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Traditional And Ceremonial Iboga Usage

The Tabernanthe Iboga plant is a small shrub that can be found throughout the African region of the Congo basin but is mostly endemic to Gabon. Though often referred to as a shrub, it can grow as tall as 10 metres. The shortened term, “Iboga,” refers directly to the bark shavings collected from both the base and the roots, and the subsequent traditional and ceremonial iboga usage among local tribes.


The Fang, Punu and Mitsogo tribes of Gabon and Cameroon, espousing a syncretistic belief system rooted in animism called Bwiti, have used Iboga for hundreds of years, despite having slightly distinct spiritual practices between themselves.  


Whilst not a religion, the Bwiti tradition is an ancestral, monotheistic ritualistic practice that diffuses life-knowledge as imparted by the Iboga tree itself and synthesized via language, music, ritual, and a holistic worldview that deems all life forms as worthy of respect, be they plants, animals, or humans.  


During Bwiti ceremonies, the Iboga bark is first dried, then shaved, and consumed raw. The root bark contains at least twelve alkaloids; these include ibogaine, ibogamine, ibogaline, tabernanthine, voacangine, and coronaridine, with ibogaine being the most present, amplified by some of the other alkaloids such as ibogamine.  

Ibogaine Still Ilegal in the United Kingdom
Traditional and Ceremonial Iboga Usage

Although the presence of the iboga tree is native to several places in West Africa, its strongest roots are in Gabon. 


To understand traditional and ceremonial iboga usage, one must look at it in the cultural and spiritual context of the Bwiti tribes, among whom it has been used for centuries. Know by them as “bois sacré” (French for “sacred wood”), it has uses that extend beyond its properties as a healing remedy, and takes on a more spiritual role.


In the region of Gabon, western medicine, dealing with the body, is often integrated with the teachings and knowledge of a Nganga (a spiritual practitioner.) 


Having strong roots in the traditions of animism, where every single thing, from rocks to plants, possesses a spirit, the iboga shrub is seen as a benevolent soul who promotes and facilitates healing.  


By opening a portal to the constructive examination of past experiences, especially those a person has fought hard to bury, iboga lends itself particularly well to treating substance abuse issues, which has garnered much popularity in the Western world by reconnecting people to their true selves again, rather than the idea of who they have become as addicts. 

In the west, its purified extract, ibogaine, has been increasingly used to tackle issues of drug and alcohol addiction. One of the principal reasons for ibogaine’s effectiveness in defusing addiction is that it opens the floodgates of repressed memories, which return to an addict’s consciousness in the form of hallucinatory visions, followed by a period of intense introspection and insight.  


Such states are called “oneirophrenic,” which refers to a lucid dream state. In technical terms, the experience is not considered hallucinogenic because the individual remains aware of his or her whereabouts and are conscious that the hallucinations are being induced by their ingestion of iboga and recognize them as internal projections.


The hallucinations can last from 7 to 12 hours and are experienced objectively. The introspective, subjective part of the experience usually kicks in during the ensuing 24 hours after the visions have subsided.  


That is the time when the full experience can be cognitively integrated into a new perception of one’s personal narrative. This process may continue to occur in daily life for some months after the treatment as the patient develops a new sense of self in relation to their surroundings.  

Among the native people of Gabon and Cameroon, Iboga has played a central part not only in divining, shamanistic knowledge-rituals, as much as it has been used as a medicinal remedy for thousands of years.  


For example, across West Africa, its therapeutic uses have been known to greatly benefit and help treat ailments such as fevers, swine flu, immunodeficiency/HIV, influenza (common flu), some nerve disorders, high blood pressure and some side-effects of drug or substance abuse (not comparable to western standards of ingestion, such as regular intravenous use). 


Speaking of Western culture, it seems ironic (but at the same time understandable from a Big Pharma viewpoint) that ibogaine, the alkaloid found in the root bark, remains illegal in the USA despite (or, precisely because) of its ability to treat addiction with reduced chances of relapsing, as well as its ability to curtail the withdrawal symptoms that go hand in hand with opioid dependence.