Tabernathe iboga or ibogaine as it is commonly known, is a natural plant resembling shrub that grows largely in central African nations such as Gabon.
Over the past couple of years, the plant has gained popularity as a possible tool to help with addiction therapy. But what is the naturally occurring psychedelic substance?
200 years of use
Members of the Bwiti religion in Gabon have been using ibogaine during initiations and coming-of-age ceremonies. Bwiti believers eat iboga bark shavings.
They report that in doing so they have visions and that they can contact their ancestors and their God.
For much of the rest of the world, it is extracted out of the iboga bark and placed inside a pill.
From the 1930s, the drug was sold in France as an antidepressant until being outlawed in the 1960s.
The first example of ibogaine being used in treating addiction was due to Howard Lotsof. While not a medical professional (he eventually got a degree in film in 1976) Lotsof is responsible for spreading the possible benefits of ibogaine via numerous research papers he authored and co-authored.
Lotsof first experimented with ibogaine to treat his heroin addiction. Soon after, he took 20 drug experimenters to try many different hallucinogens.
The results were positive with the seven people who were addicted to heroin at the time said they were no longer in withdrawal and after six months, five of them had lost their desire to use heroin.
Out of the hallucinogenics’ ibogaine was the only drug to have this effect.
Despite his efforts, Lotsof was unsuccessful at persuading pharmaceutical companies to invest and research ibogaine for a variety of reasons. Instead, in 1970 the U.S. government classified it as Schedule 1.
By 1991, the National Institute on Drug Abuse pushed forward with a study of ibogaine on animals. They found that the drug was able to reduce how much heroin, cocaine, and alcohol the animals consumed. This study allowed for a human trial to take place but due to a lack of funding this eventually fell apart.
Ibogaine in the 21st century
Ibogaine remains completely illegal in many countries. These include the U.S., U.K. France and much of the rest of Europe.
New York and Vermont have both recently introduced bills that aim to legalise the drug for research and treatment of addiction.
There are some nations where it does remain legal, including the Netherlands, New Zealand, Brazil, Mexico, and Gabon.
Each of these nations has different laws relating to the drug with some not regulating the market, such as Mexico, whereas in New Zealand, ibogaine is legal by prescription.
In the above nations where ibogaine is legal is commonly where many people head for the ibogaine treatment centres that have appeared.
At the beginning of the 20th century 900 people had been treated with ibogaine. By 2006, this number had increased to 3,500.
Unfortunately, due to the lack of regulation in many of these nations, the quality of the treatment centres can vary drastically.
The high-quality treatment centres will be run by medical professionals with strict processes in place, but not all centres will follow similar procedures, so for those who attend research is essential.
Contemporary research of Ibogaine
Thomas Kingsley Brown completed a study on ibogaine in 2017 for using the drug as a treatment for addiction.
The major findings of the study were that ibogaine was effective for detox, the reduction in opioid usage which began in one month continued for twelve months. They also found that there was long-term improvement in social and family status.
A 2022 study on United States veterans found the Ibogaine could be used in treating alcohol misuse as well as for post-traumatic stress disorder.
On the other side of the Atlantic, there have been calls from British citizens to offer the drug on the National Health Service with citizens currently travelling to Portugal to receive treatment for their addictions.
Potential risks of Ibogaine
There have been calls for caution of using Ibogaine too extensively as there are risks associated with the drug.
One of the largest being that there are cases where it can cause stress on the heart, meaning those with pre-existing heart conditions could experience arrhythmia.
There are also more traditional side effects that accompany the drug like other psychedelics. These include nausea, vomiting, and hallucinations.