Ibogaine is illegal in the U.S. but has gained notoriety as an aid in reducing withdrawal symptoms from substance use.
The first step of recovering from drug or alcohol use is the process of ridding the body of the substances, a process known as detoxification, or detox. As the body and brain adjust to the absence of the drug, the unpleasant experience of withdrawal occurs.
Fear of withdrawal is a major barrier to recovery, and that fear keeps many people from even trying. However, many people who now live healthy and productive lives in long-term recovery recall the brief period of detox and withdrawal as a small price to pay for getting their lives back.
Ibogaine is a naturally occurring psychedelic hallucinogen that is known to reduce withdrawal and craving symptoms and is used in some countries for this purpose. It is banned in many countries — including the U.S. — but is easily obtained on the illicit drug market. Ibogaine comes from the roots of the iboga plant (Tabernanthe iboga), a shrub found in the rainforests of western Central Africa.
While ibogaine has well-known positive effects on withdrawal and craving symptoms, it has yet to be widely embraced by the research community, due to its illegal status and its significant side effects.
The paucity of research on the use of ibogaine for aiding in detoxification from substance addiction is unfortunate, perhaps even tragic. The iboga plant naturally produces about 80 known compounds that are related to ibogaine that all have potential for use in the development of drugs for treating neurobiological (brain) disorders.
The current position of the U.S. National Institutes of Health and the National Institute on Drug Abuse is that the iboga plant compounds are neurotoxic and therefore unsafe for study in humans.
An article published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine reviewing science’s current investigation into treating the opioid crisis did not mention ibogaine and its related compounds.
However, ibogaine supporters can take heart: Researchers published findings in 2019 that they have determined how ibogaine works on the brain, and that a version of ibogaine with all the therapeutic properties but without the hallucinogenic and other dangerous side effects is likely on the horizon.
Ibogaine for Withdrawal
Ibogaine’s effect on drug withdrawal was discovered by accident in the 1960s. The drug was being used to boost the analgesic effects of opioid pain medications so that people were able to take smaller doses with the same pain relief effect (research has since confirmed that ibogaine does in fact do this). It was noticed that the people who were using ibogaine experienced greatly reduced withdrawal symptoms when they stopped taking opioid medications.
While the research data on ibogaine use for detoxification for drug use has been spotty, a recent clinical trial demonstrated “substantive” effects of ibogaine on opioid withdrawal symptoms and drug use. The study subjects were all people who had been unsuccessful with previous treatment attempts (not involving ibogaine). The study participants were followed at regular intervals for their first 12 months in recovery, giving excellent end-points for the study.
However, the study authors recommended that ibogaine “may provide a useful prototype for discovery and development of innovative pharmacotherapy of addiction.” In other words, ibogaine in its present form is not likely to be the answer to detoxing from drug use.
Ibogaine for Withdrawal Symptoms
Many people have focused their attention on ibogaine’s potential use as part of a treatment regimen for opioid addiction. However, there are indications that it may also play a significant role in detoxing from other types of drugs as well:
Regardless of the drug used, the severity of the withdrawal symptoms or how long the drug was used, ibogaine is given as a single one-time-only dose.
How Long Withdrawal Lasts With Ibogaine
Ibogaine does not appear to shorten or speed up the withdrawal period from substance use; its effect is on reducing the severity of the symptoms. The length of the withdrawal from the drug depends on a number of factors:
- The health and age of the individual
- The specific drug
- The duration of use and doses used
- The individual’s physical make-up
Withdrawal With Ibogaine: Deaths
The number of deaths related to ibogaine use varies and is likely underestimated because of the likelihood of ibogaine deaths being attributed to drug overdoses on known substances. However, there have been more than 30 deaths attributed to ibogaine use published in medical literature.
Review of a compendium of case reports regarding deaths attributed to ibogaine use shows some common themes:
- Many people using ibogaine are in very poor physical health at the time of use because of the toxic effects of their chronic substance use
- Many of the people who died had other toxic substances in their blood at the time (such as opioids and benzodiazepines)
- Many people had underlying heart problems, of which they may have been unaware (ibogaine is especially toxic for the heart)
- Many deaths from ibogaine use could easily have been prevented by simple medical screening and treatment of toxic effects
- Many deaths could have been prevented by the timely application of advanced cardiac life support measures
Withdrawal With Ibogaine: Cold Turkey
There are currently three medications approved by the FDA for facilitating withdrawal from opioid abuse:
- Methadone: opioid replacement
- Buprenorphine: opioid replacement
- Extended-release naltrexone: blocks opioid effects
Opioid replacement drugs are used to reduce withdrawal and craving symptoms like ibogaine. Rather than enable cold-turkey discontinuation of opioid use, they replace the abused opioid with other medications so that withdrawal is stopped by a gradual decrease. Ideally, opioid replacement therapy gradually helps wean the individuals off of opioid dependence. However, many people on these opioid replacement regimens still take the medications many years after their last dose of the opioids they were abusing.
One of the advantages of ibogaine is that it may enable people to quit their drug use cold turkey rather than continuing on with opioid replacement therapy.
There is currently no specific withdrawal or replacement therapy specific to other types of substances such as alcohol and stimulants (cocaine, crystal methamphetamine, etc.). There is evidence that ibogaine may also be a significant benefit to detoxing from these substances, which would make it the only currently available choice.
