Ibogaine is a psychedelic drug that comes from the iboga plant in Africa. Find out why ibogaine is illegal in the United States even though many people believe it’s useful in treating addiction.
Ibogaine is a drug that garners a lot of attention for its purported use in helping people to detox from active substance addictions.
Despite having been around for centuries, there is still a lack of coordinated research into ibogaine, including its use for treating addiction. Ibogaine itself is not inherently addictive, but it can be abused. Learning about ibogaine, what it’s used for and if it’s addictive, allows people to better inform themselves on the purpose and risks of using the drug.
What Is Ibogaine?
Iboga (Tabernanthe iboga) is a perennial shrub found in the rainforests of West-central Africa. The roots of this exotic plant contain a psychoactive compound known as ibogaine. Depending on the dosage taken, the way ibogaine affects a person varies. Ibogaine acts as a nervous system stimulant at low doses and psychedelic and hallucinogen at higher doses.
At those higher doses, ibogaine causes hallucinations and sensations that have the individual feeling separated from their body and environment. People may also feel unable to control themselves.
Ibogaine has been purported to have anti-addictive properties and is used legally in some countries for this purpose. However, ibogaine is banned in many countries, including in the United States, but is often sold on the black market for people who wish to try using it to quit drugs on their own. There are reports that many Americans with addictions travel to Mexico to access ibogaine for addiction treatment.
What Is Ibogaine Used For?
In the past, ibogaine and related compounds in the iboga plant were used by the central African pygmies and the Bwiti of Gabon. These cultures chewed the bark of the plant for medicinal uses and all-night vision quests. French colonists brought the drug back to France in the mid-nineteenth century where it was marketed in low doses as a stimulant under the name Lambarène.
Before its use for addictions, ibogaine was used to boost the analgesic effects of opioid pain medications. There appears to be some merit to its use in that capacity. More commonly, it was used by psychiatrists who felt that it helped their psychotherapy patients retrieve memories.
Currently, ibogaine is the subject of intense interest — and controversy — because of reports of its effectiveness in reducing withdrawal symptoms of people withdrawing from opioid addiction.
The controversy around the use of ibogaine as a treatment for addiction is based on several factors:
- The drug is dangerous. There have been deaths attributed to its use.
- The drug is illegal in the United States and many western countries
- As a hallucinogen, ibogaine itself has the potential for abuse and addiction
- The drug’s use in treating addiction is not well-researched
As an addiction treatment, ibogaine has mostly been used to help with recovery from opioid addiction. However, there are indications that single-dose ibogaine may be useful for helping with recovery from other substance addictions as well, including:
Recommended dosages of ibogaine are difficult to identify. Because the production of the drug is unregulated and unlicensed due to its legal status, there is no guarantee about the actual amounts of ibogaine in any given supplement. Since illicit dealers sell it, the use of cutting agents may further affect the actual amounts of the drug present in any dose.
Clinical studies of the use of ibogaine used different doses of the drug. These studies were all small, and each used a different dosing regimen. There remains no consensus or published guidelines on optimal doses of ibogaine for treating addiction.
The iboga plant root contains many psychoactive compounds, including ibogaine. Given that ibogaine production is usually carried out without any regulatory oversight, the purity of ibogaine and the absence of other compounds or impurities is unknowable in any given product. Just like any other drug sold and bought on the black market, no one can know what is actually in the drugs they take.
There are some serious concerns about the safety of ibogaine use:
- Persistent psychosis: induction of symptoms similar to schizophrenia, which may be permanent
- Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder (HPDD): random, unexpected recurrences of “drug trips”
- Death: In 2018, the BBC attributed ibogaine to 19 known deaths, but this number may be higher since ibogaine is an illicit drug and is used covertly
Ibogaine has not passed through the usual safety and efficacy trials required by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), so people should be aware of the uncertainty and deadly risks involved if they decide to pursue ibogaine use.
Is Ibogaine Addictive?
Ibogaine is a hallucinogen drug, similar to other hallucinogens as well as dissociative drugs.
Some hallucinogens are addictive and some are not. Most are not known to cause obsessive drug seeking and do not cause significant withdrawal symptoms, but almost all can lead to tolerance developing, which means that people require increasingly higher doses to achieve the original effect.
Ibogaine does not appear to be addictive. However, more research must be conducted before scientists can arrive at a clear consensus. People who are addicted to substances are usually drawn to the escape that substance use provides them from their problems and their negative mental and emotional state. These people may become attracted to the repeated use of a hallucinogen as a dysfunctional coping mechanism as an escape from reality.
Ibogaine Addiction Statistics
Statistics regarding ibogaine addiction and the effectiveness of the drug as an aid to substance addiction treatment are very difficult to identify for a variety of reasons:
- Ibogaine has been studied almost solely for opioid addiction
- Many of the studies conducted were small
- Some of the studies were conducted before proper controls were in use
In the absence of large, independently-funded, placebo-controlled randomized clinical trials with significant measurable end-points (for example: maintenance of abstinence from drug use after one year) scientists are uncertain of the effectiveness of ibogaine for substance use disorder treatment.
Signs of Ibogaine Addiction
Ibogaine is used as a single-dose treatment for addiction, so people who are using the drug multiple times are almost certainly abusing it. Since ibogaine is illegal in the United States, any use of the drug is drug abuse.
Despite its legal status, ibogaine is not the complete answer to substance addiction. At best, drugs may help with detoxification and help curb cravings. However, any drug used for treating addiction must be viewed as only a small piece of the overall addiction treatment approach.
If you or a loved one abuse ibogaine, contact The Recovery Village to speak with a representative about how treatment for substance use disorders can help. Individualized treatment programs ensure patients receive the care that they need to reach their recovery goals. You deserve a healthier future, call today.
Iboga Side Effects
Brown, Thomas. “Ibogaine in the treatment of substance dependence.” Current Drug Abuse Reviews, 2013. Accessed June 12, 2019.
Brown, Thomas; Alper, Kenneth. “Treatment of opioid use disorder with ib[…]d drug use outcomes.” American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, May 25, 2017. Accessed June 12, 2019.
Levinson, Jonathan. “Americans going abroad for illegal heroin treatment.” BBC News, April 11, 2018. Accessed June 12, 2019.
National Institute on Drug Abuse. “What are hallucinogens?” April 2019. Accessed June 12, 2019.
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