How Effective Is Ibogaine Therapy?
Disclaimer: ibogaine is a potentially illegal substance, and we do not encourage or condone the use of this substance where it is against the law. However, we accept that illegal drug use occurs, and believe that offering responsible harm reduction information is imperative to keeping people safe. For that reason, this guide is designed to ensure the safety of those who decide to use the substance. We do not encourage using this drug outside of a legal or traditional context.
Ibogaine is a psychoactive compound found in several different plants, most commonly the Tabernathe iboga found in parts of Africa. It has been used traditionally by people in certain regions of West Africa for thousands of years, where it is used for its medicinal and psychoactive properties.
In the modern world, ibogaine is becoming popular as an effective treatment of addiction and withdrawal symptoms. It has been used to help people addicted to substances such as opioids, cocaine, amphetamines and alcohol.
This is how one heroin addict described his treatment with ibogaine:
“As it starts to take effect I feel an intense wave of energy emanating from the centre of my chest that permeates my entire body. This euphoric state also brings me instantaneous relief from the discomfort I was feeling after going without heroin for almost 24 hours.
With my withdrawal symptoms completely gone, I am perplexed by the state of clarity I am in while seeing the most profound stream of visual phenomena. I am also filled with a sense of awe at the potential for a life free of heroin. Emotional memories force me to deal with some of the deep subconscious guilt I have repressed for years.
This powerful state persisted for over 12 hours. After remaining at the clinic for a week I was allowed to return home and over the next six months felt almost no cravings whatsoever.”
Anecdotes are great, but just how effective is ibogaine therapy? Is it a better option than a typical rehabilitation center?
In this guide, we’ll look at the evidence for the effectiveness of ibogaine treatment. What percentage of people are cured of addiction after taking ibogaine? What are the relative risks? And is it suitable for everyone?
HOW DOES IBOGAINE WORK?
Despite its potential, we still aren’t entirely sure how ibogaine works. We know that it mainly activates two types of receptors in the brain; sigma receptors and 5-HT2A receptors.
Sigma receptors are opioid receptors, activated by addictive drugs like heroin. It’s possible that ibogaine helps to lessen withdrawal symptoms by weakly activating these receptors, like someone quitting smoking by putting on a nicotine patch.
5-HT2A receptors are the main receptors activated by many other psychedelics, especially LSD, psilocybin, and ayahuasca. It’s these receptors that are probably responsible for the psychedelic aspects of the ibogaine experience.
Just like how ayahuasca, psilocybin and LSD have been shown to have antidepressant properties, it’s likely that ibogaine is working in a similar way. By disrupting the Default Mode Network in the brain, classic psychedelics allow users to break free of typical restrained thought patterns and gain a new perspective on their lives.
Listen to our podcast episode with Benjamin De Loenen talking about: Avoiding A ‘Quick Fix’ Mentality With Ayahuasca and Ibogaine or Click here to read the transcript
WHAT IS THE SUCCESS RATE OF IBOGAINE THERAPY?
Although there haven’t been any large studies of ibogaine’s efficacy, it seems from anecdotal reports as if ibogaine is a very effective form of treatment for addiction and withdrawal symptoms.
An infamous study from 1999 found that, of 33 recovering heroin addicts administered ibogaine, 25 of the addicts were free of withdrawal symptoms and had no cravings after 24 hours. Tragically, one of the participants in the study died, probably due to the poorly understood cardiac risks.
Supporting the anecdotes, one study from 2000 gave a single dose (500-800mg) of ibogaine to 27 cocaine- and opioid-addicted inpatients. The patients reported significant decreases in their cravings and depressed symptoms after taking ibogaine, which lasted for the whole 30-days of their time in rehab. Although this study relies on self-reporting, and has no control group, the authors highlight the need for further study.
A preliminary observational study by MAPS suggests that ibogaine can prevent most patients from relapsing within two months of treatment. 30 participants were recruited for this study, although there is no control group, and participants self-report their withdrawal and craving symptoms.
A retrospective study in Brazil from 2014 has provided more encouraging evidence. It looks back at 75 previous drug addicts who used ibogaine to attempt to treat their addiction. 61% of the ibogaine users were now abstinent. The majority of ibogaine users had remained abstinent for at least five months following the treatment.
Two recent studies have added even more fuel to the fire – by suggesting that a single dose of ibogaine can help addicts through withdrawal symptoms, and keep them clean for up to 12 months following the treatment.
The anecdotal reports deserve attention, too. Users of ibogaine often describe the experience as giving them an outside view of their lives, allowing them to clearly see the harmful aspects of their addiction. This fresh perspective allows people to explore ways they can change their lives for the better.
