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Ibogaine for addiction treatment

October 4, 2023
Reviewed by: Rajnandini Rathod

Discover how ibogaine, a natural psychoactive substance, is used in addiction treatment. Explore its benefits, safety considerations, and role in helping treat addiction.

How Ibogaine is Being Used to Treat Addiction

Ibogaine, one of the psychoactive indole alkaloids found in West Africa possesses antiaddictive properties. Several studies have claimed Ibogaine being used as a treatment for opiate, alcohol, cocaine and morphine addiction. Ibogaine treatment is provided with supervision as there are several risk factors that are still under development when administering ibogaine. 

Ibogaine has a complex structure leading to unidentifiable reasons for side effects on rats and humans during experiments. Therefore, leading to regulation and legal status in various countries. There are several developments to make ibogaine a way to cure addiction.

What is Ibogaine?

Iboga is a shrub derived from Tabernanthe iboga’s roots and used during some African ceremonies. Iboga consists of chemicals that can induce brain simulation. The root bark of Iboga contains a chemical called Ibogaine. 

Ibogaine was found in the leaves, stems, & roots of the Iboga plane. It was extracted from the plant in 1901 and synthesised in 1966 in small doses to act as a stimulant. The West Africans and the Congo region have utilised iboga extract or chewed the root of the plane to remain calm and alert while stalking the game. 

Ibogaine has been known to have psychoactive properties for some decades now. A 2008 study cited experimental data from animals and anecdotal reports on humans. They found that Ibogaine had anti-addictive effects on several patients between 1969 and 1995. Ibogaine affects different neurotransmitter systems however, the physiological and psychological actions are not yet completely understood.

The Science Behind Ibogaine’s Potential

Anecdotal reports and open case studies have indicated ibogaine can interrupt drug dependence through rapid and lasting relief of drug withdrawal symptoms and cravings in participants with heroin & cocaine.

Another study has also claimed Ibogaine diminishes dependence and withdrawal symptoms on various drugs like opiates, alcohol, nicotine, and psychostimulants.

Researchers in a Mexico-based long-term study found changes in 30 people seeking Ibogaine-based treatment for opiates. They measured the frequency of opiate dosage given to them for up to 12 months. According to their study

  • One-third of the participants relapsed in the first month.
  • 60% relapsed within the first two months.
  • 80% relapsed within the first six months
  • 20% survived for more than six months without any aftercare.
  • Four out of the 30 participants did not relapse for more than a year following a single treatment.

Hence, the study concluded that Ibogaine merely interrupts addiction but is not a cure for addiction. 

Ibogaine Treatment Process

Ibogaine works as a mild stimulant in small doses and is dangerous in larger doses by setting a person in a severe psychedelic state. People with addictions have found larger doses of it reduce withdrawal and get rid of their substance-related cravings. 

However, the effects were short-term and the treatment safety was in question. Most of the research conducted has been on animals and created a questionable effect on humans. In humans, there have been serious side effects including unexplainable deaths that could be linked to the death.

There are ways to be cautious of iboga use during treatment. Here are 3 ways:

  1. Exclude the use of iboga if you have a pre-existing heart condition as there have been 19 deaths reported due to cardiac arrest or various comorbid conditions. 
  2. Avoid using iboga if you are diagnosed with HIV or certain psychiatric disorders. There is still a debate if patients with these conditions should be given iboga or not. 
  3. Avoid mixing iboga with other substances at the beginning of the treatment as it can exponentially put you at risk of a host of side effects like seizures or delirium tremens.

It is necessary to identify if you require an ibogaine treatment for your addiction. In India, ibogaine therapy has been gaining popularity as an alternative to opioid addictions. Several ibogaine addiction treatment centres in India provide personalized treatment plans in luxury rehabs. There are several rehab centres for every budget and lifestyle preference some of which are:

Benefits and Success Stories

Lynn Smith in ‘The Guardian’ article expresses the psychedelic journey she underwent when she met with an accident that crushed her skull and was prescribed opioids for treatment that she was addicted to for almost 20 years. 

She narrates her treatment experience that was administered by a nurse for about 22 hours with three pills of ibogaine. When induced with ibogaine, she found herself lying in a bed, unable to move her body from the neck down & the buzzing grew louder near her eardrums until it became unbearable & it stopped. She also witnessed her brain wires being ripped apart and pieced back together like a puzzle. 

After the 22-hour treatment, she spent five weeks at the clinic undergoing psychotherapy sessions, acupuncture, and lounge chairs overlooking the beach. Smith, now an in-home caretaker in Arizona believes ibogane saved her life and helped her restart her life to the day before she ever used a drug.

Evidence has suggested that ibogaine can help increase abstinence and relieve withdrawal symptoms. It has proven to support psychotherapy while undergoing psychedelic medications. Genís Oña, a research coordinator at the International Center for Ethnobotanical Education, Research and Service (Iceers) in Spain, are exploring the alternative of iboga. She said ibogaine has a unique ability to curb withdrawal when an individual is detoxing from pharmacological treatments like methadone, for opioid addiction. 

