Ibogaine: Can it Cure Addiction Without the Hallucinogenic Trip?

The substance has helped addicts kick heroin, meth, and everything in between. Is it the trip that does the trick?

It's folks like Beal, says pharmacologist Stanley Glick, who keep ibogaine and 18-MC from being embraced by the medical mainstream.

"Some of my colleagues, as well as funding agencies, lump us together without really considering the data," Glick says. "There's a lot of baggage that comes with ibogaine, some of it warranted, some of it unwarranted. It's really a stigma. Drug abuse itself has a stigma, and unfortunately so does ibogaine. It has really hurt the science."

Beal shrugs off the criticism, arguing that grassroots activism is the only way to ensure that politicians will endorse ibogaine. Besides, he adds, the government stopped funding ibogaine research long before he was arrested.

Extracted from the root bark of the tabernathe iboga plant, ibogaine is a potent hallucinogen—with an intriguing side effect.
Marco Schmidt/Wikimedia Commons
Extracted from the root bark of the tabernathe iboga plant, ibogaine is a potent hallucinogen—with an intriguing side effect.
Photo illustration used with permission from Levi van Veluw from his 'Landscapes' series, courtesy Ronmandos gallery, Amsterdam (©) levivanveluw.com

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ABOUT THE COVER ARTIST
Since having graduated from the Artez Art School in Arnhem the Netherlands, Levi van Veluw has enjoyed a remarkable amount of success in a short period of time, with his work being showcased in many different locations across Europe and the States and Asia, earning him a number of prestigious awards that include the Photographer of the Year Award at the IPA International Photo Awards in the USA. His work will be featured at the Armory Show 2011, New York.

"[The scientists] think if they stay away from us activists, NIDA will bless them," says the self-styled rabble-rouser. "NIDA is not blessing them. They're washed up and on a strange beach. How will they get FDA-approved clinical trials without activists? Explain to me a way that works, and I will do it."

Beal jokes that the best advertisement for ibogaine might be an episode from the 11th season of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit in which a heroin addict who needs to testify in court is administered ibogaine to make his withdrawal symptoms disappear overnight. “Maybe Congress will watch SVU and say, 'Maybe we should check this out—wow!—it works for methamphetamine, too?'” he says sarcastically.

In truth, ibogaine's effectiveness against meth has already helped it gain acceptance abroad. Lawmakers in New Zealand, where methamphetamine use has skyrocketed in recent years, recently tweaked the nation's laws to allow physicians to prescribe ibogaine. Dr. Gavin Cape, an addiction specialist at New Zealand's Dunedin School of Medicine, says the nation's doctors are so far reluctant to wield their new anti-meth weapon.

"[There are] no true controlled studies to give evidence as to its safety and effectiveness," Cape says. "There is a strong advocacy group [in New Zealand] for ibogaine, and it may turn out to have a place alongside conventional therapies for the addictions, but I'm afraid we are a few years away from that goal."

Last month, dozens of ibogaine researchers, activists, and treatment providers gathered for a conference in Barcelona, where topics included safety and sustainable sourcing of ibogaine from Africa. Dr. Kenneth Alper was among the attendees who gave a presentation on the benefits of ibogaine to the Catalan Ministry of Health. The NYU prof believes ibogaine's most likely path to prominence in the United States will be as a medication for meth addiction, for the simple reason that doctors and treatment providers have found that small daily—and thus drug-company-friendly—doses seem to work better for meth addiction than the mind-blowing "flood doses" used on opiate addicts.

Alper says no one thought to try non-hallucinogenic quantities of ibogaine until recently. Ibogaine treatment providers tend to have been former ibogaine users, and most assumed that the introspection brought on by tripping was key to overcoming their addictions. "That's just how it evolved," he says, noting that the large doses do seem to work best for opiate detox. "You're talking about a drug that has been used in less than 10,000 people in the world in terms of treatment. It's not surprising that's how it evolved."

"The visions have some psychological content that is salient and meaningful," Alper adds. "On the other hand, there is no successful treatment for addiction that's not interpreted as a spiritual transformation by the people who use it. It's the G-word. It's God. We as physicians don't venture into that territory, but most people do."

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