In 2002, I went through two life changing events that put me on the fast track to an early grave. I fell in love with a dangerous girl. And then she gave me my first taste of what would become my greatest love — Opium.
At first it was pills and then, when they were no longer enough, heroin. Opiates made me better at everything in my life. They made me a better writer, a better lover, and a more productive business owner. I honestly didn’t understand why people spoke about heroin like it was the most dangerous thing in the world. I totally had it under control.
Or so I thought.
A few years later, opiates began slowly killing me. My bladder was failing, my kidneys were not functioning well, my testosterone was at dangerously low levels, I was anemic, and eventually I had a stroke. After a decade of opiate abuse, I was on the verge of complete body failure. I had a wife and a child to take care of, and I could barely manage my own bodily fluids. Unable to control my bladder, I peed my pants frequently. I never slept, and I was so cold all that time that I had to tape hand and foot warmers all over my body to keep myself warm enough to leave the house for work. I was in a bad way and I knew I was going to die, and leave my son without a father, unless I took action quickly.
A decade after my first taste, I heard Joe Rogan and Amber Lyon, on the Joe Rogan Experience, discussing a medicine that is taken from tree bark, iboga, which has been known to cure alcohol and opiate addiction. After failing to get off the opiates on my own, I believed ibogaine might be my best shot at getting right. Ultimately, this medicine saved my life.
But first, let me tell you how I got to that point where it needed saving.
The girl I fell in love with was a sexy singer named Alejandra. She had long beautiful legs, bright green eyes, and silky brown hair. When she’d sing to me, her soft melodic voice would kiss the most insecure parts of me. Falling in love with her was too easy. We were in Tijuana, Mexico, standing in line at customs, trying to get back into San Diego.
“Kiss me,” she said.
Without hesitation, I did. I kissed her, long and hard. Not only because she’d asked me too, but because I’d thought about kissing her every day for the past month since she’d dumped me. And she knew it.
She tasted of sweat, lip-gloss and hard alcohol. I put my arms around her, pulled in her close. As I kissed her, I noticed her hands moving down the front of her pants. I was completely caught off guard when I realized that she was stuffing a baggie full of pills into her vagina, for the purpose of smuggling them back into America.
That should’ve been it between me and Alejandra. Unfortunately, the danger and excitement of it all turned me on more than ever.
Twenty minutes after crossing the border, we found ourselves at a hotel in San Diego. It was only then that she explained that she’d asked me to go to Mexico with her because her new boyfriend was a goodie-goodie Christian that would never approve of her smuggling drugs across the border. Before this trip, I’d thought she was the goodie-goodie Christian.
“I’m going to take a nice hot bath,” she said, sitting on the bed.
“Okay,” I replied.
She removed two pills from the baggie and popped them in her mouth. “Take some,” she said, extending her hand towards me.
Without asking what they were, I put two pills in my mouth, and swallowed. This impulsive type of decision making had been a recurring theme in my life. Alejandra headed into the bathroom, and I was left alone to melt into the pure and beautiful peace that is one’s first opiate experience.
Twenty minutes after taking the pills, I was making love to Alejandra in the hotel shower, and the chronic neck pain I’d been living with since breaking it five years earlier had magically disappeared. My head was still swirling, but not with thoughts; there were no thoughts. Instead, in place of all the normal clutter in my mind, there was nothing but warm purple light filling my head, lifting me off my feet, flowing through me, saturating my being and filling the empty cracks in my being with an aqueous euphoria I’d never known. I closed my eyes and tried to disappear into that warm purple light as we made a kind of love that felt different than every other time.
It was spectacular.
My mind was empty and I felt free. There were only two thoughts permeating my conscious:
I want more of whatever those pills were.
I’m going to win Alejandra back.
For the next month, Alejandra and I would have sex in a utility closet, at work, on a regular basis, and she’d slip me a few pills whenever I asked for them. In hindsight, it was an unhealthy relationship, but at the time, it felt like perfection. Then, about a month after Tijuana, I walked into work and found Alejandra showing her wedding ring off to all our co-workers. She’d gotten married, on a whim, over the weekend. Just a few days after we’d last fucked.