Oña stated, “There is an instantaneous relief of withdrawal symptoms, which does not happen with ayahuasca.” Ayahuasca and other psychedelics apart from ibogaine, focus on psychotherapy. The experienced individuals when administered provide insight into the issues that underlie their addictive behaviours and help them use that insight to get sober. On the other hand, ibogaine is unique. It does promote psychological insights similar to others but is the only one that also has a physical effect that suppresses symptoms of opioid withdrawal.

Medical experts have used ibogaine and found a 50-80% success rate in treating meth addiction. Though the percentage may look promising, ibogaine treatment may not be effective for everyone. The long-term effect solely depends on the level of support and post-treatment programs received.

Safety and Risks

Ibogaine used without supervision can cause serious risks including death as the right proportion of dosage and safe administration is not yet understood. It is suggested to use under the direction of a medical professional as it might cause various health risks such as:

  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Low blood pressure
  • Seizures
  • Paralysis
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Anxiety
  • Gastrointestinal issues
  • Heart compilation like arrhythmias
  • Hallucinations and
  • Death

To seek ibogaine treatment some patient criteria need to be met for you to intake it. According to Clinical Guidelines of Ibogaine-Assisted Detoxification 1st Edition mentions the basic consideration for inclusion and exclusion criteria in therapy. 

Here are the inclusion criteria that are necessary to be present before the treatment.

  1. Establishing a degree of consent.
  2. Sufficient personal information.
  3. A medical history along with current medications or prescriptions.
  4. Complete medical tests like physical examination, blood count, thyroid test, etc.

Here are some exclusion criteria that in the presence of any should exclude the individual from the treatment.

  1. Certain psychiatric conditions like schizophrenia, Bipolar disorder, psychosis, etc.
  2. Pre-existing heart conditions.
  3. Respiratory conditions.
  4. Chronic gastrointestinal issues.
  5. Other criteria like:
    1. Abnormal blood tests
    2. Impaired kidney or liver malfunction
    3. Active infection
    4. Pregnancy

Legal Status and Regulation

Ibogaine has not been included in the Internal Narcotics Control Board’s Green List or under the list of Psychoactive Substances under Internal Control. However, there are countries where ibogaine is Illegal or Prohibited or Legal. Here is the list of countries that find ibogaine completely ‘Illegal”:

  1. United States
  2. Belgium
  3. Denmark
  4. France
  5. Hungary
  6. Ireland
  7. Italy
  8. Norway
  9. Switzerland
  10. Sweden
  11. United Kingdom

Here is the list of countries where ibogaine is somewhat ‘Prohibited’:

  1. Australia
  2. Canada
  3. Israel

Here is the list of countries where ibogaine is ‘Legal’:

  1. Brazil
  2. Costa Rica
  3. Gabon
  4. Guatemala
  5. Mexico
  6. Netherlands
  7. New Zealand
  8. South Africa

There are some benefits to ibogaine however there are many challenges and concerns that occur when administering ibogaine. Most of the challenges occur from the right amount of dosage that needs to be administered to an individual. High dosages of ibogaine can cause heart failure if they pre-exist with a heart condition, neurological injury and many more. 

A few research suggest that at approximately 263mg/kg body weight, there were casualties in rodents when administered through an oral route. To consider a safe and appropriate initial dose for humans, necessary safety factors such as intra and inter-species for susceptible people need to be applied to the animal data. Practitioners need to reconsider the doses being administered to their susceptible patients to avoid morbidities and mortalities. 

Integrating Ibogaine into Addiction Treatment

Several researchers have been curious to identify ibogaine treatment with cognitive-behavioural therapy involvement. One such research conducted in 2017 documented the subjective experiences of 22 patients with substance-related disorders who were involved in ibogaine treatment at a hospital and cognitive-behavioral therapy in Brazil. Based on the participants’ descriptions the study found strong contributions to memory retrieval and prospective imagination. And by stimulating difficult memories they found the experience can have a positive impact on their drug use habits. 

Another 2017 study identified the recovery rate from addiction is poor and wanted to understand the relationship between ibogaine use and psychotherapy. They introduced secondary outcomes for being able to measure addiction reduction such as cravings, family & social relationships, quality of life and self-efficacy and found patients benefitted from the treatment in all secondary outcomes supporting notions that treatments combining ibogaine and psychotherapy have the potential to treat substance use disorders. 

The Future of Ibogaine in Addiction Treatment

Using ibogaine for substance use disorders has been the primary focus of research despite its legal status and health risks to humans making it difficult to measure its effects. Therefore, researchers have dedicated their time to exploring this psychedelic drug by developing synthetic ibogaine-like versions to understand if it has a similar effect as the original.

Many are still investigating the right methodology for ibogaine administration in the appropriate approximation and understand its effects on various comorbid conditions. Other researchers are trying to examine the complex structure to synthesize it with fewer casualties meanwhile a few are looking into drugs that share similar chemical structure to ibogaine.