Here are some user reports we’ve collected that highlight the potential healing properties of ibogaine:
“Around half an hour after, the Iboga spirit […] appeared to me as a black man, an African warrior type being, and told me that he was here to help me. I began immediately thinking about my father, as I have much childhood trauma associated with him. Iboga clapped his hands, and my dad appeared. My father looked drunk, and had an aggressive, angry expression on his face, with his fists in the air like he was about to beat me. Suddenly, Iboga clapped his hands again, and instantly my father transformed into a scared little boy, perhaps around age eleven, crying about being beaten by his grandfather (his primary caregiver during his childhood). This vision humbled me to a level I’d never felt before; the massive resentment I held towards my dad was uprooted out of me by Iboga.
Next, came my mother. Iboga did something very different this time: he transformed me into my mother, and all of a sudden I felt all the pain and suffering that I had caused her during my addiction through lying, stealing, manipulating. This vision humbled me to a level I never felt before, and after the experience, I cannot bring myself to lie to her without bawling my eyes out, precisely because I was her and I felt all the pain I had caused her. Iboga allowed me to forgive myself for the pain I caused the woman who loved me more than anyone else in the world, but he emphasised that I must never again cause her that type of pain.”
“I saw the most intense closed eye visuals ever. It is like closing your eyes and there is a movie playing. Seriously, it was that vivid. I remember my hallucinations. I don’t know if it was because of the African music playing, but I saw serious looking shamans in my close eye visuals staring at me. I also saw a jaguar just staring into my eyes. The most fucked up part of my trip was when I saw my mom crying. When I would use drugs, my mom would cry sometimes but when I was high I did not give a shit. When I saw my mom crying in my visuals, I felt so shitty and felt like I owe her for her happiness that was lost.
I laid there in bed and I had deep locked thoughts from my childhood, flashbacks of all the negative experiences I had, and realized exactly why I used drugs to begin with. I did also see open eye visuals. There was one moment where I saw a pair of non-human eyes floating above, then all of a sudden a long tongue dropped to my bed where the eyes were, this hallucination was very shocking. It was like the same shock experienced when you hear a loud and unexpected sound. Ibogaine had a lot of those moments. Ibogaine is like a stern teacher or parent teaching you a lesson, it is not fun and games. Towards the end, I felt very peaceful.”
“I was at peace with everything. I had accepted my fate and I had died trying to save myself from a lifetime of misery as well as everyone around me […] The ibogaine was working a miracle and saving my life. It totally cleansed my body from every toxin I had put in it for 20 years. It defragmented my brain and allowed me to reboot. I was laying there a dead man and all of a sudden the power came back on.”
WHAT ARE THE RISKS OF IBOGAINE TREATMENT?
The most significant risk of ibogaine treatment is the strain it can put on the heart. Studies have shown that ibogaine can dramatically alter the way the heart beats, which can be risky if you have previous heart conditions, or are mixing ibogaine with other drugs. Between 1990 and 2008 there were 19 documented deaths due to mixing ibogaine with other drugs, or taking it with prior health conditions.
As such, you should be assessed for fitness, especially any heart conditions or family history of heart conditions, before any ibogaine treatment course.
It’s important to remember that, even fit and medically supervised people can suffer fatal reactions to ibogaine. We estimate the rate of fatalities from ibogaine treatment at 1 in 400 – higher than most extreme sports. You need to consider whether these risks are appropriate for your situation.
The best ibogaine treatment centers adhere to the Global Ibogaine Therapy Alliance’s Clinical Guidelines, or some other form of medical guidance. It’s best to check what guidelines any potential treatment center follows, as your safety should be a priority.
A less severe risk of ibogaine treatment is the risk of a traumatic psychological experience. Ibogaine is a powerful psychedelic, and its recreational potential is pretty limited. Many people report the experience as being intense, emotional, and disturbing. Its therapeutic benefits are due to its ability to show you your vices from a stark perspective. One woman said of her experience with ibogaine, “I wouldn’t recommend it to somebody who is trying to have fun. If you want your body to explode into 1,000 pieces and rebuild itself into something beautiful, then yeah—but don’t expect it to be pleasant.”
Some would argue that a traumatic experience is actually required for the healing benefits of ibogaine. However, there are steps you can take to reduce the likelihood of having a genuinely horrific experience. Following the 6Ss of psychedelic use is a good start – however, any good treatment center should take steps to make you comfortable, including having constant support available at all time, and pre- and post-session guidance available.
IS IBOGAINE TREATMENT SUITABLE FOR EVERYONE?
Ibogaine is not a cure-all. It’s probably not the best option for minor addictions like biting your nails. The genuine heart risks of ibogaine treatment means you should be in a serious situation with your addiction problems.
Additionally, the psychedelic experience is not for everyone. If you’ve never taken a psychedelic drug before, ibogaine is probably not the best place to start. The experience can be disturbing for even experienced psychonauts, so has the potential to be especially unpleasant for a psychedelic novice.
Despite these risks, the evidence shows that ibogaine can really help people suffering from severe addiction. For people who have been in and out of rehab, and have struggled to find any benefits from standard treatments, ibogaine could be the right choice.
Read our full guides on the legality of ibogaine
or everything you need to know about ibogaine treatment.