Ibogaine has shown remarkable proficiency helping people beat drug addictions. The substance, derived from the roots of the African iboga shrub, is growing in popularity in treatment centers in countries where it is legal, particularly to combat opiate addictions. Now, researchers are looking at the long-term effects of ibogaine to learn more about its effects on the human mind and body.
“There have been claims by the government that there’s a high potential for abuse and no medical use, and claims from ibogaine advocates that one dose is a miracle cure,” Rick Doblin, executive director of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, or MAPS, said in a statement. “We’re trying to gather some scientific evidence to better evaluate it.”
Ibogaine is a psychedelic substance and is currently prohibited in a number of countries, including the United States. Traditionally, it has been used in spiritual ceremonies among people who live in the Congo River basin in West Africa. Since it has shown so much promise against addiction, MAPS is conducting observational studies about the efficacy in treatments in New Zealand after running a similar study with mixed results in Mexico.
“Ibogaine is an addiction interrupter — not a cure, not a ‘magic bullet,’” the report states. One in eight subjects did make it a full year without returning to opiates after their single dose of ibogaine. None of the subjects reported any adverse reactions to the treatment.
One report by a member of the study who was addicted to heroin noted that they felt an immediate relief from opiate cravings on taking the ibogaine. After 12 hours of dealing with suppressed memories and subconscious guilt during the experience, the subject said the desire to take heroin vanished for six months afterward. Two years after the trial, the writer says that none of the 30 people who participated returned to problematic drug use.
Most evidence collected so far backs up the utility of ibogaine as at least an effective way to kick-start addiction treatment. “Preclinical research has generally supported anecdotal claims that ibogaine attenuates withdrawal symptoms and reduces drug cravings,” researcher Thomas Brown noted in a 2013 article in the Current Drug Abuse Reviews journal.
The journey isn’t easy, however. People who have submitted to ibogaine treatments report that the experience is extremely difficult, more of a spiritual cleansing than a recreational trip.
And there are other risks as well. The substance can have negative health outcomes — some estimates peg the mortality rate of people who use ibogaine as high as 1 in 300, although it is hard to get firm statistics due to the clandestine nature of its consumption and the fact that many people who take ibogaine are already dealing with serious addiction-related health problems. People with heart and liver problems especially appear to have higher risk of adverse effects.
Television New Zealand aired a program that weighed whether the promise of ibogaine is worth the risk. “The idea that it’s too risky to do it, I think you have to balance that with what risk are these people prepared to take anyway?” researcher Geoff Noller said in the video.
“It was like watching a movie of your own life,” said Tanea Paterson, who is recovering from a methadone addiction, of her treatment. “I just has empathy for myself, rather than the guilt and shame I’d been smacking myself around the head with.”
Addiction specialist Gavin Cape said that of 20 patients he knew who took ibogaine, only two didn’t respond well. “Ibogaine has that potential to enable people to come off opioids with just one dose,” he said in the video.
“There is potential for it, however we do not know enough,” Dr. Susanna Galea said, stating that the study is definitely worth the risk. The host asked why people who aren’t addicted to opiates themselves should care about the research.
“Open your eyes and look around you,” Galea answered. “Drug addiction is a problem of society.”
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