It’s been more than a decade since Ibogaine began turning heads as the ‘treatment with the potential to cure addiction, with just one dose’. With research mounting, BP re- examines the Iboga root and it’s role in addiction therapy and spoke to its most fervent supporter Howard Lotsof, on getting western medicine to take seriously the hallucinogenic root from Central Africa.
It was around 10 years ago that, when reporting for the very first issue of Black Poppy, we stumbled upon an article about Ibogaine in a magazine. We were, perhaps rather unsurprisingly, highly curious about its supporter’s claims that Ibogaine could not only erase withdrawals in opiate dependant patients but cease a person’s addiction – to any drug! It was said then that Ibogaine treatment could break the patterns of drug use by freeing the mind’s dependence on a substance- and often with just one hallucinogenic dose.
As a drug user’s health and lifestyle magazine, BP was professionally compelled to look further into Ibogaine’s claims but as we did, a fascinating story began to emerge. One that has its roots, so to speak, in the deepest darkest forests of central Africa, alongside tribal rituals and soul discovery, and a message that was carried out into the western world by a group of friends with the firm and unshakable belief of the newly converted. Ibogaine now has the most enthusiastic supporters of a ‘treatment therapy’ you’ll ever come across.
One of the problems hampering Ibogaine then (and now to some extent), is a lack of large scale research into its effectiveness as well the more practical considerations such as where Ibogaine may ‘fit’ in the tightly shackled and conservative world of drug treatment. Yet however one may look at it, Ibogaine – the principal hallucinogenic alkaloid of the African shrub, Tabernanthe Iboga is currently a subject gathering much worldwide interest. Why is the Ibogaine story so special? Is it really destined to bring something exceptional into the world of drug treatment? What do we know about Ibogaine now that we didn’t know then? Questions, questions… Ahh, now we are now entering the realm of the hallucinogens, readers…
Anyone who has taken a ‘trip’ will appreciate the subtle reflections witnessed as we waft (or are catapulted) through our personal ‘doors of perception’. That ability to feel as if we are a true three dimensional being while at the same time experiencing ourselves to be as fine and transient as breath. Doors of the mind are pushed opened, lights are shone into dark and dusty corners. So it didn’t seem a leap for us at BP to imagine that a hallucinogen could be utilized within addiction therapy. That there may be a tool of the hallucinogenic kind that allows us to gain direct access to our own behaviour patterns, circumventing the tight grip we keep on particular personal rituals, or shaking up those neurological highways that keep sending us to back to old habits.
Earlier last year, BP was fortunate enough to attend an Invitational Ibogaine Forum in Poland and, surrounded by the worlds leading Ibogaine experts and supporters, we took the opportunity to interview Ibogaine’s foremost expert, Howard Lotsof. In 1985 Lotsof was awarded a patent for the use of Ibogaine in treating substance abuse disorders (now expired) after accidentally stumbling on Ibogaine’s unique properties in 1963. Howard relates the story of when, as part of a group of experimenters exploring the effects of various hallucinogens, he was given some Ibogaine to try by a chemist friend. The verdict was enthusiastic. A secondary discovery however, was noticed after 36 hours had passed, when it was discovered that, as opiate addicts, no one was in withdrawals. There was a lack of craving associated with this that was felt to be quite astounding and so a series of experiments ensued.
The quest to understand how Ibogaine works has been the subject of both laboratory research and clinical trials ever since and was to be the beginning of a long involvement with Ibogaine research for Lotsof, who remains its chief spokesperson to this day.
BP asked Howard why the big drug companies weren’t interested in a drug like Ibogaine. Surely they could make a mint with a drug that inhibits addiction? “It is not just a matter of will they make money”, notes Howard, “but will they make as much money for instance, if they spent their research dollars on cancer drugs or antidepressants, antibiotics or drugs to treat heart disease. Setting aside the issue of the molecule not being patentable as it is found in nature, the pharmaceutical industry has no real interest in developing new drugs to treat addiction and the treatment research sector is still new to Ibogaine.” Howard went on to describe how, in the western world, Ibogaine ticks all the wrong boxes. A hallucinogen that is at the basis of a central African religion, part of a ritual sacrament, discovered by a few addicted hippies, non patentable, is physically exhausting, a drug that causes visions, and last but not least – a drug to stop you taking other drugs? That’s enough to have drug companies running to the hills!
