During rapid detox, patients are kept under sedation and injected with a cocktail of drugs to accelerate and intensify the withdrawal process. After a few hours, the worst of the withdrawal pains are over, and patients undergoing the procedure over a weekend will be well enough for work on Monday morning.
The use of a traditional West African shamanic hallucinogenic has been used for decades in the treatment of addiction, and advocates enthuse that a single dosage of ibogaine eliminates painful withdrawal symptoms and induces self awareness away from drug seeking behaviors
Although an illegal hallucinogenic substance within the United States, hundreds of Americans have use the drug either illegally within the country or at clinics within Canada, Europe or Central America, in search of a promised overnight cessation of addiction and withdrawal symptoms.
Advocates of ibogaine purport that a single dosage of hallucinogenic ibogaine is enough to interrupt the neuro chemical need for opiates and other drugs, and that the therapeutic properties of the intensive dream state period reveal inner truths that allow addicts to come to a better understanding of their use behaviors.
What is ibogaine?
Ibogaine is a hallucinogenic drug derived from a West African plant. The usage of Ibogaine within African traditional shamanic medicine has an ageless history, but only within the last few decades has there been a western awareness of the drug's potential in the treatment of addiction.
Minimal research has been done on the usage of the drug, but strong anecdotal evidence points to an incredible ability to erase the occurrence of normal opiate and other drug withdrawal pains, and to seemingly condense the benefits of years of psycho therapy within a single 24 to 36 hour ibogaine trip of self exploration.
Critics say that the drug is simply too dangerous to be used, and there have been 8 reported fatalities of people who have died shortly after taking the drug. Although coroners have never been able to conclusively link the consumption of ibogaine to the deaths, and in some there was evidence of concurrent drug abuse with ibogaine (something that is very dangerous) the stigma of danger remains permanently attached to the treatment, and has delayed attempts to bring ibogaine therapy into the mainstream.
Ibogaine seems to have its effects within the cerebellum of the brain, and greatly increases neural activity within this area that controls basal parts of cognition and memory, as well as physical functioning. Research using ibogaine in animal studies has shown that when given at very high doses, the drug induces permanent cell death within the cerebellum; but proponents counter that the doses as given to the animals far exceeded the recommended human doses, and that autopsies of people who had died after taking the drug had revealed no evidence of cerebellum cell damage.
What happens during an ibogaine experience?
An ibogaine experience is composed of three essential parts. The first part of the trip, which lasts for a period of 3-4 hours, consists of an intense hallucinogenic period in which many users report a waking dreamlike state in which they view their life experiences and struggles. The second stage, which can last for as long another 12 hours, is an intensely therapeutic phase of transcendent consciousness, and during this second stage ibogaine users are capable of recalling memories at will, and objectively examining all past behaviors, motivations and actions. This objective analysis brings greater understanding and clarity on the effects of drug abuse and as well on the factors in life that cause drug abuse.
Many ibogaine users report the sensation of a healing or guiding force leading them through this journey of self discovery. In addition to a perceived spiritual healer, most ibogaine therapy is performed with a trained adviser and counselor partially leading the ibogaine patient through this therapeutic state.
The third stage, lasting as long as 24 hours, of the ibogaine experience is characterized by a normal hallucinogenic reaction of altered lights and sounds.
Ibogaine is illegal in the United States because of its potentially neural destructive properties, but the drug is not addictive, and its high is too long and unsettling for the drug to have any abuse potential as a recreational hallucinogenic.
The benefits of ibogaine
Proponents of ibogaine therapy say that while one session of ibogaine is enough to interrupt a physical dependence to drugs and eliminate the experience of withdrawal symptoms, that a second or even third session in the following weeks and months can be beneficial to consolidate the therapeutic and self awareness gains made during the initial session.
The largest clinical study of Ibogaine occurred in Holland, and out of studied heroin addicted participants, 15% remained abstinent forever after ibogaine therapy, 15% relapsed quickly back to abuse, and the remaining 70% all returned to drug abuse over the follow up months and years of study.
Ibogaine does seem to have a remarkable ability to eliminate initial dependency to opiates and other drugs, particularly cocaine, alcohol and meth; and it does seem to offer something of therapeutic value in self awareness towards abstinence, but it may not be enough on its own to promote long lasting sobriety without additional clinical intervention and aftercare of some sort.
The current state of ibogaine research
For the moment, the use of the drug remains illegal and controversial. It does seem to offer potent efficacy, but some argue that the risks of neural degeneration make human trials on the drug too dangerous and unethical to pursue. While it does seem to work, no one can say exactly why it works, or even exactly what it is doing.
There has been renewed interest in the therapeutic uses of ibogaine, and NIDA is currently involved in studies of the hallucinogen in drug cessation programs. Anecdotal evidence clearly indicates efficacy and a remarkable ability to stop addiction in its tracks.
It will be interesting to see if researchers can gain a better understanding of the mechanisms at work in this ability to eliminate the symptoms of withdrawal, and potentially use this knowledge either for a safer administration of ibogaine, or for the development of a replacement medication with similar effects.
I don’t think I would offer myself up for ibogaine therapy, and the risks and uncertainty of the treatment are worrisome, but if ibogaine works when all else has failed, maybe the risks are worth the rewards.