Ibogaine: Can it Cure My Addiction?

man with head in his hands
Some believe that Ibogaine could be the cure for addiction to heroin and other opioids.

What does it take to quit using heroin or other opioids?

It’s a question that is very much on the minds of millions of Americans.

The scientific community continues to look for the best way to quit using drugs and everyone wants to know what will help curb cravings and decrease withdrawal side effects. Some individuals have looked back far enough to rediscover a drug called ibogaine.

Continue reading this article to learn more about ibogaine and whether it can in fact cure your addiction.

Origins

Ibogaine has a long history of use, beginning in the country of Gabon, West Central Africa.1,2 It is extracted from the iboga plant, which the Bantu people of Gabon (who follow the Bwiti spiritual tradition) believe to be a sacred medicine containing great healing powers.3

This shrub is used as part of the rituals for several types of Bwiti ceremonial events including rites of passage, healing health problems and dealing with traumatic events.1,3 For these ceremonies, the root of the iboga plant is crushed into a powder and people consume it for up to 12 hours until the full effects of the plant are achieved.3

Ibogaine in the U.S.

Ibogaine has a much more complicated and controversial history in the United States. The United States Patent and Trademark Office previously claimed that ibogaine helped treat opiate, cocaine, and poly-drug dependence disorders. In fact, 3 drug patents were filed for using ibogaine from 1985 to 1992.4

However, it is now illegal and is even classified as a Schedule I drug by the Food and Drug Administration.1 Because of this, the use of ibogaine for medical purposes is also banned in the U.S.

It is interesting that even though ibogaine is illegal in the U.S., there are actually several other countries where ibogaine is legal and used to help recover from addictions.

How Does it Work?

The question that remains in everyone’s mind is whether or not the drug actually works. Numerous studies conducted throughout the world in the 1980s and 1990s showed evidence to support that ibogaine can cure addiction.1,2,4

So, what did the studies find? First, they found that ibogaine acts on 3 different parts of the brain that are associated with dopamine production and release.

In a study on rats, researchers actually hooked rats to morphine, causing them to become addicted. The rats had a bottle in their cage where they could self-administer morphine, meaning they had the freedom to get a “fix” of the drug whenever they wanted! Then the researchers gave the rats ibogaine and guess what? The rats actually stopped taking morphine.

The researchers noticed a reduction in drug self-administration within 1 hour and a steady decrease that continued for a day up to several weeks in some of the rats used in testing. Keep in mind these studies were done on rats and not humans.

So what can we gather from research on the effects of ibogaine? First, ibogaine works on receptors in the brain to block the reward centers that are believed to be the driving force behind psychological, physiological and behavioral symptoms of addiction.

What this essentially means is that it helps block cravings and reduce withdrawal symptoms [5].

Can It Help Me?

Unfortunately, there is simply not enough human studies to make a conclusion about the ibogaine’s effectiveness to cure addiction. Most research into the effects of the drug stopped in the 1990s.

Without large samples and continued studies with addicted individuals, it is impossible for the research community to draw definite conclusions about ibogaine’s effects. Additionally, ibogaine has been said to have a 61% success rate.7 This means that while it may be more effective than other forms of treatment for substance addiction, ibogaine will not help everyone.

Yes, some studies have found that ibogaine might effectively treat morphine, cocaine, amphetamine, alcohol, and nicotine addictions. However, it is important to keep in mind that there is information we still don’t know.

Also, don’t forget that it’s still illegal in the U.S.

Side Effects of Ibogaine

After having ibogaine therapy, you might experience visual and auditory hallucinations and a loss of control over bodily movements for approximately 3 to 5 hours. During these hallucination stages you may also re-experience past traumas—a symptom that is actually considered to be an important part of ibogaine [4].

Testimonials from people include how ibogaine has the ability to help resolve deep underlying issues that may ultimately be driving addiction. You may also experience:4

  • Nausea.
  • Vomiting.
  • Tremors.
  • Muscle spasms.
  • Rise in blood pressure.

Before taking ibogaine therapy, you should first have a full medical screening to prevent or reduce the chances of any complications. Some serious heart conditions may occur such as cardiac arrhythmias,8 as well as liver and kidney conditions. These along with certain mental health conditions might make ibogaine highly risky and a less than ideal therapy for you.5

From 1990 to 2008 there were 19 deaths associated with ibogaine therapy.5 That is roughly one per year. In comparison, Methadone—a common method of treating opioid addiction—accounted for nearly 40% of single-drug opioid pain reliever deaths in 2009 alone. This is twice as much as any other opioid in that same year.6

While ibogaine can be a very rapid and successful form of treatment for some people who are dealing with addiction, you must consider all factors seriously before deciding on ibogaine as a treatment for your substance addiction. It’s important to weigh the pros and cons of seeking this form of treatment versus other, more widely accepted and more accessible, forms of treatment. Having realistic expectations of treatment outcomes is important.

Sources

  1. Glick, S. D., Rossman, K., Steindorf, S., Maisonneuve, I. M., & Carlson, J. N. (1991). Effects and aftereffects of ibogaine on morphine self-administration in rats. European journal of pharmacology, 195(3), 341-345.

  2. Maisonneuve, I. M., Keller, R. W., & Glick, S. D. (1991). Interactions between ibogaine, a potential anti-addictive agent, and morphine: an in vivo microdialysis study. European journal of pharmacology, 199(1), 35-42.

  3. Samorini, G. (n.d.) The Bwiti religion and the psychoactive plant Tabernanthe iboga (Equatorial Africa). Integration, 5, 105-114

  4. Lotsof, H.S. (1994). Ibogaine in the treatment of chemical dependence disorders: Clinical perspectives. MAPS, (5) 3, 16-27.

  5. Global Ibogaine Therapy Alliance. (n.d.). Is Ibogaine therapy safe?

  6. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. (2012). Vital signs: Risk for overdose from Methadone used for pain relief – United States, 1999-2010. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, (61)26, 493-497

  7. Global Ibogaine Therapy Alliance. (n.d.) Ibogaine-assisted detox efficacy.

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