Iboga (Tabernanthe iboga) is a small shrub belonging to the Apocynaceae family. It is native to Central Africa, where it holds a significant cultural and spiritual role as its root bark is traditionally used in many different rituals and sacred ceremonies.
The root bark of Tabernanthe iboga contains a variety of alkaloids, including the notable compound ibogaine, along with 11 other iboga alkaloids. Among these alkaloids, ibogaine has received the most extensive research attention, yet it is believed that the other alkaloids present in the plant may also possess therapeutic properties.
Despite the fact that ibogaine has promise as a potential treatment for opioid addiction, it is important to be aware of its use. Designated as a Schedule I controlled substance by the DEA, ibogaine is deemed to possess a high potential for misuse without any recognized medical applications. Moreover, the World Health Assembly (WHA) has raised concerns regarding the dependency and potential harm associated with ibogaine consumption. Despite worries about its safety when used to treat opioid addiction, ibogaine has sparked a conversation in the medical community because it may assist in reducing the impacts of the opioid epidemic.
Origins of Iboga
Iboga is found in various regions of Central Africa. For centuries, the indigenous Bwiti people, along with several other ethnic groups, have revered iboga as a sacred plant, deeply embedded in their religious and healing traditions. The Bwiti, in particular, have incorporated iboga into their initiation rituals and spiritual ceremonies, considering it a powerful tool for connecting with the divine, ancestral spirits, and the realms beyond the physical realm.
On the other hand in Gabon, iboga is intertwined with the spirit world through ancestral spiritual practices like Bwiti, which are observed by approximately fifty ethnic groups. Iboga, also known as “sacred wood” or bois sacré, holds significant importance as a sacred medicine in traditional rites of passage and healing processes. In Gabon, spirituality and the utilization of traditional healers are widely embraced as a popular healing modality, much like in other parts of Africa. A spiritual practitioner known as a Nganga plays a crucial role in assisting individuals across various aspects of their lives. Interestingly, in Gabon, modern Western medicine often coexists with traditional medicine.
While Western medicine primarily focuses on the physical body, traditional medicine specializes in matters of the spirit. Iboga and its spiritual traditions form integral components of this holistic approach. Iboga is often described as an entity with its own soul, acting as a bridge between humans and the spirit world. It does not directly heal, but rather supports the healing process. According to Ngangas, the healing properties of iboga, particularly in relation to substance use disorders, which have gained recognition in
Western countries, stem from its ability to purify and heal the spirit. By opening the door to the introspection of past experiences, even those on the fringes of consciousness, iboga enables individuals to connect with themselves and deactivate spirit-related ailments such as substance use disorders.
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How Does Ibogaine Work?
Ibogaine is a psychoactive alkaloid with a complex and not fully understood pharmacodynamic profile. Its mechanism of action involves a multifaceted interaction with multiple neurotransmitters, rather than a singular one. The neurotransmitter systems affected by ibogaine include acetylcholine, dopamine, and serotonin. These neurotransmitters serve as chemical messengers that enable the brain to regulate various physical activities such as heart rate, muscle function, respiration, sleep, mood, concentration, and appetite. Due to its influence on numerous neurotransmitter systems, the precise actions of ibogaine are challenging to pinpoint.
Based on retrospective studies, it is believed that ibogaine undergoes conversion into noribogaine after ingestion. Noribogaine specifically targets certain brain regions associated with addictive behaviors. Therefore, ibogaine functions by reducing cravings and withdrawal symptoms through the rewiring of specific parts of the brain.
Throughout history, extracts derived from the bark of the plant have been lawfully utilized for diverse intentions, such as alleviating asthenia (at dosages ranging from 10 to 30 mg daily), acting as a neuromuscular stimulant (typically involving approximately 200 mg of extract, equivalent to around 8 mg of ibogaine), and aiding in the management of conditions like depression, fatigue, and recovery from contagious diseases. These applications haven’t been properly studied, though, and ibogaine-containing prescription drugs aren’t available at the moment.
Regarding the treatment of substance use disorders, particularly in relation to withdrawal syndrome and cravings, a dosage of 15-20 mg/kg of ibogaine is considered a adequate dose according to to Howard Lotsof. Nevertheless, the safety of such doses in clinical trial settings remains unknown. Therefore it is always advised to consume ibogaine in controlled environments under the supervision of health professionals trained in cardiac emergencies.
An alternative approach used to alleviate withdrawal syndrome from methadone and other opioids, while gradually reducing their usage, involves repeated administration of small and increasing amounts of ibogaine. For instance, in one case, a total of five doses were used, ranging from 150 to 600 mg of ibogaine. This dosing strategy produced only mild psychological effects while facilitating complete detoxification from methadone. Preliminary results from an ongoing clinical trial by ICEERS indicate that patients experienced relief from methadone syndrome for several hours after doses of 100 mg. However, there are currently no studies providing similar results with such low doses for short-acting opioids like heroin or morphine.
In contexts related to personal growth and self-exploration, higher doses of ibogaine are commonly used, resulting in intense subjective experiences.
Benefits and Risks
Iboga has traditionally been used in ceremonial and religious contexts to support a connection with a higher level of spirituality and a greater awareness of oneself, much like other psychedelics. This connection often stems from the profound insights gained in the egoless state induced by iboga, where individuals often experience powerful revelations regarding personal issues and develop a heightened sense of connection to the world around them. In this context, iboga has the potential to ignite various forms of personal growth, assisting individuals in addressing depression, anxiety, PTSD, unhealthy behaviors, and more.
Ibogaine, on the other hand, is widely recognized as a treatment for addiction, and its demand has been increasing as anecdotal evidence and some clinical studies suggest its effectiveness. Although it is not a cure for all chronic drug use problems, it has a high success rate in reducing withdrawal symptoms in those who are detoxing from alcohol, cocaine, opiates, and amphetamines. Some individuals even report complete eradication of withdrawal symptoms, while others experience a reduction in cravings. Although further research is required to fully understand the extent of ibogaine’s efficacy for addiction treatment and personal benefits, its potential as a catalyst for healing and transformation is promising.
Risks of Iboga
Ibogaine is known as one of the most potent and medically volatile medicines. While its therapeutic potential is significant, the use of ibogaine comes with risks and demands careful attention. Reported cases of complications associated with ibogaine are primarily attributed to pre-existing medical conditions, particularly cardiac conditions, and interactions with other medications. It is advisable to avoid using ibogaine if you already have cardiovascular problems because the two together can be fatal.
A review examining medical records from 1990 to 2008 identified 19 deaths occurring within one to three days after ibogaine use. However none of these deaths are directly linked with the toxic effects of the Iboga plant, but rather to interaction with some pre-existing medical conditions or combining it with other drugs. For drug addiction treatment, Iboga should be used only under the direct supervision of a trained professional who has years of experience in the field of treating addiction with Iboga.
Preserving the Sacred Cultural Approach
The globalization of iboga has raised important questions regarding the preservation of the sacred cultural practices associated with the Iboga plant. While clinics outside of Gabon, particularly in Mexico, have played a significant role in helping thousands of individuals overcome addiction, there is often a lack of recognition and understanding of the ancient traditions surrounding the Iboga plant, which may date back thousands of years. In addition, the historical context of European colonialism in the region further adds to concerns over the potential cultural appropriation of Iboga.
The unstoppable force of globalization ensures that Iboga and other traditional practices will continue to spread across the planet. As outsiders, it is our responsibility to ensure that this dissemination is done in a manner that respects and honors the sacred cultural practices associated with the Iboga plant, in contrast to some previous instances that have fallen short of this ideal.
Preserving the integrity of the Iboga plant’s traditions necessitates a more thoughtful and respectful approach. Collaborative efforts between external parties and indigenous communities can promote sustainable practices, cultural exchange, and equitable support for those who safeguard the ancient wisdom of Iboga. By acknowledging the historical context, addressing concerns of cultural appropriation, and supporting the preservation of indigenous traditions, we can navigate the global expansion of ibogaine in a manner that promotes respect, understanding, and mutual benefit for all involved.