealand. Both studies are
looking at the safety and effectiveness of ibogaine and whether it helps
opiate-dependent people to overcome their drug use. Both studies are
being carried out in independent clinics – the hope is that the
results, if they are positive, will persuade the mainstream medical
community to reconsider their views on ibogaine.
The MAPS researchers do state, however, that ibogaine does
have risks. Ibogaine use has a mortality rate of about 1 in
300 and can be attributed to slowing of the heart, combination with
other substances and liver problems. Anyone thinking of using
ibogaine should weigh the risks and benefits and it should really
only be used with medical assistance in a safe setting. Dr Sussanna
Galea has said that ibogaine treatment is well worth the risk. If she
is correct and if the MAPS trials are successful, it could in fact be
worth using ibogaine-assisted therapy to treat nicotine, alcohol,
cocaine, heroin and other forms of substance addiction.