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What Is Ibogaine?

Extracted from the Iboga tree endemic to the region of Gabon and the Congo Basin, ibogaine is one of the most important alkaloid molecules found in its bark, in terms of its therapeutic effects on the body. What makes ibogaine of interest is its natural psychoactive component which, when properly administered and supervised, has increasingly been proven to assist in recovery from drug addictions.


In 1901 J. Dybowski and E. Landrin first isolated Ibogaine from the root of the shrub, and from the 1930s right up until the 60s, it was promoted as both physical tonic and stimulant, as well as being prescribed for the treatment of depression and convalescence under the brand name “Lambaréne,” being favoured among athletes of the time for its energising properties.

During the 1950s, in the US, pharmacologist Harris Isbell was the first to attempt to patent ibogaine as a viable treatment for substance abuse on account of its anti addictive properties.It would not be until the 1960s, through the work of Chilean psychotherapist Claudio Naranjo that the healing psychological properties of ibogaine would be more comprehensively studied and developed. Thanks to a scholarship, Naranjo would become a visiting scholar at Harvard, where he began his research on ibogaine’s uses in psychotherapy, studying its role in the retrieval of long-term memory, and closure of unresolved emotional traumas.


In 1962, at the age of 19, Howard Lotsof, who would later become a scientific researcher was addicted to heroin and tried ibogaine in search of a new drug. Much to his surprise, he discovered that his cravings for and dependence to heroin were quickly attenuated by ibogaine. It would not be until 1985, however, that he would successfully patent ibogaine as a treatment for chemical dependencies.


In the 1990s, also in the US, the National Institute on Drug Abuse had begun to consider it as a viable treatment, but research was stopped, and it was soon after classed as a Schedule I drug with potential for abuse.


Although ibogaine is yet to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration in the US, where it is still classed as a Schedule I drug on the grounds that it has a potential to be abused. The hypocrisy in this kind of legislation needs to be highlighted, considering the sheer amount of Big Pharma profits made from highly addictive pharmaceutical drugs, America being a nation rife with legal, physician approved prescriptions of heavily addictive opiates such as Oxycontin, Percocet, Fentanyl and others.


In the late 1990s, in what is known today as a gross instance of misconduct, leading pharmaceutical companies falsely reassured the medical profession that some of the pain relievers mentioned above were not addictive, eventually going as far as handing out bonuses to physicians prescribing them.


Based on the statistics from the U.S. Department of Health, we can see the shocking figures: in 2019 alone, 10.1 million people has misused prescription opioids; 1.6 million people had an opioid use disorder in that same year; and, more shocking than this, is the fact 48,006 people died from synthetic opioid overdoses (compared to only 14,480 people overdosing due to illegal heroin.)


It is not only as ironic as it is incongruent, therefore, that the country that most needs a well-researched, holistic cure for opiate addiction is also the country whose corporations such as Purdue Pharma (now facing bankruptcy and legal dissolution) have profited the most from addiction.


“Purdue has generated more than $35 billion in revenue since bringing OxyContin to market. Purdue has been owned by the Sackler family since 1952. The Sackler family has profited enormously from the OxyContin business. Since bringing this painkiller to market, the family has withdrawn more than $10 billion from the company. Purdue has now admitted that after it got caught in 2007, after it pled guilty and paid a fine, it continued to commit crimes for another decade, like nothing happened.”

In 2009 a study was conducted by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) at the Ibogaine Association at Playas de Tijuana in Mexico, where ibogaine is neither a scheduled substance nor regulated.

During this long-term study spanning twelve months, thirty patients seeking treatment for opioid and substance addiction were studied. The results concluded that only ten of the patients relapsed within the first month; twenty-four relapsing in the first six months; six patients lasting as long as six months with no aftercare before relapsing, and four of the patients not relapsing at all for over a year after one single administration of the treatment.

In 2014 in Brazil, another study was conducted, bringing together 75 users of cocaine, crack, cannabis and alcohol, with the intent of studying the effectiveness of psychotherapy in conjunction with ibogaine. In its findings, 61% of patients who received only one ibogaine treatment stayed sober for just under six months.

The use of ibogaine in treating addiction does have its risks, which is why it should never be self-administered without supervision by trained medical professionals. Some of the underlying risks can include gastrointestinal problems, seizures, ataxia and arrhythmia.

It became clear to the researchers of these studies that, on its own, while ibogaine is not a single-handed miracle cure for addiction, it does interrupt the cycle for long enough to allow for a comprehensive restructuring of life with plenty of room for a more multidisciplinary holistic approach that looks at the emotional causes of addiction and how to manage them with a structured change of lifestyle and thinking.

Before you make a commitment to any sort of addiction treatment, especially alternative ones like ibogaine, it is wise to speak to your doctor about the possibilities of traditional treatment.

The majority will be structured around the following stages:

    • Going through a period of detox and withdrawal to flush whatever drugs are in your system. Do note that this can either be done at home with the assistance of a medical professional, who may prescribe legal medications to help you navigate the rougher edge of withdrawal symptoms, but you may also undergo withdrawal in any inpatient rehab facility in your area or country, which can often be the preferable option, since the facilities will be fully staffed to handle this challenging transition in your life.

    • Cognitive Behavioural Therapy: This encompasses any psychologist who has specialised in drug addiction counselling. Together with your therapist, you will break down your own personal history in a way that allows you to gain insights into the reasons for your addiction, the types of situations that make you want to use, how to deal with feelings of post-withdrawal depression, and practical, step by step advice on how to piece your life back together. Anything you discuss in therapy will always be bound by a doctor-patient confidentiality agreement. It is good to note that you may have to try a couple of different therapists before finding one you are comfortable with, and you should know that this is a normal thing to do.

    • Psychological / psychiatric evaluations for underlying mental health issues, either prior to addiction, or resulting from it, such as depression, anxiety, ADHD, etc.

  • A long-term treatment plan as an outpatient which will normally include attending Twelve-step recovery meetings such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous or Self-Management and Recovery Training (SMART). These meetings and groups exist specifically so you do not have to tread the winding road to recovery alone and will provide you with plenty of techniques and strategies to daily navigate sobriety.

Let it be stated here: the process of recovery is daunting for everyone, because you are rebuilding yourself from the ground up; in many cases, you will have had the emotional “safety net” of your drug of choice, which is why many recovering addicts say they feel as if they have lost a best friend or a loved one or ended a long-term relationship.

Life can feel lonely, and challenges may seem unsurpassable, but with the right kind of treatment plan and support network, you will start to feel more confident by the day and may take solace and pride in the knowledge that you have made the best decision possible in freeing yourself from the debilitating shackles of addiction.