In This Article
- Ibogaine is a psychedelic substance from the root bark of an African shrub.
- The drug is reported to reduce opioid withdrawal symptoms and reduce cravings.
- It’s a Schedule I drug in the U.S., meaning there is no recognized medical use, and is unregulated in many parts of the world.
- Ibogaine is only approved for medical use in Brazil, South Africa, and New Zealand.
- Studies show varying success rates for ibogaine treatment.
- There are significant concerns about the safety of ibogaine, particularly on a person’s cardiovascular health.
- Other promising psychedelics for drug addiction treatment include lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) and psilocybin from magic mushrooms.
Using Ibogaine to Treat Addiction
In 2018, 58 million people across the globe used opioids. In the U.S., over two-thirds of drug-overdose-related deaths involved opioids.1, 2
Amidst such alarming figures, one pharmacological approach that’s gaining interest is ibogaine treatment.
What is Ibogaine?
Ibogaine is a naturally occurring psychoactive compound.
It’s extracted from the root barks of Tabernanthe iboga, a shrub in West Africa. It has been used in many rituals within the region, particularly in the Bwiti religion.3, 4
In small doses, ibogaine has a mild stimulant effect. In large amounts, it can put a person into a severe psychedelic state.
Ibogaine was sold as an antidepressant for over 30 years in France before its ban in the 1960s.5
Ibogaine’s anti-addictive effects were only known in the U.S. starting in 1962.
But after 5 years, it became classified as a Schedule I drug, meaning the U.S. government deemed ibogaine to have no medical use and a high potential for abuse.5, 6
Ibogaine can only be used by licensed medical professionals in Brazil, South Africa, and New Zealand. It remains unregulated in other parts of the world.7
How Does Ibogaine Treatment Work?
Ibogaine’s anti-addictive effects have 2 components:3, 4
- Pharmacological: Ibogaine can relieve withdrawal symptoms, reduce drug cravings, and lower the risk of regular use. It acts on opioid receptors and the serotonin and dopamine systems.
- Psychological: Psychedelic experiences vary in intensity. This can increase or decrease the pharmacological effects of ibogaine.
A single dose of ibogaine is enough to put someone in a psychedelic state. Many people who have taken ibogaine said they went through a visual journey of the most significant events in their lives.
Ibogaine rewires the brain, relieves withdrawal symptoms, and gets rid of opioid cravings in just a few hours. The results can last for weeks, months, or sometimes longer.
Unlike methadone and buprenorphine, ibogaine is not an opioid substitute.
Methadone and buprenorphine are 2 medications approved for treating opioid dependence. As opioid agonists, they work by activating opioid receptors without producing euphoria.5, 7, 8
How Effective is Ibogaine for Addiction Treatment?
It’s hard to evaluate ibogaine’s efficacy partly because it’s illegal in many countries.
There’s also a lack of controlled clinical trials. Most claims about ibogaine treatment outcomes are based on case studies and anecdotal reports.5, 9
The U.S. first discovered ibogaine in 1962 when 19-year-old Howard Lotsof noticed its effect against his opioid addiction.5, 6
Ibogaine became illegal in the U.S. in 1967. But reports about ibogaine helping heroin users sparked the government’s interest in the 1990s.5, 10
- In 1991, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) funded animal research in relation to ibogaine. The research showed ibogaine reduced the amount of heroin, morphine, cocaine, and alcohol rodents consumed.
- In 1993, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a human clinical trial. The trial, however, fell apart in the early stages due to a lack of funding and contractual disputes.
- NIDA later abandoned activities on ibogaine. They cited the safety of the drug as a significant concern.
Other human studies also show the effectiveness of ibogaine treatment:
- A 4-day ibogaine therapy was successful in a 37-year-old female with a 19-year history of severe opioid use disorder. She achieved 18 months of abstinence, longer than the 2 months she previously had on methadone.8
- Ibogaine reduced withdrawal symptoms and drug cravings in 30 subjects in Mexico. However, researchers found that ibogaine interrupts but doesn’t cure drug addiction.4, 7
- In 2014, a small study involving 75 subjects found ibogaine to be effective in treating addiction when used with psychotherapy.9
- In 2017, about 80% of 88 regular opioid users said ibogaine got rid of their withdrawal symptoms. Around 50% said it reduced their opioid cravings, and 30% said they never used opioids again after treatment.11
- In 2018, a single ibogaine therapy reduced opioid withdrawal symptoms in 14 subjects over 12 months. However, one person died, perhaps due to ibogaine-induced heart arrhythmia.12
What are the Risks of Ibogaine?
