Ask a Bwiti tribesman to define iboga and he may talk of a super sentient being whose role is to guide humanity, accessibility to whom is threatened by the world’s increasing demand for its earthly expression. Ask a recovering heroin addict the same question and they may describe a knockout punch from a velvet glove that renders dope sickness a bad memory. Answers from first world twenty-somethings seeking the latest kick may range from “something that just made me vomit for 15 hours” to “a life changing sacrament that smashed open my consciousness and lifted the veil on the true nature of existence.” Nowadays, whether due to publicized celebrity rehab sessions, psychonauts seeking the latest thing, or simply the widening of mankind’s spiritual void, iboga is out of the closet. As iboga’s popularity grows, so does the confusion regarding what iboga is, what it is not, and what purpose the different products on the market best serve. The following information will attempt to address the latter while remaining mindful that the ineffable mysteries of it’s subject combined with the highly personal nature of the user experience render certain assertions herein to be subjective.
Iboga refers primarily to a few ibogaine containing rainforest species of plant, principally Tabernanthe iboga and Tabernanthe manii, amongst others. Although the ibogaine alkaloid can be found globally in variations of the Apocynacae plant family, the most famed source of ibogaine is the Central African rainforest shrub named Tabernanthe iboga. Research has revealed Taberninthe iboga plays host to a range of different alkaloids. Although some of the constituent alkaloids have been independently proven to interrupt substance dependence, it’s the ibogaine alkaloid that’s chiefly responsible for both the psycho spiritual, addiction expunging effects as well as the plant’s rapid rise on the global stage. Central African disciples of Bwiti have been using iboga for centuries. However it was in 1962 when a young heroin addict named Howard Lotsof ingested purified ibogaine and inadvertently discovered that his heroin cravings were gone that whispers of the shrub began to slowly permeate Western medical parlance.
In smaller quantities, ibogaine stimulates the central nervous system, providing greater energy and increased wakefulness. Larger quantities of ibogaine are often referred to as a ‘flood dose’ and may act as a catalyst to an oneirogenic state of consciousness, during which users report visions, dream-like states, and resurfacing of repressed memories. Physical effects can include arrhythmia, nausea, ataxia and vomiting. Evidence strongly suggests ibogaine alleviates drug craving thus acting as an anti-addictive in humans.
The ibogaine alkaloid is most commonly obtained by direct extraction from the Tabernanthe iboga plant. As alarm bells sound regarding the rapidly dwindling supply of Tabernanthe iboga the spotlight is increasingly focusing on the African tree named Voacanga africana. This tree is already being cultivated in other parts of Africa since it contains an alkaloid that can be semi-synthetically converted into pure ibogaine HCL in a cost effective manner.
In the mid 1950s U.S. patent 2813873 was filed after scientists achieved a full organic synthesis of ibogaine hydrochloride. This process was deemed too arduous to be of commercial benefit, demonstrating how little attitudes have changed regarding profitability (or lack thereof) of addiction treatment in the past 60 years. In addition to weak profit margins, ibogaine’s outlaw status in several countries has curtailed research into its benefits. Despite this, a medical subculture of individuals who recognize ibogaine’s wide ranging benefits is rapidly emerging. This group includes increasingly large numbers of top tier medical professionals.
The root bark of the Tabernanthe iboga plant is just as it sounds. TA (Total Extract) and ibogaine hydrochloride are both derivatives of this material. After removal from the ground, the outer root bark is shavedand the second layer is consumed either in whole form, or ground into powder and drank. This is the manner in which Bwiti tribes, who refer to it as the ‘tree of knowledge’ have been ingesting the alkaloids since before records began. Root bark is traditionally consumed in smaller doses, building up to increased doses throughout the experience. Due to the root bark’s relatively small ratio of psychoactive alkaloids to inert materials, the amount of material necessary to facilitate a flood dose may trigger physical discomfort levels less common with TA or HCL. Some users assert that purgative effects (vomiting) often associated with the consumption of root bark contribute to the overall experience, particularly in the latter stages of their iboga journey.