“Matt, come here, look at Alejandra’s wedding pictures,” said Tegan, a co-worker. I walked out of work and never returned.
Two weeks later, Alejandra aborted our baby. She was three weeks pregnant. Her husband never knew. A piece of me died with this news. This left a giant empty void inside me that immediately began filling with physical and emotional pain. So, the only thing I could think to do was to drive to Mexico to get more of those pills. I replaced a love lost with a new love. One that would always be loyal. One that would never abort my baby.
The pills were Oxycontin, and within weeks, I’d burned through them all. I wanted more. So, I made an appointment with my doctor and he began prescribing them to me for my chronic neck and shoulder pain. In an accident in ‘97 I blew out my shoulder, broke a few bones in my wrist, and broke my neck. This led to six surgeries in a short period of time. In this country, as easily as doctors hand out pain pills, going five years after a serious injury without trying pain pills is a tiny miracle in itself.
I didn’t view my pill popping to be a problem. I set rules and I followed them. At first, I only took them on weekends. Then, weekends plus Tuesdays. It wasn’t long until I had five different doctors prescribing me Oxycontin, and was taking them every day as soon as I woke. Still, I didn’t have a problem. I hadn’t missed a single day of work, my relationship with my new girlfriend was great, popping pills became a funny theme with friends, and my family thought I had it under control. The pills were reducing my pain, allowing me to do more physical activity than I’d done in five years, and enhancing my creativity to the point that I was able to write my entire first novel, completely stoned, with great ease. The pills seemed to be a blessing in my life. Besides, if they were dangerous, surely at least one doctor would probably have told me that, right?
Eventually, pills no longer cut it for me. Though I was taking 15 Oxycontin per day, I was barely feeling it, and even though I had five doctors giving them to me, I couldn’t get enough to support my habit, so I had to resort to buying them on the street. Then, one weekend, my dealer, DeShawn, didn’t have any pills for me.
But he did have heroin.
So, I decided to do it, just for the weekend, to help me work on my novel. The following week, I’d switch back to pills when he’d re-upped. Heroin was cheaper than Oxycontin and the high was smoother and instantaneous. It felt like gentle kisses to my soul from the most beautiful woman in the universe. The world around me disappeared, except for the beautiful parts that I wanted to see. Colors were softer, words were more poetic, touch was more sensual, and my whole body felt like it was in a constant state of post-orgasmic bliss.
As soon as I tried heroin, I knew I wasn’t going back to pills. So, once again, I set rules. I decided that as long as I only smoked it, instead of injecting it, that I wouldn’t become addicted. Junkies shoot heroin; everyone knows that. I wasn’t a junkie. And I believed my own lies. Junkies aren’t always the homeless, unkempt guys under the bride in your town. More often than not, junkies are young men who run businesses, own real estate, go to the gym, have wives, write novels, and play tennis on Tuesdays and beach volleyball on Thursdays. Most drug abusers are functional users. This message needs to permeate society if we are ever going to address and fix the problem.
My problem quickly spiraled out of control. I’d wake up, get dressed, and smoke heroin in my car with one hand while steering with the other hand, on my way to DeShawn’s house in Compton, where I’d buy more heroin before work. I’d smoke in my car because I didn’t want my wife to know how often I was using the drug.
I had everyone fooled.
In December of 2006, my wife and I had to fly back home to Ohio for Christmas. I decided to sneak just enough heroin through airport security to get me through the week. The fact that I was willing to risk my freedom and go to jail rather than give up heroin for a week should’ve clued me in to the severity of my problem, but it didn’t.
After passing through security with the heroin in the lining of my bag, and while waiting for our flight, a few cops entered the terminal with German Shepherds. I quickly made the decision to take my bag to the bathroom to eat all of my heroin. All of it.
I was higher than I’d ever been. I’d packed just enough heroin to give me a taste everyday for a week. This was way too much to consume in one sitting. I’m lucky I didn’t overdose, or even die. I didn’t, and if I’m being perfectly honest, I loved every second of that experience. And in this moment, I realized that I could handle way more heroin that I’d been smoking to that point.
