Ibogaine for Addiction—Can It Work?
When a person struggles with addiction, it can feel overwhelming to take the first step toward treatment. Finding effective help can also be intimidating. As a result, people may be drawn to atypical methods to help them overcome their addictions. Ibogaine, a plant-derived psychedelic, is one such method that has become popular within recovery communities because it purportedly has helped people struggling with addiction reduce their cravings and withdrawal symptoms.
Read on for a complete examination of ibogaine treatment for addiction and to learn more about other helpful resources for overcoming substance abuse.
The Nature of Addiction and Withdrawal
Substance abuse can start gradually, or it can come on suddenly. However, regardless of how it begins, many people become trapped in a cycle of addiction (particularly opiate addiction or heroin addiction) because it can feel so uncomfortable to stop, especially if they are attempting to detox on their own. They may want to stop—and they may realize that their very existence is dependent on them stopping—but may find themselves using again just to put an end to the miserable symptoms of withdrawal.
In addition to experiencing physically uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms, individuals may find it hard to overcome the overwhelming cravings with stopping substances. A psychedelic known as ibogaine has reportedly helped some people get past their addictions (particularly opiate addictions, but others, as well) by cutting their cravings and reducing their other withdrawal symptoms.
What Is Ibogaine?
Ibogaine is a hallucinogenic substance derived from the bark of the Iboga shrub, found in west Africa. According to researchers, it has been used for decades in religious ceremonies and also to help users reduce their cravings for various substances, such as opiates, alcohol, nicotine, cocaine, and even methamphetamines. Ibogaine is currently used in many clinics worldwide for substance abuse recovery purposes. However, in the United States, ibogaine is considered a Schedule I substance, which means that it has not been sanctioned for any clinical use. It is also considered to have a high potential for abuse.
What Is It Like to Take Ibogaine?
Ibogaine is a stimulant drug that may cause slightly different effects in every person, depending on their body’s genetic makeup and metabolism. However, as a hallucinogenic, ibogaine generally causes a dreamlike state. Many people also report that they feel more connected to the universe or a higher power.
When people have self-reported their experience of ibogaine treatment, they have described the following:
- Changes in their cognitive thinking patterns
- Dreamlike feelings
- Feelings of a spiritual transformation
- Perceptual changes such as increased sensitivity to sound and visual images
- Visual hallucinations beginning about a half-hour after ingesting ibogaine
These sensations may last for hours and may get followed by a quieter period of reflection. Researchers have found that after taking ibogaine, people feel that they have received valuable insight into their addictions and feel motivated to become sober. Some feel cleansed or “reborn.”
Outside of the self-reported effects of ibogaine, medical experts caution that taking ibogaine may cause side effects, such as dry mouth, nausea, coordination difficulties, seizures, and low blood pressure. Fatal heart rhythms have also gotten reported.
How Long Has Ibogaine Been Used in Addiction Treatment in the US?
Ibogaine treatment does not get used in addiction therapy in the United States. Anecdotally, it has been used in other places throughout the world for addiction recovery purposes since at least the 1960s. Ibogaine has gotten used in religious ceremonies for hundreds of years.
In 1985, a researcher named Howard Lotsof, who had a personal history of heroin addiction, received a patent for oral ibogaine as a treatment for heroin addiction, claiming that it could rapidly disrupt the physiologic and psychologic aspects of the addiction cycle. His patent spurred further examination in the US, including approval of a clinical trial in 1993 by the US Food and Drug Administration. However, it never got completed because of a lack of funding, and ibogaine is still an illegal substance in the United States.
What Does Research Say About Ibogaine?
Very few human studies have examined the use of ibogaine for the treatment of substance dependency. Preliminary research has shown that ibogaine may lessen withdrawal symptoms and also help overcome addiction by reducing cravings. However, a recent review of five years’ worth of research about ibogaine use has found that possible positive effects notwithstanding, ibogaine has been associated with many cases of death and serious adverse events. Because there have been no clinical trials in the US conducted under randomized and controlled settings. It is difficult to know whether ibogaine has directly caused these negative events or if it may have just been randomly associated with these events. It is also unclear what dose of ibogaine might be effective as a standardized medication for addiction treatment without randomized trials.
