May 17, 2023 I Paul Seaburn

Psychedelic Plant Ibogaine Helping to Fight Addiction and Depression

It seems ironic that one method of treating drug addictions that is growing in popularity and effectiveness is the use of psychedelic drugs – which themselves are classified (often wrongly) as addictive or have a potential for abuse. Psychedelic drugs have been gaining acceptance states in the U.S. move to legalize them, manufacturers find ways to control portions to allow micro-dosing, celebrities introduce the public to the benefits of controlled use of some of the more powerful forms, and the 60’s ‘hippie’ stigma is finally disappearing. One additional benefit is that some of these psychoactive drugs long shunned are being tested again under controlled circumstances. One such drug in the news this week is ibogaine – a natural product extracted from the root bark of the iboga plant which has been used in some countries to treat drug addiction but has long been feared because of some side effects. Will legalization help aid research in taming the side effects and releasing the anti-addiction benefits of ibogaine? Addicts in Colorado may soon find out.

Iboga bark in upper left corner

“Ibogaine may provide certain meaningful insights, such as showing someone the reasons that led to their substance use disorder. This can help them come to terms with their own mortality and offer immense relief and self-acceptance.”

In a new study published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Review, principal investigator José Carlos Bouso explains how researchers from Spain’s International Center for Ethnobotanical Education, Research and Service (ICEERS) and the Medical Anthropology Research Center interviews 13 participants with substance use disorders SUD who treated their addictions with ibogaine. While it appears that the participants used high doses of ibogaine causing highly visionary side effects, he points out that other studies in clinical settings are examining the safety of low, repeated doses of ibogaine for the treatment of methadone and alcohol dependence. Ibogaine became legal in Colorado when voters decriminalized psilocybin mushrooms in November 2022. However, Prop 122 restricts its rollout for medical treatments until 2026, which gives clinics time to test it for treating opioid addictions.

“It’s like I was put back to the day before I ever used a drug.”

Natural News interviewed Lynn Smith, who became addicted to opioid pharmaceuticals after a serious pickup truck accident. Because ibogaine is a Schedule I controlled substance in the U.S., Smith was forced to go to an ibogaine clinic in Tijuana, Mexico, where she paid $12,000 for a treatment that may or may not have been administered by a licensed doctor. There, the ibogaine was extracted from the root of the Tabernanthe iboga plant and brewed into palm wine for drinking, or served in a solid form for chewing. These techniques originated with the Fang, Mitsogo, and Punu people of the Congo Basin in Africa as part of the Bwiti religion. After observing its use, French and Belgian explorers brought it back to Europe in the 19th century, and it was sold in France from the 1930s to the 1960s under the name Lambarène as a mental and physical stimulant that was popular with athletes until it was withdrawn from the market in 1966 and all ibogaine products became illegal in France. That was the same year that ibogaine was synthesized.

While originally considered to be a stimulant, ibogaine’s anti-addiction potential was believed to have been discovered accidentally in 1962 by teenaged heroin addict Howard Lotsof and five heroin-addicted friends who found it reduced their craving and withdrawal symptoms. Lotsof eventually became a leading researcher in the use of ibogaine for treating substance addictions in Europe. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) funded clinical studies of ibogaine in the U.S. in the early 1990s, but the serious side effects of high doses – ataxia (a difficulty in coordinating muscle motion), nausea, vomiting, irregular heartbeats, other problems, and stories of possible deaths related to its usage – force the study to end in 1995.

“What this study points to is that ibogaine’s antiaddictive effects seem to be related not only to its complex pharmacology but also to the subjective experience it induces. The main aspects of this experience seem to be related to autobiographical memories, transpersonal experiences, and valuable personal insights which help individuals to confront their SUD more comprehensively.”

The December 2022 study brought ibogaine’s anti-addictive benefits back to the forefront by determining that the subjective experiences it causes may be more beneficial in addiction treatment than the pharmacological effects. That is the same type of experimentation being conducted with psilocybin mushrooms to determine whether the halluciantions are needed for them to be effective in treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or if synthetic non-hallucinogenic forms should be developed. So far, Jose Carlos Bouso thinks ibogaine’s anti-addictive effects come from its generation of autobiographical memories, transpersonal experiences, and personal insights which help individuals to learn about and confront their addiction and overcome it.

“Psychedelic therapies are expected to grow into a nearly $11bn industry in the next five years.”

The Guardian notes what should already be obvious – the psychedelic drug industry is booming and profits are soaring, making synthetic version if ibogaine more attractive to businesses that natural forms like those dispensed in clinics in Mexico, Costa Rica and other countries where it is legal but not closely regulated. In the meantime, the market for the Tabernanthe iboga plant is also growing and harvesting it needs to be controlled before it becomes scarce.

iboga plant 

A second recent study, published in the journal Cell, perhaps best sums up the situation with ibogaine as an anti-addiction drug.

“Some people swear by ibogaine for treating addiction, but it isn’t a very good drug. It has bad side effects, and it’s not approved for use in the U.S. Our compounds mimic just one of ibogaine’s many pharmacological effects, and still replicate its most desirable effects on behavior, at least in mice.”

Brian Shoichet, co-senior author and professor in the UCSF School of Pharmacy, says his study of synthetic ibogaine has had limited success in mice. That means it is still in the good news-bad news phase, which does not bode well for addicts in states other than Colorado who are hoping to use ibogaine as a treatment.

If only the mice could work faster.

Paul Seaburn

Paul Seaburn is the editor at Mysterious Universe and its most prolific writer. He’s written for TV shows such as "The Tonight Show", "Politically Incorrect" and an award-winning children’s program. He's been published in “The New York Times" and "Huffington Post” and has co-authored numerous collections of trivia, puzzles and humor. His “What in the World!” podcast is a fun look at the latest weird and paranormal news, strange sports stories and odd trivia. Paul likes to add a bit of humor to each MU post he crafts. After all, the mysterious doesn't always have to be serious.

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