Iboga brings about the visual, tactile and auditory certainty of the irrefutable existence of the beyondFrench chemist Robert Goutarel
Ibogaine is a psychoactive alkaloid that naturally occurs in plants from the Apocynaceae family: Tabernanthe Iboga, Voacanga Africana, and Tabernaemontana Undulata.
Tabernanthe Iboga (or just iboga), a plant with the most potent concentration of this alkaloid, only grows in the tropical forests of the Congo Basin. This plant is such a fundamental part of Gabonese culture that the Republic of Gabon declared Tabernanthe Iboga a national treasure in 2000.
However, the rest of the world is not familiar with this miraculous plant, and I’m on a mission to change that.
The complex pharmacological mechanism of ibogaine
Ibogaine (12-methoxyibogamine) is an organic molecule from the tryptamine class, which is a broad category of classical or serotonergic hallucinogens such as psilocybin, DMT, 5-MeO-DMT, and bufotenin.
What makes it different from other hallucinogens is that it interacts with different neurotransmitter sites all at the same time: glutamate, opioid, dopamine, serotonin and acetylcholine system.
Most hallucinogens have predominant activity within a single neurotransmitter, while ibogaine “hits them all” at the same time.
Even more fascinating is ibogaine’s interaction with these receptors. While other drugs bind to a receptor on the cell membrane from the outside, the binding of ibogaine comes from the inside of the cell, which is an inward-open configuration.
No one is quite sure how this happens. However, Gary Rudnick, a professor of pharmacology at Yale University, shared his thoughts about ibogaine complexity for Scientific American. He said:
All inhibitors except for ibogaine bind in an outward-facing configuration. So ibogaine is unique. Ibogaine has a lot of effects on many different proteins. It’s not a very clean drug. We’re not sure which targets are responsible for its addiction-interrupting ability versus its other effects.
The mystery doesn’t end there, though, as it seems that ibogaine can also help users transition from opioid addiction to abstinence.
The ibogaine experience – frightening but rewarding
Every ibogaine user experience is a personal and therapeutic journey.
Its effect can be described as a psychedelic and dissociative event, as a dream-like, yet conscious state of mind (known as oneirophrenia). The mind is still clear and active but the user experiences vivid visions of the “unknown.”
Many people who have tried ibogaine have said that the trip is unlike any other psychedelic experience. It is an experience of inward-reflection and self-exploration of one’s life with profound insight into both spirituality and mindset on a subconscious level.
It is uncomfortable, scary, and people often experience visions of “death and rebirth,” which is a starting point of turning a new page in their lives.
The ibogaine high can be divided into three phases:
- Awakened dream-like phase – This phase starts about one hour after ingesting ibogaine. When iboga alkaloid floods neurotransmitters and receptors in the brain, a person feels ataxia (the inability to coordinate muscle movements).
In some cases, nausea, dry mouth and vomiting can occur. Intense visual stimuli and “out of body” sensations are often associated with this phase.
- The introspective phase – Also known as the “learning phase,” this stage begins around 4-8 hours after consuming ibogaine. It is the most crucial phase of the iboga journey.
People reported facing their forgotten memories, past mistakes, and fears without any emotional attachment.
This phase enables them to face their past life from an objective point of view and work through the visions and memories that were uncovered during the first phase.
- Residual stimulation phase – The last phase in the journey is the well-known afterglow phase. It starts when the main effects of the psychoactive experience have subsided, somewhere around 12-24 hours after taking ibogaine.
This phase can last from a couple of days to weeks and is usually known as the stage of elevated mental clarity, inner peace, and happiness.
The long history of ibogaine use
Ibogaine has been used in the sacred practices of African tribes for centuries. A commonly held belief is that the Pygmy tribes of central Africa were the first to discover the psychedelic properties of the iboga root, which is the primary source of the psychoactive alkaloid.
It is speculated that warthogs were the first to lead humans to the iboga shrub. By observing warthogs digging holes around the plant and eating the root bark that would induce a frenzied state, these people discovered that the root was more than just a root. It was what is now known as ibogaine.
They also learned that when consumed in small doses, it would sharpen focus, increase energy and improve concentration. However, in larger doses, it is one of the strongest psychoactive substances man has ever tried.