Withdrawal With Ibogaine: Tips
There are three main tips for people who are considering using ibogaine to help them through their substance withdrawal:
- There are much safer ways to detox from substance use
- Never detox alone
- Seek treatment for addiction: Detoxing without treatment is likely to lead to a relapse or recurrence of use
Detox With Ibogaine
Because of the illegal status of ibogaine in the U.S., people who wish to use the drug must resort to the illicit drug market to obtain it. The products that are available this way are from unverifiable sources that are unregulated and not subject to FDA oversight.
Some drug dealers who sell ibogaine may cut the drug with unknown substances. The purity and contamination level of the ibogaine-containing product is unknowable. In the end, people who obtain ibogaine illegally in the U.S. don’t know exactly what they are getting.
Detox at Home With Ibogaine
Because it is illegal in the United States, people who wish to try ibogaine for detox currently have little choice but to detox at home, or to travel to another country to attend a business that provides ibogaine on-premises.
However, detoxing at home can be dangerous and deprive individuals of other aspects of care that are not available at home. As a minimum, people who detox at home with ibogaine should make sure that they are not alone, and that someone is there who knows that they are using ibogaine.
Many of the recorded deaths from ibogaine use have occurred when individuals were detoxing alone at home. There have likely been many more deaths from ibogaine use, where the cause of death was attributed to opioid overdose solely because the use of ibogaine was not known to the authorities.
While ibogaine may have some merit as an aid to detoxing from drug use, it is a dangerous and unpredictable drug, in that it is produced and sold in unregulated circumstances in the United States. People should never use the drug while alone.
Helping Someone Withdrawing or Detoxing With Ibogaine
The most important aspect of helping someone detox with ibogaine is to find out information about ibogaine and the specific ibogaine-containing product the individual has obtained.
It is also important to make sure that anybody who is detoxing from a substance does not do so alone, especially if they are using ibogaine. It is also important to be able to recognize the signs of ibogaine toxicity, as well as the withdrawal effects of the substance that is being detoxed. This is especially true of alcohol withdrawal, which can be fatal.
As a hallucinogen, ibogaine may cause people to see, hear or feel surreal sensations that they believe are real. They may become paranoid and act on their hallucinations or their psychosis. As such, they may unwittingly harm themselves or others. Therefore, people using ibogaine should be closely watched and restrained if appropriate.
Finding a Withdrawal and Detox Center With Ibogaine
Given the current illegal status of ibogaine in the U.S., it is not possible to find a legitimate detox facility that will provide ibogaine as part of a supervised program. There is no reliable source of ibogaine whose production and distribution are regulated by the FDA.
A study published in an American Addictions Journal was carried out in New Zealand, where ibogaine use for treating addiction withdrawal is legal. This study found that the legal status of ibogaine not only made treatment safer but also that “ibogaine’s legal availability in New Zealand may offer improved outcomes where legislation supports treatment providers to work closely with other health professionals.”
Withdrawal and detox are only a very small part of recovery from addiction and do not constitute full treatment. It is important to get treatment for the best chance at long-term recovery. Addiction is a complex mental health disorder that often requires comprehensive assessments, treatment, and aftercare.
Fortunately, the unavailability of ibogaine does not have to be a barrier to recovery from substance use. The Recovery Village offers a medical detox program to support a safe and comfortable withdrawal from substance use. We also provide a comprehensive approach to treatment following detox.
If you have concerns about yourself, or a loved one and have questions, please feel free to contact The Recovery Village for a confidential discussion with a professional representative.
Iboga Treatment & Rehab
Antonio, Tamara; et al. “Effect of iboga alkaloids on μ-opioid r[…] protein activation.” Plos One, October 16, 2013. Accessed June 17, 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 17, 2019.
Levinson, Jonathan. “Americans going abroad for illegal heroin treatment.” BBC News, April 11, 2018. Accessed June 17, 2019.
Mash, Deborah; Duque, Linda; Page, Bryan; et al. “Ibogaine detoxification transitions opio[…]d treatment outcomes.” Frontiers in Pharmacology, June 5, 2018. Accessed June 17, 2019.
Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies. “Ibogaine therapy.” June 16, 2017. Accessed June 17, 2019.
National Institute on Drug Abuse. “What are hallucinogens?” April 2019. Accessed June 17, 2019.
Noller, Geoffrey; Frampton, Chris; Yazar-Klosinski, Berra. “Ibogaine treatment outcomes for opioid d[…]observational study.” American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, 2018. Accessed June 17, 2019.
Proteomics & Metabolomics. “How a shrub may enable the ‘impossible[…] treating addiction.” April 25, 2019. Accessed June 17, 2019.
Toxicology Data Network. “Ibogaine.” September 4, 2014. Accessed June 17, 2019.
Volkow, Nora; Collins, Francis. “All scientific hands on deck’ to end the opioid crisis.” National Institute on Drug Abuse, May 31, 2017. Accessed June 17, 2019.
Volkow, Nora; Collins, Francis. “The role of science in addressing the opioid crisis.” New England Journal of Medicine, July 27, 2017. Accessed June 17, 2019.
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.