Ibogaine is getting much attention for its purported usefulness for treating addiction withdrawal. Learn the side effects associated with this illicit drug.

Ibogaine is a psychedelic drug that comes from the root and bark of the iboga plant, which is native to central Africa. It has been used by local tribes for medicinal and ritualistic purposes for centuries and was brought to France in the 19th century, where it was marketed as a stimulant.

In the 1960s it was accidentally discovered that ibogaine appears to reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms in people addicted to opioid drugs. However, shortly afterward it was banned in the U.S. as an FDA schedule 1 drug. The safety concerns and illegality of the drug have seriously curtailed research and development into possibly using ibogaine for use in treating addictions.

Related Topic: Ibogaine treatment

However, people in the U.S. have been able to obtain ibogaine from illicit drug dealers for self-administering during their detoxification from opioid use. Many others have gone to other countries to receive therapy with ibogaine under some form of supervision.

Ibogaine is a psychoactive drug that has many side effects and risks, and anybody considering its use should be aware of the risks involved.

Symptoms of Ibogaine Abuse

Ibogaine has the properties of both types of hallucinogen drugs (“classic hallucinogens” and dissociative hallucinogens), so when someone is using this drug, they will experience a “trip” with features from both effects:

  • Classic hallucinogens: Visual, auditory or touch sensations that are not real but the individual believes they are real.
  • Dissociatives: The individual feels “out of body” and disconnected from the real world; feels out of control.

Physical Symptoms of Ibogaine

Ibogaine causes significant physical symptoms:

  • Rapid heart rate
  • Elevated body temperature
  • Rapid breathing
  • High blood pressure
  • Diaphoresis (profuse sweating)
  • Dry mouth
  • Loss of coordination
  • Disturbed sleep
  • Inability to move
  • Seizures

Psychological Symptoms of Iboga

As a psychedelic drug with both classic hallucinogen and dissociative properties, ibogaine has potent psychological symptoms. Most of these occur during the “trip,” but there are risks of permanent or long-lasting psychological adverse effects.

Psychological symptoms that are characteristic of an ibogaine trip can include:

  • Psychosis (loss of touch with reality, inability to think logically)
  • Paranoia (a type of psychosis)
  • Feelings of relaxation
  • Panic
  • Perceived spiritual experiences
  • Bizarre behavior
  • Disorientation

Other Ibogaine Side Effects

The most feared adverse effect of ibogaine is death. There have been more than 30 documented cases of death attributed to ibogaine use, but the actual number of ibogaine-related deaths is likely much higher since it is an illegal drug and therefore used secretly, often alone. It is possible that death from ibogaine use may be mistaken for a drug overdose related to a different substance.

One recent death from ibogaine in the U.S. was well documented in a case study. In this case, a 40-year-old man had self-administered 4g of ibogaine and an unidentified “booster” that he bought off the internet. Eight hours later he was found unresponsive, covered in vomit and in shock. He was rushed to the hospital, but he was in cardiac arrest and his brain had swollen to the point of being brain dead. The decision was made to remove him from life support.

This was not an isolated case, as ibogaine and other related compounds from the iboga plant are known to be toxic to the heart.

Ibogaine can cause persistent, long-term side effects, even after using it only once or a few times. These side effects include:

  • Speech impairment
  • Weight loss
  • Memory problems
  • Mental health disorders (especially anxietydepression, and suicidality)
  • Persistent psychosis
  • Hallucinogen persisting perception disorder (HPPD): recurrences of drug “trips” without taking the drug

Since ibogaine is illegal, it is produced in unregulated labs and is not subjected to the standards and oversight of the FDA. Therefore, the actual content and amount of active ingredients and the presence of impurities are uncertain in any preparation of the drug. Side effects can, therefore, be unpredictable.

Effects of Long-Term Ibogaine Abuse

Ibogaine has been illegal in the U.S. since the late 1960s, so its use has been illicit and underground. As such, there are not any reliable records of its effects from long-term use. It has been poorly studied and has never been through the safety and efficacy of clinical trials required by the FDA.

The end result is that at the present time, we have no reliable data on the effects of the long-term use of ibogaine. Since other hallucinogens are also illegal in the U.S., we don’t know much about them either. People who use ibogaine repeatedly are taking unknown risks.

Signs of Ibogaine Addiction

Ibogaine is not inherently addictive, as it does not appear to cause obsessive repeated use and does not cause significant withdrawal effects. It does, however, cause tolerance with repeated doses, causing people who use it to increase their doses overtime to get the same effects.

Although it is not in itself physically addictive, ibogaine is still amenable to abuse. People use hallucinogens repeatedly for their effects, and these effects may be attractive to people whose opioid addiction hasn’t been properly treated. People with substance addictions look for coping mechanisms to deal with life, stress, bad feelings and mental health symptoms, and the effects of ibogaine may be attractive to them.

When used for its purported effects in treating addiction, ibogaine is used as a one-time single dose. People who use ibogaine repeatedly are typically abusing the drug.

Ibogaine Addiction Intervention

People with substance addiction usually have more than a physical disease. They often have underlying mental and emotional conditions or experiences that drive their addiction. Trying to treat addiction with another chemical may help with the withdrawal or cravings, but does not address the underlying causes of the addiction.

People who abuse ibogaine or any other psychoactive substance typically require a comprehensive assessment and treatment plan. They should be thoroughly assessed for a co-existing mental health disorder (“comorbidity”). For many people, treating both addiction and co-occurring mental health conditions at the same time can help lead to long-term recovery. All underlying causes — physical, mental and emotional — should be addressed to end the obsessive thoughts of drug use and return the individual to good health and function.

The Recovery Village offers comprehensive treatment programs that take a holistic approach to address all the factors that contribute to addiction. If you have any questions about ibogaine or any other addiction-related treatment, contact The Recovery Village today for a confidential discussion with a trained representative.

Renee Deveney
Editor – Renee Deveney
As a contributor for Advanced Recovery Systems, Renee Deveney is passionate about helping people struggling with substance use disorder. With a family history of addiction, Renee is committed to opening up a proactive dialogue about substance use and mental health. Read more
Andrew Proulx
Medically Reviewed By – Dr. Andrew Proulx, MD
Andrew Proulx holds a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry, an MD from Queen's University, and has completed post-graduate studies in medicine. He practiced as a primary care physician from 2001 to 2016 in general practice and in the ER. Read more
Sources

Brown, Thomas. “Ibogaine in the treatment of substance dependence.” (note: the article can be downloaded for free by clicking on the “download” button). Current Drug Abuse Reviews, 2013. Accessed June 12, 2019.

Koenig, Xaver; Hilber, Karlheinz. “The anti-addiction drug ibogaine and the heart: A delicate relation.” Molecules, January 29, 2015. Accessed June 13, 2019.

Levinson, Jonathan. “Americans going abroad for illegal heroin treatment.” BBC News, April 11, 2018. Accessed June 12, 2019.

Meisner, Jessica; Wilcox, Susan; Richards, Jeremy. “Ibogaine-associated cardiac arrest and death: Case report and review of the literature.” Therapeutic Advances in Psychopharmacology, January 13, 2016. Accessed June 13, 2019.

Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies. “Ibogaine therapy.” June 16, 2017. Accessed June 17, 2019.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Comorbidity: Addiction and other mental illnesses.” Research Report Series, September 2010. Accessed June 12, 2019.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “What are hallucinogens?” April 2019. Accessed June 12, 2019.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.