Ibogaine is so sacred that the whole Bwiti religion of the central African tribes of Gabon and Cameroon revolves around this plant. For instance, ibogaine is used to facilitate a common rite of passage for young tribesmen.
This cultural milestone is a three-day initiation ceremony where a young man (aged 9-12) ingests a large amount of ibogaine to experience profound spiritual growth and evoke the spirits of ancestors. Young men, thus, become adults and equal members of the Bwiti’s spiritual practice.
Ibogaine in western culture
The first botanical record of the Tabernanthe Iboga plant was made in 1889 when Henri Baillon, a French botanist, brought a plant sample from Gabon.
A couple of years later, in 1901, scientists Dybowski and Landrin isolated ibogaine from the root of the shrub and immediately started using it in different animal experiments.
During the 1930s, ibogaine was even available in France under the name Lambarene, and it was used to treat depression, fatigue, and infectious diseases.
It was not until 1962, though, that ibogaine’s anti-addictive properties were discovered.
Nineteen-year-old heroin addict Howard Lotsof was searching for a new drug to get him high when he accidentally crossed paths with ibogaine. This experience will change his life forever.
After more than 30 hours of tripping, hallucinating, and the reawakening of forgotten memories, he discovered that he had completely lost all interest in heroin. Moreover, he didn’t have any withdrawal symptoms.
Up to this day, Howard Lotsoft is one of the most prominent figures in ibogaine research who spent his whole life advocating the healing properties of ibogaine.
Ibogaine therapy for opioid addiction (new research)
Ibogaine has been primarily used in treating opioid addiction. However, because it is classified as an illegal or unregulated substance in most parts of the world, there hasn’t been much scientific evidence about the effects and efficiency of iboga treatment for drug abuse.
Luckily, this practice has changed a lot in recent years.
One of the first research papers on ibogaine treatment for opioid dependence was published in 1999 and it detailed a study that was conducted on 33 subjects. In total, 25 of them reported not having any withdrawal symptoms and no further desire to consume heroin in the days following treatment.
Two studies from 2017, conducted by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) in Mexico and New Zealand, found notable results in treating opioid addiction with ibogaine, as well. In both MAPS studies all participants reported their opioid cravings reduced as well as a decrease in withdrawal symptoms.
Another study, published in 2017 by a research team from Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, showed positive psychological outcomes and long-lasting opioid abstinence after ibogaine treatment.
Out of 88 participants, 80% claimed that ibogaine drastically reduced or eliminated their withdrawal symptoms, while 30% of them were “cured” and never used opioids again.
How safe is ibogaine?
The New York University School of Medicine recorded 19 death cases related to the use of ibogaine between 1990 and 2008. It is believed that those deaths were associated with existing heart conditions and improperly combining ibogaine with other substances.
Ibogaine is very dangerous if combined with foods or drugs that are metabolized by the same enzyme complex, cytochrome CP450. Thus, proper medical preparation and avoiding other medication and substances are necessary.
However, note that ibogaine is not toxic. If a person fits the criteria established by The Global Ibogaine Therapy Alliance, they can expect a safe treatment process.
Ibogaine in the USA and Canada
Since 1970, ibogaine has been classified as a Schedule I controlled substance. It is illegal to possess or distribute in the United States. It is a prohibited substance for any addiction treatment or therapeutic use. In other words, you won’t find any Ibogaine Treatment Centers in the US.
On the other hand, ibogaine had unregulated status in Canada up until 2017 when Health Canada added it to the Prescription Drug List. It is now illegal to sell or possess any products containing ibogaine without a prescription. But, unlike in the United States, ibogaine treatment centers exist, such as the Sacred Soul Therapy House in Vancouver and Clear Sky Recovery in Toronto.
The future of ibogaine
More than 130 people die of a drug overdose in the US daily.
That being said, it is interesting to note that there is no economic interest in developing ibogaine medication that has the potential to eliminate addiction after one or two doses; not when there is a 35 billion dollar industry that offers no effective solution for opioid dependency.
Though there are around 80-100 Ibogaine Treatment Clinics in the world, those clinics alone can’t serve as a long-term solution for everyone around the globe who requires treatment.
We need a renewed scientific interest in the exploration of this extraordinary molecule. In a climate of increased awareness of psychedelic potential, I sincerely hope that someone will remember to put ibogaine high on the list.