Two days later, in Ohio, I started feeling like I had the flu. I didn’t realize that I was beginning withdrawal. I didn’t realize it because I’d never experienced withdrawal because I hadn’t been drug free for a single day in nearly four years. I was deathly ill for about four days, until I scored some pain pills that got me straight. This is the first time that I realized I might have an issue with the drugs. Still, I didn’t see myself as being an addict. My body had simply become used to taking opiates, and the sudden stoppage of it made me sick. I wasn’t an addict.
On New Year’s Day, my wife and I returned to Los Angeles, and went to a friend’s house to watch the bowl games. All I could think about was heroin. So, I called my dealer. He agreed to let me come over, despite the holiday, if I paid triple price. So, I lied to my young bride and told her I had to go to the office to make up some work from our time away. I drove to Compton, and walked up to the stash house. To this point, I’d always met DeShawn on the corner. This was my first time in the stash house. There were at least a dozen gang-bangers, Bloods, all strapped with guns, and most of them looked under 18. Several were sitting around a small television, playing Tecmo Bowl, on an old Nintendo. On a table was a mound of black tar heroin that was at least two feet high. I could taste the sweetness of the heroin in the air. Two girls, one Mexican and one black, both topless, were wearing surgical masks and cutting the tar with powder and then putting it into tiny balloons.
DeShawn ripped off a chunk of tar, un-cut, put it on the scale, and handed the raw tar to me. I gave him $600. I was excited. I’d never had un-cut stuff.
Just then, one of the gang bangers yelled at the television. He picked up the Nintendo and smashed it on the floor. Everyone began yelling and fighting. Nervous that someone might use their gun, I made a quick exit. Then, against the specific and terse instructions given to me from my drug-dealing, gun-strapped, gangbanging friend, I sat outside the stash house, pulled out my foil, and got high in my car.
Fifteen to twenty minutes later, the fight escalated and took to the street. Stoned, I sat there, watching, completely intrigued, either uncaring or unaware of any danger I might be in while gang-bangers threatened one another with guns. Then, three cop cars pulled up. The cops ran past my car and after the gang bangers who were now running in the opposite direction.
Two weeks later, DeShawn’s number was disconnected, most likely because he was in jail. I wasn’t about to go back to the stash house, so I went to Skid Row, which was the most likely place to score, and the most likely place to get arrested for scoring. There, I found some heroin. When I purchased it, the dealer threw in some “points” (needles). Without giving it much thought, I broke my rule and shot up for the first time. I still don’t know why I did it on that occasion. That night, I drove 45 miles to meet some friends, who were in Riverside County, for work, from Ohio. We drank all night, and then, with my head full of heroin and alcohol, I attempted to drive home. I was arrested for DUI. Luckily, they never searched my car, less they would’ve found un-cut heroin, and I would’ve gone away for more than a night.
Upon getting out of jail, the first thing I did was get high, right there in the impound lot. A few days later, I learned my wife was pregnant. I was thrilled. Finally, that wound would have a chance to be healed. At this point, I admitted to myself that I had a problem, and I knew I needed to fix it if I was going to ever be a decent father.
I decided to be done with heroin, and I stopped using it as soon as I made that decision. For two weeks, I went through massive withdrawal. I’ll spare you the details as you’ve all seen withdrawal in the movies. I felt the same way I did when I caught Typhoid Fever in Korea multiplied by a factor of ten. After about fifteen days, the physical withdrawal symptoms went away. However, severe depression and a complete lack of energy and motivation replaced the withdrawal, and that might have been worse. It was almost as if I’d been artificially energizing myself for a decade, and now, without the drug, my body couldn’t regulate itself.
I went to a new pain management doctor and told him the truth about my drug use. He put me on a medication called Suboxone, which he described as the new and improved Methadone. He told me I’d likely need to take it for the rest of my life, but that was okay because there was very little downside to it. He prescribed me 16 milligrams per day. This was enough to put me on my ass within an hour, something heroin never did. So, I cut my dose in half, but I didn’t tell the doctor. Instead, in true addict form, I began stock piling the extra pills. That easily, my problem was solved. My insurance covered 100% of the drug, I was heroin-free, and I still got high. Getting clean was great!