While the world has quietly followed the progress of Ibogaine therapy from the outer fringes of what can be regarded as ‘drug treatment’ to being at the forefront of a movement that beckons to shed new light on addiction therapies, there has been some problems along the way. A handful of fatalities associated with Ibogaine are accepted to have occurred as a result of the patient using opiates almost immediately after therapy when the presence of Ibogaine actually increases their potency dramatically, therefore increasing the risk of heroin overdose. A more serious safety issue is the possibility of any cardiac arrhythmia,(heart palpitations/attack), so pre-treatment medical assessment should be considered mandatory. Apart from resumption of drug intake, pre-existent heart conditions have been cited in a coroners report as the reason for death. Of course no legitimate therapeutic clinic allows any kind of ambiguity regarding this and it is fair to say that no fatality can in anyway be ascribed solely to Ibogaine alone.
Currently, animal studies suggest that Ibogaine acts at the major receptor sites associated with drug use, interestingly acting only slightly with the 5-HT2A receptor commonly associated with the activity of psychedelics. In experiments with rats it has been clearly shown that Ibogaine markedly reduces self administration of opiates, as well as cocaine and nicotine. (These are experiments where the rat is able to tap a lever to administer a dose of opiates) Among Ibogaine alkaloids Noribogaine (10-hydroxyibogamine) is the longest lasting and has been shown to be significantly more active than Ibogaine itself at the major receptor sites in the brain. Noribogaine is held responsible for lack of withdrawal symptoms and cravings for up to several months after the patients’ initial therapy. This reduction in acute craving after Ibogaine therapy is one of its’ most striking features. Whereas other forms of psychedelic therapy seem to engage the patients psychological responses to patterned thinking, Ibogaine therapy seems to leave a direct chemical mechanism in place. This mechanism is far from being fully understood but the research is suggestive.
The dose range is variable depending upon the therapeutic goal. Aside from its’ use in drug withdrawal Ibogaine can be utilized for personal development, spiritual transformation and many shades of grey in between. As always it is impossible to define exactly how things will turn out. However a therapeutic dose is registered around 8mgs per kilo bodyweight, whereas the more transformative doses used to treat opiate addiction is between 20-30mgs per kg.
A Personal Experience with Iboga
David Graham Scott is a documentary filmmaker and was dependant on heroin, before he decided to take Ibogaine. Combining his love of filmmaking and the documentary, Scott decided to record his personal experience with Ibogaine and the journey afterwards towards, he hoped, a drug free life. A couple of years after David produced his extraordinary film dramatically entitled ‘Detox or Die’ (screened on BBC1 during 2004), BP met up with him and quizzed him about the nitty gritty of the Ibogaine experience; we were interested so we were sure our readers would be!
As Scott began to unfold his story, he was keen to stress how apprehensive he was about taking Ibogaine, particularly after hearing of several deaths. When he discovered these deaths were due to impractical use of the substance, health complications or lack of good clinical management, David became convinced that if he used Ibogaine he had to find the right practitioner to help ‘guide’ him through this process. A ‘guide’ or sitter is an important component in today’s Ibogaine experience, though Lotsof states clearly that the environment is about what works for you.
The guide ‘philosophy’ is taken in part from the Iboga rituals that formed the basis of the religion known as Bwiti. Believed to have up to several million followers throughout the regions of Gabon, Cameroon and Zaire, their ritual of eating Iboga usually takes the form of a three day ceremony designed to “break open the head”. Under the guidance of the Bwiti priest or “nganga” the initiate will be led through a series of cleansing ceremonies, all designed to concentrate the attention and symbolically prepare the way for purification.
Initially a large dose is taken first, followed by further smaller doses if necessary to achieve the desired effect, a procedure replicated in today’s western Ibogaine treatment. The ritual is designed to allow penetration into the deeper layers of the unconscious and reveal the true soul hidden therein.
David met his Ibogaine practitioner or ‘guide’ at an Ibogaine symposium, communicating with him for 2 years before he felt comfortable enough to proceed. He is at pains to point out that as the experience is not always pleasant, to have a positive and knowledgeable force around you, guiding you through it is he believes, essential. He says, “I was very apprehensive about doing the Ibogaine treatment but found it almost impossible to quit the last 20-30mls of methadone I was on. I suffered a great deal of mental anguish and felt that Ibogaine was the only way forward for me. It’s unlicensed in the UK (schedule1) and only available through a small network of providers, but the testimonials I had read of the successes, spurred me on.”
David told BP that Ibogaine was unlike any previous experiences he had had with LSD. “Disorientating and confusing at first, it also hits your stomach quite heavily but after a while the fear subsides and you ride through it”. The film footage taken by Scott shows him in a robe with white face-paint, a statement he felt was integral as to how he perceived himself. “It may seem naïve but I felt it was important to make a grandiose statement that I could focus on as an endpoint to my addiction. I’d put behind me the methadone ‘ghost’ I’d become; when I took off the face paint and robes, that ghostly figure would be gone forever, but it [face paint] is also used in Bwiti ceremonies”.
