What is Ibogaine?
Ibogaine is a psychoactive indole alkaloid derived from the root bark of an African plant - Tabernanthe iboga. In Africa, the root bark of the plant is known colloquially as "iboga" or "eboka." It contains approximately 12 different alkaloids, of which ibogaine is merely one. Others, such as tabernanthine or ibogamine, are also likely psychoactive. In recent years it has been increasingly noted for its ability to treat both drug and alcohol addiction. Both scientific studies and widespread anecdotal reports appear to suggest that a single administration of ibogaine has the ability to both remove the symptoms of drug withdrawal and reduce drug-craving for a period of time after administration. In addition, the drug's psychoactive properties (in large doses it can induce a dreamlike state for a period of hours) have been widely credited with helping users understand and reverse their drug-using behaviour.
A slightly psychoactive indole alkaloid derived from an African plant, the drug, in plant form, has been used by indigenous groups for millennia. The Bwiti, a Central African religious group, use the root bark of the Tabernanthe iboga plant for a variety of social and religious purposes, most notably as the central component of the "Bwiti initiation ritual" - an intricate 3-day "rebirth" ceremony. Its completion is a necessity if one is to become a member of the group. Both sexes are initiated, typically between the eighth and thirteenth birthday.
The discovery that ibogaine could treat drug addiction is usually credited to Howard S. Lotsof - a New York-based former heroin user who first took ibogaine in 1962. Lots of took ibogaine believing it to be a new recreational drug but, 30 hours later, suddenly realized he wasn't experiencing heroin withdrawal and had no desire to seek drugs. Subsequent casual experimentation by addict friends revealed that this effect was common to others.
Among a dozen or so of the complex indole alkaloids derived from tryptamine and found in Tabernanthe iboga (Apocynacea), ibogaine is the most important hallucinogen and the main psychedelic compound of all species indigenous to the African continent. Extraction of the alkaloids from the root bark results in pure Ibogaine hydrochloride. Ibogaine, of which the chemical name is 12-methoxyibogamine, is a choline-esterase inhibitor, a stimulant which affects the central nervous system. The molecule exhibits the two-ring indole nucleus structure common to most hallucinogens.
In small doses, much like coca leaves in South America, iboga is eaten by the Bwiti to stay awake and alert during long hunts and canoe trips, which can last two days or more. It is also reported to have aphrodisiacal properties. (The olive-sized yellowish-orange fruits of T. iboga, while not psychoactive, are sometimes used "for barrenness in women".)
In larger amounts, ibogaine acts as a hallucinogen. It causes nausea and vomiting, much like peyote. At this level, it puts the user in an intense, deep trance state in which physical movement is all but impossible. The trance is intensely visual and usually manifests as a long journey.
When in this state, ibogaine's actions break down into three component parts. The first is a four to six hour period emulating dreaming in which either visual presentations or thoughts dealing with past events are experienced. The second is a cognitive or intellectual period in which those experiences are evaluated and the third is a period of residual stimulation eventually resulting in sleep. It is after the patient awakes that the effects are principally noticed in a lack of a desire in the majority of patients to seek or use the drugs they were abusing. However, it should be noted that the responses to the drug are very individual just as the patient has individual characteristics.
Ibogaine visions invariably contain much personal content. One symbolic device that often appears to be used by the drug is the cloaking of personal issues as world affairs, frequently either political or ecological scenarios that appear to threaten the planet.
Studies suggest that ibogaine has considerable potential in the treatment of addiction to heroin, cocaine, crack cocaine, methadone, and alcohol. There is also an indication that it may be useful in treating tobacco dependence. It has also been suggested that the drug may have considerable potential in the field of psychotherapy, particularly as a treatment for the effects of trauma or conditioning.
A single administration of ibogaine typically has three effects that are useful in the treatment of drug dependence. Firstly, it causes a massive reduction in the symptoms of drug withdrawal, allowing relatively painless detoxification. Secondly, there is a marked lowering of the desire to use drugs for a period of time after taking ibogaine, typically between one week and several months. This has been confirmed by scientific studies. Finally, the drug's psychoactive nature is reported to help many users understand and resolve the issues behind their addictive behaviour.
Ibogaine can be easily administered, in capsule form, and has no addictive effects itself. The dose for therapeutic use is usually around 5 - 8 mg per kilo bodyweight. It is essentially a "one-shot" medication and, used in a full clinical setting with proper advance medical screening, the drug thus far appears to be safe to use. Whilst it certainly happens that some individuals stop using drugs permanently from a single dose of ibogaine, for many the treatment should best be regarded as simply the initial component in an overall rehabilitation programme.
Although approved for clinical trials (trials on humans) for the treatment of addiction in the US in the early 1990s, problems with financial backing and other issues have so hindered the development of ibogaine that, as of early 2005, it remains undeveloped and thus unavailable to the majority of addicts worldwide.
"First trier" dosage (for a stimulant, nonpsychedelic effects) average around two to three teaspoons for women and three to five teaspoons for men.
Traditionally, the root bark is scraped and dried to a yellowish-brown powder. Sometimes it is mixed with water and drunk, but it is said to be strongest when fresh. Usually, it is taken by itself, although some sects use it with marijuana (which is called "yama" or "nkot alok").
At excessive levels, ibogaine causes convulsions, paralysis and death by arrested respiration. Toxicity levels are weight-related.
For those thinking of taking ibogaine for personal development who haven't yet been involved in therapy, it is important to be aware that using the drug may appear attractive simply because it represents a treatment that avoids the formal psychotherapeutic process. If this is the case, there is a possibility that ibogaine could make problems worse. When a lot of repressed material is present, and for many brought up in the West this will inevitably be the case, psychoactive drug usage can sometimes invoke dangerous reactions as defence mechanisms struggle to keep down rising painful material. This can result in delusional or neurotic beliefs that persist long after the session is over.
It is also important to realize that using ibogaine alone will unlikely be sufficient to bring about deep personal transformation. The drug typically gives people mental insights into repressed aspects of their psyche, but without a significant emotional connection.
Links / Further reading
Iboga.org in French, Italian and English
Making a Tabernanthe iboga extract
Ibogaine: complex pharmacokinetics, concerns for safety, and preliminary efficacy measures by Mash DC, Kovera CA, Pablo J, Tyndale RF, Ervin FD, Williams IC, Singleton EG, Mayor M (2000) (Ann N Y Acad Sci 2000; 914:394-401).
The Ibogaine Story by D. Beal, P. de Rienzo and members of the Staten Island project (online version)
This article is based on the following pages: