Ibogaine is a naturally occurring psychoactive compound used to treat alcohol, cocaine, metamphetamine, heroin, methadone and food addictions and some mental conditions.
It is a mild hallucinogen that is also used to facilitate spiritual exploration and the process of psychological introspection.
Ibogaine can be obtained either by extraction from the African Iboga plant or through semi-synthesis from the precursor compound voacangine.
Although a fully-organic synthesis of Ibogaine has been produced, the process is too costly to produce a commercial yield. Ibogaine treatments contain substances obtained through the semi-synthetic method.
Preparations that contain Ibogaine have also been used in medicines and rituals within theAfrican Bwiti spiritual tradition.
According to oral folklore, Ibogaine was discovered when a hunter killed a porcupine that had eaten the root of the Iboga plant. His wife experienced visions after cooking and eating the animal. The hunter then returned to the site of the capture and collected roots from the Iboga plant which was then used for spiritual ceremonies.
Ibogaine was first marketed as a medical stimulant in late 1800s France. Its anti-addictive properties were only discovered in the 1960s by Howard Lotsof, an addict who became completely cured of a heroin addiction by a single ingestion of Ibogaine.
The use of Ibogaine for the treatment of drug addiction and other conditions has grown substantially in many countries. However, research into the uses of this treatment for addiction was been hindered and restricted due to its prohibition in countries such as the United States.
The History of the Ibogaine Movement in the US
That a substance like Ibogaine can end up so far from the hands of those who need it, even after going through such scrutiny, makes you question our very assumptions about modern science and medicine. Our story of Ibogaine begins like this:
Our main character is a little-known shrub native to Western Africa. It is called taburnanthe iboga.
According to legend, pygmies first discovered the magical, hallucinogenic powers of the iboga root and taught this knowledge to others. So began the practice of Bwiti, an African spiritual tradition based around the use of the powerful iboga.
Its initiation ceremony involves a person consuming copious amounts of the iboga bark. This animistic tradition sees iboga used to contact spirits and departed ancestors and as a sacred medicine (boghaga means ‘to care for’).
In Gabon, this plant is sometimes referred to as ‘Holy Wood’ and has been used as a sacrament by the Bwiti for thousands of years.
The first westerner to discover the root was a French doctor in 1864. He brought it to France where a botanist named it Tabernanathe iboga H. bn.
It wasn’t until 1901 that scientists extracted the alkaloid from the plant and named it Ibogaine. The substance was then used in low doses as a prescription drug to treat fatigue under the name Lambarene.
It remained in the market until being banned in the 1960s in the United States.
However, scientists eventually began to suspect that they could be used to combat opiate addiction.
The CIA conducted secret research on hallucinogens and would neither confirm nor deny that they had discovered the anti-addictive properties of Ibogaine. Dr. Harris Isbell, a doctor at the Federal Narcotics Hospital in Kentucky, conduced experiments with LSD and Ibogaine on prisoners who were addicted to heroin.
However, he used doses that were too low to interrupt addiction. In 1956, the researcher Jurg Schneider discovered that Ibogaine amplified the effects of opiates so that only half had to be consumed to produce the same effects.
This research was kept secret until the 1980s.
Who Discovered Ibogaine Stops Addiction?
It came down to a young Howard Lotsof who ingested Ibogaine and discovered its capacity to completely eliminate his drug craving in one day.
He organized the first informal trial of the drug and found that most people in the experimental group had ceased all drug activities within six months.
Lotsof also found Ibogaine to deliver few withdrawal symptoms.
The results were seen within a few days or overnight.
Psychedelic psychotherapists, including Leo Zeff and Myron Stolaroff, also began using Ibogaine for treatments.
However, though it was never used or abused for recreational purposes, Ibogaine became lumped with other psychedelic drugs under the Controlled Substances Act in 1968 which deemed it to have no valid medical use.
By the 1970s, it had virtually disappeared from the scene. In the meantime, throughout the 1980s and 1990s, cocaine and heroin addictions exponentially increased.
Lotsof continued in his efforts to advocate for the medical use of Ibogaine and filed a patent for the drug.
Although he was met with disinterest and derision, Lotsof persevered and convinced President Omar Bongo of Gabon to fund research into Iboga.
Holland then conducted the first human experiments on the drug.
Simultaneously, research by Dr. Stanley Glick in the United States showed Ibogaine to reduce self-administration of morphine in rats. There was further traction in the growth of the Harm Reduction movement in the 1980s towards drug policy and Ibogaine gained many high profile advocates, especially in the African-American community.
However, resistance started to build against Ibogaine from other organizations with the emergence of a study arguing against its effects.
In the meantime, a study from Holland revealed a 75% success rate of Ibogaine in treating its participants with addictions to hard drugs.
This was almost unheard of in the world of addiction treatment.
Other research showed that Ibogaine was not a maintenance substance like methadone, but a complete treatment.
Other positive stories about the efficacy of Ibogaine earned the drug attention in the media.