TA (Total Alkaloid)
Although ibogaine hydrochloride is the leading component, it is but one of a variety of alkaloids present in the root bark. Despite ibogaine’s increasing popularity amongst addicts there remains a large addiction-free demographic who seek only the metaphysical component and thus find working with TA or root bark more suitable. Total Alkaloid Extract is the end product following the separation of the other 13 known alkaloids from the fiber and other inert materials of the root bark. Many of these other alkaloids have demonstrated psychoactive properties. When compared to root bark, most TA users agree that ingesting the full spectrum of alkaloids significantly improves both the comfort and clarity of their journey. Claims that TA delivers a gentler ride may be due to the lesser amounts of material consumed. “Root bark is great for introducing patients to the essence of the plant. During aftercare it helps remind clients what they need to work on from their previous journey,” says Yasphal Jayne, PScD, ND (ret) who runs the Dr Iboga treatment center in Costa Rica. However, for the administration of flood doses, Yashpal is a proponent of TA and says, “the lesser amount of material ingested with TA usually results in less nausea.” This may account for user claims that TA seems to offer a more prolonged, richer experience.
Although some clinicians feel ibogaine hydrochloride [HCL] to be best suited for treating addiction, some TA proponents assert that TA offers both addiction interruption and a deeper psycho-spiritual experience. “I generally use TA over HCL because in my opinion TA captures the full spirit of the plant,” says Yashpal. “However,” he adds, “in some cases I occasionally find that although a patients TA session has been running for a long time, they may still need to go deeper. In these circumstances, I may utilize a measured quantity of HCL to extend the psycho-spiritual component and/or to create an increase in noribogaine conversion. TA generally has a longer treatment cycle (24-36 hrs) than HCL (14-24 hrs). Giving a patient HCL during the TA experience is an effective way of adding depth without time.”
Some users feel that lack of research makes it difficult to pinpoint the role the other alkaloids play, and that it may be best to get the full range in case a crucial aspect of the experience is missed. A suitable analogy may be to think of ibogaine as the lead violin dropping mind-blowing melodies center stage, and the other iboga alkaloids as the orchestra tasked with enhancing the overall sound.
Outside of the traditional ceremonial environment, and particularly in clinical settings, this is the most common method of ibogaine administration. HCL is the chemical abbreviation for hydrochloride, and signifies an extraction procedure that produces the purest known form of ibogaine. The extraction filters out the other alkaloids, resulting in the purified ibogaine extract. As awareness of iboga’s healing properties spreads, the number of medical professionals taking note has increased. This has given way to a more measured approach to both research and administration in treatment clinics. Although the chemical make-up may vary depending on the source, most products being sold as HCL contain upwards of 99 percent ibogaine, thus making HCL the leading candidate into research of ibogaine’s pharmacodynamics. The potency of HCL requires the user to consume far lesser quantities of material than with TA or root bark.
“In addition to being easier on the body than TA or root bark, HCL tends to have a shorter recovery period. If I can reach someone’s goal and have them recover in a shorter time, then that’s preferable,” says Andrew Dekkinga, who is leaving his post as medical director of New Life Iboga and plans to set up Portugal’s first ever ibogaine clinic. Andrew’s clinic works exclusively with HCL due to the comparative ease with which it can be measured. “With TA or root bark, ibogaine levels can vary significantly. When we administer HCL we know exactly how much people are getting,” says Andrew. Although cases differ, the consensus is that TA and root bark trigger more vomiting among users. “We see less vomiting on HCL,” says Andrew. “ A little more than half of the people I treat vomit however, this is usually one or two purge vomits, followed by a few dry heaves after which the nausea is over.”
Noribogaine is the primary psychoactive metabolite of ibogaine and is produced in the user’s liver after ibogaine consumption. Research into noribogaine’s properties has found that it’s intrinsic to ibogaines anti-addictive effects. Following a session, many ibogaine users report feelings of well-being along with zero cravings for toxins ranging from coffee to crack cocaine. These symptoms are thought to be attributable to the lingering presence of noribogaine in the body. Noribogaine has a longer half-life than its parent compound and it’s prolonged action is believed to contribute significantly to ibogaine’s therapeutic benefits. Further research into noibogaine’s curative properties is currently underway.