Of the experience itself, David spoke of a heavy emotional experience where light and sound were intensely affected, as was the sense of something big approaching. Somatic sensations range from nausea and difficulty remaining upright, to auditory and visual hypersensitivity. He remembered strong connections to the old photographs and toys he’d brought along (regression is a part of the Ibogaine experience, aiding in releasing oneself from old habits). Visions progressed into an understanding of himself at a molecular level and imprinted with genetic information , David saw the forms he had once been. “There’s a lot of it that I can’t recall” says David, “The intensity was often overwhelming and it was impossible to take on board all of the information.
Although having remained drug free since then, David says that it wasn’t easy by any means. “I didn’t turn into a positive thinker overnight. It takes a lot of work to come to terms with the kind of visions Ibogaine throws up”. As for the opiate withdrawals David says “I did have residual withdrawal symptoms but it was nothing I couldn’t handle. I’d say it cleared 85% of the rattling. There was no way I’d feel this good if I’d tried to come straight off methadone”. Four years on and David hasn’t used drugs since.
For people considering finding out more about Ibogaine and those practicing it, Black Poppy asked Howard Lotsof about whether any guidelines or protocols have been put in place to assist or monitor providers of ibogaine therapy, particularly as it is unlicensed in the UK, though legally available in other countries – yet illegal in others.
“Ibogaine providers are a diverse and independent lot. Providers include medical doctors, shamanic healers, new age therapists, traditional African Bwiti priests and user/self-help practitioners. I don’t think it can get more diverse than that. That being said, there is ongoing communications via personal discussion and the internet to bring the greatest understanding of patient safety issues to ibogaine therapy. Generally, providers understand that there is a risk to persons with cardiac disorders and screen for them. Sometimes screening is by medical tests and other times by the observational skills of the provider/shaman/nganga/priest.” However, Howard says there is no central registry of ibogaine providers who abide by a set of given protocols but that is one of the reasons he developed the Ibogaine Patients Bill of Rights* and the associated internet incident or grievance report form**.
The Using Community Gets Involved…
Finally, perhaps the most fascinating angle to the Ibogaine story comes from the drug using community themselves. Ibogaine is currently the only treatment that users themselves have taken on and developed, setting up treatment services, both legal and underground across the globe. For no other drug will you see ‘reformed’ users actively promoting and administering the treatment. Some take huge risks such as Dimitri in New York who, because of the illegality of Ibogaine in the States, operates under the radar of the authorities, supporting people and guiding them through their Ibogaine experience, all on a sliding financial scale, in rooms across America. Dimitri, who came through his heavy dependence on drugs with the help of Ibogaine, is just one of many ex-users across the world now assisting others to give up their addictionsSo where does that leave today’s user who is considering finding out more about Ibogaine and its treatment availability? In the UK, Ibogaine is still legal but unlicensed for use and is available through a few places which we probably can’t mention in the magazine. BP would advise people to research as usual, finding out as much as possible about Ibogaine through the internet, research papers of which there are several hundred now available, and, communication with those involved (see end). An experienced practitioner is recommended, and it is felt that people should not do this alone. Although BP is aware of 1 person close to us that took it on their own, they did say they were not prepared for the experience and therefore did not get the benefit of being able to work with it. They have however, remained drug free since the episode but supported themselves with lots of NA meetings. Again, this seems an crucial element; ensure you are able to put roots in your ‘new found awareness’ by being supported by the things you’ll know you’ll need to implement such life changes. BP will keep in touch with all the people in this story, and of the advance or retreat of Ibogaine itself. If you have had an Ibogaine experience, write in and let us know about it or ring BP if you have more questions. To start with, check out some of these better resources on the web, and as always, research, research and question before making any decisions. See Classifieds pg 38 for recommended internet links.-
A valuable insight into the proper approach to Ibogaine is the Manual for Ibogaine Therapy (Lotsof and Wachtel 2003), down-loadable from the net. Directed at the providers of therapy the manual offers a keen insight for the person considering undergoing therapy and the proper pre-treatment medical evaluation and post treatment support therapy.
Ibogaine Patients Bill of Rights
Internet incident or grievance report form <http://www.doraweiner.org/incident.html>.
Be sure to see David Grahame Scott’s film on his Ibogaine experience called Detox or Die
In memory of Howard Lotsof who died in 2010. He will be sorely missed by many around the world.