Ibogaine Controversy

Those suffering from addiction may go to great lengths to attempt to come clean. Addiction and substance abuse are rampant around the world, and relapse rates are high. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health in 2009 found that 23.5 million people over the age of 12 suffered from an alcohol or illicit drug abuse problem. There is no wonder treatment that is guaranteed to work. It is no shock then that addicts may seek out alternative methods or what they perceive as a cure for their affliction. Enter ibogaine.

What Is Ibogaine?

Ibogaine is derived from a plant in the rainforests of West Africa called Tabernanthe iboga where natives have been using it for centuries in puberty initiation rites and other purposes. It is a psychoactive substance that, according to CBC News, can give users a high and hallucinations that may last over 30 hours. While the mind-altering effects are relatively short-term, a lasting effect seems to be the reduction of drug cravings and withdrawal symptoms associated with addicts of heroin, opiates, stimulants and even alcohol.

In 1962, Howard Lotsof discovered ibogaine’s potential for treating addiction. It worked for him personally, helping him to kick a heroin addiction and sent him on a mission to gain worldwide approval for ibogaine as a valid addiction treatment. In the mid-1980s, he convinced a Belgium company to manufacture ibogaine in pill form for distribution to cocaine and heroin addicts. He secured a patent to continue research and even spurred the National Institute on Drug Abuse to run a research project on ibogaine which was approved by the FDA, but the project was abandoned in 1995. Ibogaine remains a Schedule I controlled substance defined as having no medicinal value and a high potential for abuse. It is currently illegal in the United States.

Lack of human trials leaves researchers in the lurch for understanding exactly how ibogaine works to curb cravings. The drug is thought to work on multiple receptors in the brain, serving to block the ones that are responsible for cravings. It is also believed that ibogaine is stored in the body’s fat tissue and slowly released over time, keeping withdrawal symptoms at bay.

Pros of Ibogaine

While largely untested, initial numbers for ibogaine treatment are good. After research on ibogaine was halted in the United States, neuroscientist Deborah Mash opened a clinic in the Caribbean and ran her own study on 300 addicts she detoxified with ibogaine. Of these addicts, 70 percent entered remission for months and some even for years, and all showed ibogaine having an effect on their addiction, as reported by BBC News.

Another upside for ibogaine is that it only requires a single dose to be effective. Unlike other treatments for addiction on the market, like methadone, for example, ibogaine doesn’t need to be administered continuously or seem to have further risk for dependence on or tolerance to it. Ibogaine resets the brain in a sense, working to stop cravings and withdrawal symptoms and put the addict back into the place they were prior to their addiction.

It is not a be-all-end-all cure, however, as the social and emotional triggers could still be present in the addict’s life.

It does seem to open the door to successful psychological treatment, including therapy, without the compounding issues surrounding physical addiction.

Potential Downsides

Should_You_Treat_a_Headache_With_an_Opiate_PainkillerWhat is important to remember is that ibogaine is illegal in the United States, and the US Drug Enforcement Agency highly restricts it, believing it to be dangerous. During the research trials in the US, a study was published showing brain degeneration in rats that were given high doses of ibogaine. Lower doses didn’t cause this same effect, but clinical trials were halted nonetheless, which was also due in part to financial reasons.

Ibogaine causes vivid hallucinations that can last for longer than a day, and in the short term, they can be very emotional and fear-inducing. Due to its lack of regulation, statistics on its effectiveness or risk factors are hard to come by, but BBC News reports that ibogaine was indirectly involved in at least 19 deaths.

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Potential Risk Factors

Other potential risk factors include:

  • Brain damage
  • Emotional turmoil due to a bad trip
  • Memory impairment
  • Trouble walking or standing
  • Dry mouth
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Cardiac arrhythmia, which can be fatal
  • Sensation of fear

Any chemical alteration to the brain can be scary and leave more questions than answers. Ibogaine is highly controversial and illegal in many countries at this point. Perhaps in the future more research will come to light offering a better understanding of addiction and the brain pathways as well as better ways to treat substance abuse and sustain sobriety. What is clear is that there is no magic pill, and the road to lasting recovery must include therapy and support in order to avoid relapse.

Here at Michael’s House, we remain on the cutting edge of research and treatments available for addicts and those suffering from a substance abuse disorder. Call now to talk with one of our admissions coordinators about how we can help you or your loved one to start a new life in recovery.