The United States has witnessed an unprecedented rise in the use of addictive opiate drugs, such as prescription pain medications and heroin.
These types of drugs are notoriously addictive and detox from them is painful, so recovering from an opiate addiction without intervention and help is next to impossible.
Even as opiate abuse is reaching an all-time record in the U.S., treatment is difficult to access for many users. A 2013 study discovered that while nearly 23 million people needed some sort of drug addiction recovery service, only about 2.5 million actually received any professional help.
However, even if an opiate addict is able to enroll in a detox and rehab program, a successful recovery is by no means guaranteed by the completion of treatment. Addiction is a chronic illness, and people who do start living a sober life have a dishearteningly high chance of experiencing a relapse.
A recovered addict has a 40 to 60 percent chance of using drugs after completing detox and rehab, so many people are searching for a real cure for this disease. Sometimes, this search for effective addiction treatment results in trying some very unorthodox methods of helping people conquer drug abuse, once and for all.
For these reasons, much research has been going on regarding a new controversial treatment method: ibogaine treatment.
What is Ibogaine?
Chances are, you’ve never heard of ibogaine or are aware of the waves it is making in the fields of chemical dependency and addiction treatment.
Ibogaine is an extract derived from the Tabernanthe Ibog shrub, which is native to Africa. The Tabernanthe Ibog shrub is known as a holy plant to the indigenous tribal cultures of Africa, and is respected as a tool of divination and an integral part of shamanic rituals, offering journeys into the spiritual realm.
Ibogaine is an alkaloid substance, which means that its chemical make up is derived organically and directly from the plant. Alkaloid substances are highly water soluble, making them easily available for absorption within the human body for greater potency.
Potent is one of the primary adjectives most commonly used to describe ibogaine. Ibogaine is considered by many to be the most potent psychedelic drug known to mankind. A psychoactive drug alters brain function by changing a person’s:
- State of consciousness
- Perception of time and space
- Memory and recall
Taking a Trip With Ibogaine
Essentially, the psychoactive properties of ibogaine make users trip. Users report entering a spiritual realm, hearing voices and being driven to higher levels of self-reflection and self-actualization. So how is taking a hallucinogen supposed to help people who are already abusing and addicted to drugs?
Pre-clinical studies have shown conclusive evidence that ibogaine actually reduces the intense drug cravings that are characteristic of addiction. It is speculated that ibogaine works to treat addiction by:
- Directly acting upon serotonin and dopamine levels to reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms
- Binding to opiate receptors, allowing them to function in a non-addicted manner
- Metabolizing slowly out of the liver, resulting a slow release of withdrawal-alleviating substances over time
These effects are highly desirable and promising for people who hope to finally achieve lasting sobriety from opiates. However, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) declared ibogaine to be a Schedule I substance, meaning that it has no recognized place in medical treatment and also poses a high potential for abuse and addiction.
Ibogaine in Government Medical Research
Ironically, the FDA has classified ibogaine to be as harmful to people as the very substances that it can purportedly cure people’s addiction to. However, there have been past studies conducted by the FDA to investigate its usages in the treatment of addiction. Although some phases of these government studies were completed, the entire trial was suspended and never completed.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) did support funding human trials of ibogaine in addicted people, but the influence of many pharmaceutical companies eventually disbanded the project. Encouragingly, NIDA continues to lend aid to pre-clinical trials that seek to identify how and why ibogaine may help some people overcome opiate addiction.
Privately Funded Studies on Ibogaine
The lack of government research into the efficacy of ibogaine means that there are no current legislative actions being taken in order to remove this substance’s Schedule I classification. Thus, the private sector has taken the matter of access to this potential addiction cure into their own hands.
Howard Lotsof is the most notable individual associated with ibogaine research. Lotsof believes that ibogaine cured him of a nasty heroin addiction, and he went on to file and receive many U.S. patents for ibogaine-based chemical dependency and drug addiction treatments. In a study by Lotsof, he found these encouraging results of ibogaine treatment:
- A time period of 3 to 6 months of reduced or no opiate cravings after an initial ibogaine treatment
- Increasingly reduced cravings following more treatments
- A 35 percent increase in successfully maintained sobriety for addicts who had failed to stay sober with other treatment modalities
By all indications, it appears that ibogaine is able to block cravings that so often lead to relapse. This provides a precious window of opportunity for recovering addicts to build a life that will support and maintain their new sobriety, and assist with relapse prevention.
Ibogaine – Follow the Money Trail
Ibogaine is revered in Africa as a key part of embarking upon a spiritual journey. Many addicts who have recovered with the aid of this holy plant report that the initial psychedelic trip did indeed provide them with insights and enlightenment that encouraged and helped them to maintain sobriety. This plant is a living religious artifact, and should thus be treated with humble respect by the Western world that is now only starting to recognize its healing potential.
However, since ibogaine is illegal in the U.S., prospective patients must often turn to the internet in order to find information, testimonials and providers of this treatment. Since most ibogaine is only accessible outside of U.S. borders, people seeking this treatment must be wary of scams, know exactly what they are looking for and perform due diligence in order to make sure they’re not getting taken for a ride.
That being said, there are numerous clinics that operate under a strict code of professional ethics to help people through their ibogaine experience. It’s important for anyone considering this form of therapy to understand how truly intense of a trip ibogaine causes and be willing to assume full responsibility for their actions.
Is Ibogaine Treatment Safe?
Despite the FDA’s insistence that ibogaine is a dangerous drug, its potential for helping people to recover from addiction is evident from the plethora of positive experiences reported by its consumers. After all, the worst side effects from addiction are incarceration or death, making the following documented side effects of ibogaine pale in comparison. Aside from the psychedelic trip users experience, ibogaine may also cause:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Loss of coordination
- Light sensitivity
- Blood pressure variances
- Increased heart rate or arrhythmia
While some of these side effects do have the potential to become serious, a well-established practitioner or clinic should have medical resources at the ready should the need arise.
Ibogaine Treatment and Underground Addiction Rehab
Ibogaine is one of many underground, sometimes illegal treatments for addiction. While there is no miracle cure for addiction, some of these alternative treatment modalities seem to provide the clarity of mind and room for self-reflection that is required for an addict to truly change their behavior and reform their self-destructive coping mechanisms.
While it may be difficult for some people to put their faith into a treatment that is illegal in our country, the truth is that so many people are desperate to stop using drugs that they will go to great lengths to try anything that may help. The real issue underlying the so-called “treatment underground” is the lack of access to effective, evidence-based and affordable treatment options.
So ask yourself, is ibogaine the answer to addiction? Maybe instead of looking for an addiction panacea, we should be asking why people feel they must go to such extremes to attain sobriety. Perhaps fixing a broken policing system, a failed national drug policy and an overloaded healthcare system would place accessible treatment well within the grasp of more Americans.