A few years later, my body began breaking down in all the ways I’d previously mentioned. I was going to work, coming home, playing with my kid for a couple hours, and going straight to bed, I was miserable, and I was getting worse every single day. Soon, I realized that I needed a new solution. So, I quit taking the pills, cold turkey.
The withdrawal from Suboxone was almost the same as it had been from heroin. However, two weeks of acute withdrawal, the sub-acute depression and fatigue was worse than it was with the heroin withdrawal. I stayed off the medicine for three months, and things just kept getting worse. Every day was a massive struggle, and I felt like staying off the pills was going to kill me faster than remaining on them. Seeing no other option, I got back on the Suboxone. I’d resigned myself to the fact that I’d done irreparable damage to my body and would be on those poison pills for the rest of my short life.
And then, I heard Joe and Amber discussing ibogaine on Joe’s podcast.
I immediately began researching this “miracle” cure. It was too good to be true, but I was desperate. I researched this like I’d never researched anything before. For the first time ever, I wasn’t impulsive when faced with a big decision. I knew this was my one shot, and I had to make it count. I found a clinic in Mexico called The Marigold Med Spa. It was $6,000 for one week of treatment, which was more than I could afford, but I had to do it anyway.
I left for Mexico on February 24th, 2013. That was the last time I ever touched an opiate. I am 100% cured, and if I’m being completely honest, it hasn’t even been that hard. All my body systems have recovered. My testosterone is back, the anemia is gone, the depression is gone, and the physical fatigue and weakness are gone. My energy is higher than it’s been in a decade, and my enthusiasm for life is back.
I was already in withdrawal upon my arrival at The Marigold Med Spa. The “house mother,” Amanda, picked me up at the airport and gave me some Valium. I was surprised to find that her “medical spa” was nothing more than her home, and that I was the only patient. I felt uncomfortable with this, but I wasn’t about to turn back.
That evening, Dr. Doug, a handsome young Doctor from the United States came to my room. He was barefoot and wearing a lab coat, and he talked with a super mellow drawl. Dr. Doug was a former addict that was cured by ibogaine. I was expecting him to explain what I should expect with the ibogaine pill. He did explain, but there was no pill. Instead, he gave me an IV. He told me it was ibogaine infused with gold. What he didn’t tell me was that I was patient zero for the IV ibogaine.
After forty-five uneventful minutes, Dr. Doug excused himself from my room and went off to bed in the guesthouse across the lot. From what I’d read, I expected that I’d start having a psychedelic experience. I expected dragons to peel off the wall and breathe fire into my soul, filling me with wisdom or something similar.
None of that happened.
After another hour, I decided to watch Netflix. Halfway through an episode of House of Cards, the ibogaine picked me up, ate me, shit me out, and then body slammed me. In a period of only 30 minutes, my blood pressure dropped to 90/55 and my body temperature dropped to 94 degrees. I couldn’t get warm and my body was convulsing, uncontrollably, trying to get warm. Then, just as quickly as my temperature dropped, it shot up through the roof, up over 105, and my blood pressure followed. Given that I’d had a stroke in the past, I was scared. I felt incredibly weak, but I was able to crawl out of bed, disconnect from the IV fluids and monitoring equipment, walk down a flight of stairs, across the lot, and over to Doctor Doug’s door. As he awoke, I felt my body temperature begin to drop again. It was the weirdest thing I’d ever experienced.
Dr. Doug helped me to my room and gave me a couple Valium. My body temperature stabilized 15 or 20 minutes after taking the Valium, and, unable to sleep, I watched an entire season of House of Cards. I was up all night long. I was a little disappointed that I hadn’t had any psychedelic experiences. I had heard that iboga makes you confront the tragedies of your past, and I was kind of looking forward to that. I was also irritated that Dr. Doug had left me in the room and never come back to check on me. He told me he’d never seen anyone react to ibogaine in the manner I did.
Maybe that’s because you’d never given Ibogaine in IV form to a patient before, I thought.
