A Surprising Southern State Journeys from Opioids to Ibogaine 

A Surprising Southern State Journeys from Opioids to Ibogaine 

Kentucky Will Use Opioid Settlement Money to Develop Psychedelic Into FDA-approved Drug 

It was a heartbreaking press conference. A mom talking about finding her son dead on the bathroom floor. Military veterans talking about their lowest points. All having to do with addiction to opioids. 

Then the announcement from the Kentucky attorney general’s office offered a sign of hope. 

In an unprecedented move, Kentucky says it will try to address the opioid crisis by bringing a psychedelic drug to market. 

“Kentucky will explore the possibility of devoting no less than $42 million over the next six years to the creation of public private partnerships which can incubate, support and drive the development of ibogaine all the way through the FDA approval process,” said W. Bryan Hubbard, executive director of Kentucky Opioid Abatement Advisory Commission. Hubbard called ibogaine “Kentucky’s breakthrough opportunity.” 

RELATED: Is Ketamine an Opioid?

Opioid Settlement Money 

More than 100,000 deaths last year in America involved drug overdoses. Opioids played a huge role in that number. Kentucky has an overdose rate that is double the national average.

Opioid makers are paying more than $54 billion for their role in the opioid crisis. Many states are using their money in more conventional ways: to increase first responder training, or build affordable housing for addicted people, or increase availability of the overdose-antidote naloxone. 

Kentucky received $842 million from the settlements. By using some of its settlement money to explore ibogaine, Kentucky becomes the first state to use its resources to legalize a psychedelic. 

RELATED: These are the Best Ibogaine Treatment Centers Around the Globe

Ibogaine as a Powerful Anti-Addictive Substance

Most psychedelics have been illegal in America for a half-century. They’ve been dismissed by the federal government as being dangerous and worthless. But fresh eyes, solid science, and mountains of anecdotal reports are changing minds about some psychedelics.

Iboga has a long history of use. It is a shrub from Central Africa. The Bwiti religion brews the root bark into a drink. A strong dose means a long, intense, and personal journey. The Bwiti have used the substance for generations for spiritual reasons. 

In the 1960s, an American named Howard Lotsof accidentally discovered the ability of ibogaine to treat his heroin addiction and reduce the intensity of his opioid withdrawal symptoms.

Today, ibogaine clinics dot the coasts of Mexico, where the drug is tolerated. The United States has no legal clinics, and very few underground operations. If Kentucky succeeds, it would create legal access to ibogaine in the United States for the first time. 

RELATED: Ketamine Therapy For PTSD: A Solution For Veterans?

Military Members Stand for Ibogaine Research

Kentucky has a culture that is proud of its military history, and a number of veterans testified at the press conference and received standing ovations for tales of redemption.

Tommy Aceto, a Navy Seal and medic, said he saw his fair share of trauma serving abroad. “The worst part was looking into the eyes of the innocent children who were casualties of war and then having to treat them,” Aceto said. Even at home, he felt he had no outlet for his suffering. “No matter how terrible I felt, I couldn’t talk about it. … I became a master of numbing with opiates and alcohol.” 

Using ibogaine was a breakthrough for Aceto, he said. “I felt safe letting go of my addictions and my past traumas,” he said, tearing up. “Ibogaine showed me I have everything I need to heal.”

Marcus Capone, a retired Navy Seal and leader of Veterans Exploring Treatment Solutions, said “ibogaine therapy saved my life and saved my family.”

“This initiative should provide a reason for hope, that healing is on the horizon,” said Martin Steele, a retired three-star general. Ibogaine could “change the whole cycle of death.” 

RELATED: Is Ibogaine Legal in the United States?

Cultural Distinctions

There was a noticeable contrast between the Kentucky press conference and a more typical psychedelic announcement. Psychedelic research labs cluster in bustling cities like London and San Francisco, and new liberal laws are written in tolerant states like Colorado and Oregon. In these places, the rhetoric tends toward the scientific, secular, and political.

Kentucky’s press conference was different. It was an eclectic mix of southern pride, anecdotes about 5-MeO-DMT, quotes from the Bible, and an open embrace of the spiritual aspects of psychedelics. 

The government press conference felt, at times, like a church revival. Hubbard, the besuited representative of the opioid advisory commission, noted that ibogaine comes from Africa, where the South got its slaves. “The use of a west African shrub illuminates the racial unity we must have if we are to prevail,” Hubbard said. Ibogaine could help remind people of “our kinship as images of an eternal creator whose essence is unlimited love for all of us.” 

W. Bryan Hubbard, executive director of Kentucky Opioid Abatement Advisory Commission.

Ripple Effect?

Kentucky’s bold move–allocating opioid settlement money to psychedelic research–created hope in psychedelic advocates across the country. Advocates in other states may follow Kentucky’s lead to use the heaps of cash from opioid settlements to explore psychedelics. 

“This is a remarkable achievement by Kentucky to pioneer a model of state supported funding for an innovative clinical research project involving ibogaine,” said Kevin Franciotti, an addiction counselor who used ibogaine to treat his heroin addiction and has written about the difficult logistics involved in bringing ibogaine to America

Development of Ibogaine for Opioid Dependence

Ibogaine is a tricky drug to work with, since it’s one of the few psychedelics that can kill you.

Several companies are working to bring ibogaine to market through the FDA process. DemeRx is in phase one of ibogaine for opioid withdrawal. Colorado legalized ibogaine for personal use in November. But because the drug is so dangerous, few Coloradans have been using it.

Kentucky did not say who would be their private partner in the public-private partnership.

Reilly Capps

Reilly Capps

View all posts by Reilly Capps

Reilly Capps is the editorial director of HealingMaps. He has written about psychedelics for Rooster Magazine, The Washington Post, The Telluride Daily Planet, LucidNews, 5280, Chacruna, The Third Wave, and the MAPS Bulletin. A licensed EMT, he used to answer 911 calls on the ambulance in Boulder, Colo., where he learned how drugs affect a community. Read all his work at Authory.com/reillycapps and follow him on Twitter @reillycapps

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