Is Ibogaine A Promising Addiction Treatment Option?

Is Ibogaine A Promising Addiction Treatment Option?

Ibogaine is the psychoactive compound found in Tabernanthe iboga, a shrub native to tropical Central Africa. The indigenous peoples of Gabon, Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the Republic of Congo use this plant in a ceremonial fashion, as part of Bwiti spiritual practices. (Bwiti is a syncretic religion, which we will explore later on, including the role that iboga plays in the religion.)

People from other countries also travel to Central West Africa to participate in iboga ceremonies. This is because the ibogaine experience can be therapeutic for a number of different reasons.

But ibogaine has also left the realm of traditional use in Africa and entered the medical world in other countries. In this context, the whole plant isn’t used but just the ibogaine itself, in the form of an extract. However, it is also possible to produce synthetic ibogaine, which carries advantages over extracts. Ibogaine treatment centers typically employ the psychedelic compound in the treatment of addiction.

Ibogaine is a fascinating psychedelic compound that differs from other psychedelics in some important ways. It is also a promising new treatment for several types of addiction, giving people a chance at sustained recovery when other options have failed them.

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Ibogaine is not without its risks and side effects, though, and anyone considering the experience needs to be aware of these.

In this comprehensive guide on ibogaine, we will be taking a look at the characteristics of the compound, its traditional use, what the experience is like, the drug’s benefits and risks, the success rate of ibogaine treatment, and the cost of treatment.

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What Is Ibogaine?

There is no simple answer to the question “what is ibogaine?” This compound has differing aspects, all of which make it stand out as a distinct psychedelic.

The Ibogaine Chemical

Ibogaine is a naturally occurring psychedelic compound of the tryptamine class. This class also includes substances like psilocybin, DMT, 5-MeO-DMT, and bufotenine. All these drugs share similar chemical structures.

The basic element of a tryptamine is the indole ring structure (a fused double ring made up of a pyrrole ring and a benzene ring, and a 2-aminoethyl group at the third carbon). Neurotransmitters like serotonin and melatonin are also tryptamines as they have this common structure.

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Ibogaine As A Naturally Occurring Psychedelic

Like the classic tryptamine psychedelics, ibogaine is found in nature. It is found in plants in the family Apocynaceae such as Tabernanthe iboga, Voacanga africana (native to tropical Africa), and Tabernaemontana undulata (found in the Amazon rainforest).

The most common source of ibogaine is Tabernanthe iboga.

In this plant, the highest concentrations of the chemical are found in the root bark. Lower concentrations are found in the rest of the plant. The iboga shrub contains other alkaloids in addition to ibogaine, including tabernanthine, coronaridine, voacangine, ibogamine, and harmaline.

Banisteriopsis caapi, a plant used in the preparation of the psychedelic brew ayahuasca, also contains harmaline.

The other alkaloids found in iboga have a range of physical effects, as well as anti-addiction properties. Ibogaine is what is responsible for the psychedelic experience, however.

The Pharmacology Of Ibogaine

Ibogaine affects different neurotransmitters simultaneously. Noribogaine, a major metabolic product of ibogaine (created in the body after you consume ibogaine), is most potent as a serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SRI). This means it blocks the action of the serotonin transporter (SERT), leading to increased concentrations of serotonin outside the brain cells, which allows for more serotonin transmission to occur between cells.

SRIs are not the same as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), as the latter term refers to a class of antidepressants. SRIs can be either selective or non-selective in their action. Ibogaine is not a classic psychedelic as it has a very low affinity at the 5-HT2A receptors, unlike compounds such as psilocin, mescaline, LSD, and DMT. Binding to this type of serotonin receptor is associated with the psychedelic effects of psilocybin, for example.

Noribogaine, like ibogaine, is an NMDA receptor antagonist (so it binds to the receptor and stops it from producing a response), as well as a moderate kappa opioid agonist and weak μ-opioid receptor agonist. This means it binds to kappa-opioid and μ-opioid receptors and causes them to produce a biological response. It is possible that the action of ibogaine at the kappa opioid receptor may significantly contribute to psychoactive effects.

Salvia divinorum — another plant with strong psychedelic effects — contains the compound salvinorin A, which is a highly selective kappa-opioid agonist. And it is this chemical that is responsible for salvia’s hallucinogenic and dissociative effects. In addition, as with ketamine (a dissociative drug with psychedelic effects), ibogaine’s inhibition of NMDA receptors elicits feelings of dissociation.

After people consume ibogaine, noribogaine shows higher plasma levels than ibogaine and is detected for a longer period of time than ibogaine.

Researchers in scientific paper titled Ibogaine: complex pharmacokinetics, concerns for safety, and preliminary efficacy measures stated the following:

“Because ibogaine is cleared rapidly from the blood, the beneficial aftereffects of the drug on craving and depressed mood may be related to the effects of noribogaine on the central nervous system.”

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Ibogaine Produces More Than Just Psychedelic Effects

Ibogaine also has dissociative and oneiric properties. Dissociative effects, which drugs like ketamine also produce, include the feeling of being dissociated or detached from the physical environment and/or self.

Meanwhile, the oneiric properties of ibogaine mean that the drug produces or enhances dream-like states of consciousness. Indeed, ibogaine can induce vivid dream-like episodes while awake with eyes closed, without the user losing contact with the environment.

The dissociative and oneiric properties of ibogaine make it distinct from many classic psychedelics. Having said that, research from Imperial College London on DMT, at least, indicates that this compound can also induce a vivid “waking-dream” state.