Can Ibogaine Work for Addiction?
Clinicians who take care of people struggling with addiction are primarily concerned with the safety and effectiveness of their recovery protocols. A successful recovery from opiate or other addictions typically follows a few predictable patterns. So far, ibogaine has not broken through and has been accepted as a conventional addiction recovery treatment. However, cutting-edge research published in the journal Frontiers in Pharmacology shows that in the future, ibogaine may play a role in helping people transition from substance dependency to sobriety. According to the authors, people reported that ibogaine had helped them reduce their drug craving and opioid withdrawal symptoms after receiving just a single dose of the substance.
Additional information about ibogaine’s effectiveness in addiction treatment comes from research done outside the US, such as New Zealand, where ibogaine is legal. A recent observational study in New Zealand found that a single oral dose of ibogaine reduced opioid withdrawal symptoms and helped opioid-dependent individuals stop or reduce their use of opiates. Remarkably, ibogaine’s effects lasted 12 months after just a single dose.
What Are Some Concerns About Ibogaine Treatment?
Ibogaine is nonregulated in the US, and there are concerns about its safety. The National Institute for Drug Addiction stopped its clinical trial on ibogaine in the 1990s after a female participant suddenly died. They’re also concerned that it had a high abuse potential. Neither evidence of ibogaine’s nor a standardized dose exists, so anyone taking ibogaine for their addiction does so with a recognition of the potential risks.
In particular, some studies have found ibogaine can negatively impact the heart, causing heart rhythm problems that can be fatal. These findings got referenced in the reported cases of people who have suddenly died after taking ibogaine.
What Does the Future of Ibogaine Treatment Look Like?
Many researchers around the world are investigating ibogaine treatment for addiction, mainly because addiction is such a widespread and devastating condition. A clinical trial in Brazil is examining the effects of ibogaine in treatment for alcoholism. Other researchers are looking into drugs that share a similar chemical structure to ibogaine. A clinical trial in Australia is testing whether a derivative of ibogaine, known as 18-MC, may have the same therapeutic benefit for opiate withdrawal as ibogaine does without the risk of heart problems. So far, it is looking promising, but more research is needed.
Other Effective Treatments for Opiate Addiction
Ibogaine therapy may have promise in the future in the US. However, when a person struggles with addiction, especially opioid addiction, they often can’t wait. As such, it is understandable that people struggling with substance use disorders may get tempted to take drastic measures to free themselves from addiction, including traveling abroad to receive ibogaine therapies not fully established. It is also tempting to think of ibogaine as a one-dose solution to a chronic illness that may have plagued a person with substance use disorder for years. However, deciding to pursue ibogaine treatment is not without risks, and much still needs to be learned about safely using ibogaine as a tool in addiction therapy.
Fortunately, many other, well-established treatment options in the United States exist for opioid addiction and other substance use disorders. Most people find that a combination of behavioral therapy, paired with medication-assisted treatment, can help them finally break free from the cycle of drug use and reclaim their lives. A structured alcohol and detox program can help people fully remove toxic substances and begin their sobriety journey, all while being safely monitored under medical supervision. Structured rehab programs can also help people reduce their withdrawal symptoms as much as possible and find peer support while they are going through the process. After completing a detox program, newly sober people can find community support to help them maintain their sobriety through local Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous meetings.
Finding Support for Addiction
When a person or their loved one is struggling with addiction, it can feel like there is nowhere to turn. However, even in the deepest throes of alcohol or drug dependency, there is hope. At The Haven New England, our experienced clinicians use evidence-based treatments to guide all of our clients toward a successful recovery free from substance abuse.
To learn more about our addiction treatment programs, contact us today.