If you’re going to take ibogaine, be aware of the risks, which include:4
- Ataxia (loss of muscle coordination)
- Dehydration due to vomiting
- Changes in blood pressure
- Heart arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat)
- Possible interaction with other drugs
Remember that ibogaine is illegal in the U.S. (with no exceptions). More information is needed on proper dosage and safe administration before it could be used legally.
Other Addiction Treatment Options
Other Psychedelic Drugs
Several studies support using other psychedelic drugs for substance abuse treatment. These drugs include lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) and psilocybin (the active ingredient of magic mushrooms).3, 5, 13, 14
Psychedelic drugs affect the brain and alter awareness in just a few hours. They don’t produce physical dependence, cravings, delirium, disorientation, or amnesia.1
Certain medications can suppress withdrawal symptoms during opioid detoxification or prevent relapse. They include:15, 16
- Methadone: An opioid agonist. It activates opioid receptors in a manner that doesn’t produce euphoria. The medicine also suppresses withdrawal symptoms and relieves cravings.
- Buprenorphine: A partial opioid agonist. It also activates opioid receptors but more slowly than methadone.
- Naltrexone: An opioid antagonist that blocks opioid receptors. Instead of controlling withdrawal and cravings, it prevents euphoria and other rewarding effects from opioid and alcohol use. It actually causes acute opiate withdrawal symptoms in someone who has been using opioids.
- Other medications for co-occurring disorders: Like disulfiram (if the person is also an alcoholic) or drugs for depression or anxiety (conditions that may contribute to addiction).
Behavioral treatments include:15
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT): Through CBT, therapists help patients understand their addiction and develop skills for recognizing, avoiding, and coping with addiction-related situations.
- Contingency management: This method uses positive reinforcement to encourage abstinence from drugs. Patients are awarded points in exchange for items like a gym membership or movie tickets.
- Multidimensional family therapy: This therapy is intended for teenagers with drug abuse problems and their families. It deals with drug abuse patterns and is designed to improve family functions.
Therapeutic communities: These communities are drug-free institutions that usually require 6 to 12 months of residence.
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- Underwood, Martie, Stephen Bright and B. Les Lancaster. “A narrative review of the pharmacological, cultural and psychological literature on ibogaine.” Journal of Psychedelic Studies vol. 5,1 : 44-54.
- “Opioids.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 17 Mar. 2021.
- Cameron, Lindsay et al. “A non-hallucinogenic psychedelic analogue with therapeutic potential.” Nature vol. 589 ; 474-479.
- Harrison, John, Valerie Mojeiko and Lisa Jerome. “Observational case series study of the long-term efficacy of Ibogaine-assisted therapy and associated interventions in participants with opiate addiction treatment at the Ibogaine Association.” Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS). 17 Feb. 2009.
- Oaklander, Mandy. “Inside Ibogaine, One of the Most Promising and Perilous Psychedelics for Addiction.” TIME. 5 Apr. 2021.
- Lotsof, Howard and Norma Alexander. “Case studies of ibogaine treatment: implications for patient management strategies.” Alkaloids Chem Biol vol. 56 : 293-313.
- Brown, Thomas and Kenneth Alper. “Treatment of opioid use disorder with ibogaine: detoxification and drug use outcomes.” Am J Drug Alcohol Abuse vol. 44,1 : 24-36.
- Cloutier-Gill, Laurie et al. “Remission of Severe Opioid Use Disorder with Ibogaine: A Case Report.” Journal of psychoactive drugs vol. 48,3 : 214-7.
- Schenberg, Eduardo et al. “Treating drug dependence with the aid of ibogaine: a retrospective study.” J Psychopharmacol vol. 28,11 : 993-1000.
- Alper, Kenneth. “Ibogaine: a review.” Alkaloids Chem Biol vol. 56 : 1-38.
- Davis, Alan K et al. “Subjective effectiveness of ibogaine treatment for problematic opioid consumption: Short- and long-term outcomes and current psychological functioning.” Journal of psychedelic studies vol. 1,2 : 65-73.
- Noller, Geoffrey, Chris Frampton and Berra Yazar-Klosinski. “Ibogaine treatment outcomes for opioid dependence from a twelve-month follow-up observational study.” Am J Drug Alcohol Abuse vol. 44,1 : 37-46.
- Nigam, Kabir and Ananda Pandurangi. “Do Hallucinogens Have a Role in the Treatment of Addictions? A Review of the Current Literature.” SN Compr Clin Med vol. 3 : 1385-1395.
- Agin-Liebes, Gabrielle et al. “Long-term follow-up of psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy for psychiatric and existential distress in patients with life-threatening cancer.” J Psychopharmacol vol. 34, 2 : 155-166.
- “Treatment Approaches for Drug Addiction DrugFacts.” National Institute on Drug Abuse. Jan. 2019.
- “How do medications to treat opioid use disorder work?” National Institute on Drug Abuse. Dec. 2021.