Regardless, during the week, I took four doses in seven days, and my body’s physical response to the drug was the same each time. It was terrifying each time, but Dr. Doug sat with me through it each time after that first time.
Halfway through the week, a girl, Miranda, showed up at the clinic looking like a 200 year-old walking skeleton dressed in loose green skin. I wondered if I looked as sickly and pathetic as she did. Miranda had been a heroin addict for 23 years, since she’d come home from school, at 12 years of age, to find her father hanging by his neck from a noose in the bathroom. Within 6 months of her father’s suicide, Miranda had a full-blown heroin addiction, and she hadn’t even hit puberty yet. Despite all kinds of therapy and rehab, Miranda had never gone more than 30 days without getting high.
Miranda’s experience at the clinic was much different than mine. The ibogaine gave her incredible visions. It took her back to the bathroom that her father hung himself in. She said she walked into that room, 12 years old again, and found her father hanging from the noose. He opened his eyes, looked at her, pulled the noose off his neck, climbed down and hugged her. She said the experience felt like it lasted many hours, and she spent the entire time with her father, talking, hugging, and healing. He told her it wasn’t her fault, that he loved her, and that he did it because he was in pain. What she told me blew me away, and I almost didn’t believe her. However, we’ve stayed in touch since then. It’s been over a year and both of us have remained 100% clean.
Since my experience, I’ve talked to other people who’ve used ibogaine to treat addiction. In my estimation, about 70% of them were healed. That’s a pretty startling statistic when you consider that the conventional method, the 12-Step program, cures only about 5% of addicts without relapse.
At the end of the process, I realized that I had zero desire to take any opiates and it had been seven days since my last dose. This was every bit as miraculous as I’d heard on the Joe Rogan podcast. I felt worn out, but I wasn’t the least bit depressed, I didn’t feel like I was in withdrawal, I didn’t have the cold sweats, I wasn’t vomiting, and didn’t feel anemic. I was extremely fatigued, but beyond that, I felt great.
After my treatment, driving to the airport, I thanked Amanda for helping me get well.
Curious, I asked her why Miranda, and all the others I’ve interacted with on the internet, had such intense visualizations from their ibogaine experience, but I didn’t.
“All I know is that ibogaine seems to do for the person what that person needs in order to get well. Maybe all of your wounds were physical, and the ibogaine knew to flush those ills out of you. Maybe that’s why you had such an intense physical reaction. You know,” she continued, “the ibogaine was just step one. Now, it’s up to you to stay clean, and that staying clean won’t be easy.”
What I’ve concluded from my experience, and the experience of others whom I’ve grown close to, is that the 12-Step program may be teaching the wrong approach for sobriety, at least for some people. They teach that once you’re an addict, you are always an addict. They do that so that you never try to take drugs again, and I understand that. However, I’m not an addict anymore. That doesn’t mean that I’ll ever take opiates again (I won’t), but it means that I don’t live in fear. I have no desire to take the drugs. It isn’t a daily battle. I’m not taking it one step at a time. I was a person who made bad decisions and allowed myself to become dependent on a substance that had, at one time, helped my physical pain. Now, I make better decisions, I’m no longer addicted, and I deal with my physical pain through things like yoga and exercise. If I do have a relapse (I won’t), then I will not blame “my disease.” I won’t give myself that crutch to lean on. A built in excuse is almost a guarantee for failure. Sobriety is on me. I know what’s at risk, and it’s my responsibility to take care of myself. Sometimes, I drink socially, and I do so without fear of relapsing. I live my life as any other normal person, I’m a good husband with a terrific beautiful and loving wife, and I’m a very involved father with two incredible kids. Other than my physical pain, life is terrific, and that physical pain is getting a little better each day.
Ibogaine saved my life. There is no doubt about it. If you’re addicted to opiates, do not be afraid. Don’t just pack your bags and head to some random place in Mexico, because it can be very dangerous, but if you do your homework, and go to real medical professionals, this miracle medicine may save your life too.
If you’re an addict (and if you’re asking yourself that question, then you are), then not taking ibogaine might be the riskiest decision you can make.
The author of this story has chosen to remain anonymous due to the sensitive nature of the subject matter.