Nonetheless, many people do find that the dissociative and dream-like nature of ibogaine’s effects makes the experience noticeably different from an experience with psilocybin, for instance.

Iboga As A Religious Sacrament

Various indigenous peoples in Central and West Africa belong to the Bwiti religion, which includes the ceremonial use of iboga. These include the Punu and Mitsogo peoples of Gabon, and the Fang people of Gabon and Cameroon.

The modern Bwiti religion is syncretic, meaning it combines beliefs and practices from different religions and worldviews. It features animism (the belief that objects, places, and creatures possess a distinct spiritual essence), ancestor worship, and Christianity.

The iboga plant is central to the Bwiti religion. In a ceremonial context, adherents will consume the root or bark of the plant.

The Bwiti religion emphasizes the value of direct communion with ancestors through the consumption of iboga.

Weekly mass ceremonies called ngoze occur every Saturday night into Sunday morning. During these ceremonies, people in the tribe will feast, dance, and enjoy a state of communal bliss referred to as nlem mysore (“one heart only”). The dances are intricately choreographed, highly energetic, and performed for long periods of time.

Participants take small to moderate doses of iboga as a sacrament at these ceremonies, with the intention of facilitating communal joy, revelry, and spiritual communion without bringing on an intense iboga experience where one would lose touch with reality.

Those becoming initiated into the religion will take a high dose of iboga during the initiation ceremony, with the goal being to induce a near-death experience. These ceremonies last for three days and involve offerings to nature and symbolic bathing. Community supporters make sure to tend to the initiate, as large doses of ibogaine can result in complete dissociation from reality for extended periods of time.

During these ceremonies, the initiate can experience powerful revelations as they speak with their ancestors or religious figures such as Jesus, the Virgin Mary, or God. When the experience is over, the initiate talks about their experiences with the rest of the tribe and is considered a full member of the community from then on. Higher doses of iboga are additionally reserved for special instances like trauma, health issues, or coming of age.

Members of the Bwiti religion also use iboga in smaller doses, as a stimulant, to improve hunting expeditions.

The History Of Iboga And Ibogaine

We have known about the traditional use of iboga since the 19th century.

This is thanks to the work of the French ethnobotanist and explorer Marie-Théophile Griffon du Bellay. He discovered iboga during his travels to Gabon.

Henri Ernest Baillon provided the first botanical description of the iboga plant in 1889. In 1901, Messrs. J. Dybowski and Ed. Landrin were the first chemists to isolate ibogaine from the iboga plant.

From the 1930s until the 1960s, ibogaine was available in France, in the form of Lambarène, an extract of the Tabernanthe manii plant, a relative of the Tabernanthe iboga plant. This extract was promoted as a mental and physical stimulant and gained some popularity. However, it was withdrawn from the market in 1966 when the French government made it illegal.

In the late 1960s, the World Health Assembly stated that ibogaine was a “substance likely to cause dependency or endanger human health”, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) classified it as a Schedule I substance, meaning it had no recognized medical use and a high potential for abuse. This is the same legal category that other psychedelics belong to.

In the early 1960s, a group of heroin addicts, including researcher Howard Lotsof, accidentally discovered that taking ibogaine led to a sudden and complete interruption of heroin addiction, with no withdrawal symptoms.

Since that time, researchers have focused on the use of ibogaine as a treatment for various addictions.

In 1990, the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) began the development of ibogaine as a prescription medicine by funding clinical trials. The NIDA halted this research in 1995 due to intellectual property litigation. Despite this, later research helped to reaffirm earlier findings of ibogaine’s efficacy in treating addiction.

From this history, we can see that ibogaine is many things: A religious sacrament, a stimulant, a treatment for addiction, and a highly prohibited drug.

Ibogaine Effects

To better understand what ibogaine is, we need to more fully describe its effects. As a psychedelic, iboga produces a range of physical, perceptual, dissociative, cognitive, emotional, and mystical effects. But the effects of ibogaine can also be quite unique.

Firstly, ibogaine stands out as a particularly long-lasting psychedelic, with effects lasting around 24 hours in many cases but with the potential to last 48 hours if the dose is high enough.

Due to its very long duration compared to other psychedelics, ibogaine might not appeal to all users. However, given ibogaine’s potential to effectively treat serious addictions, substance-related cravings, and drug withdrawals, the length of the experience may be the price worth paying for its benefits.

The effects of ibogaine are as follows:

Physical EffectsPerceptual Effects
NauseaColor enhancement
VomitingColor shifting
Dry mouthVisual acuity enhancement
DizzinessDrifting (objects melting, breathing, morphing, and flowing)
Loss of orientationPerspective distortions
Changes in weight perception and body temperatureTracers
Ataxia (difficult coordinating muscle movements)The perception of geometric patterns (with eyes open or closed)
Stimulation (in low doses)Experiencing lucid dreams, with meaningful images, with eyes closed
Spontaneous bodily sensationsPerceiving and interacting with entities and archetypes
Increased blood pressureAuditory enhancements, distortions, and hallucinations
Increased heart rate and decreased heart rateSynesthesia (the cross-wiring of different sensory modalities: e.g. ‘seeing sounds’ or ‘hearing colors’)
Muscle contractions
Muscle spasms
Appetite suppression
Pupil dilation

Dissociative Effects

As a dissociative, ibogaine can result in the feeling of being detached from your sense of self, your physical body, and/or the environment. You can lose your connection with normal reality or feel like your body has disappeared but find your consciousness traveling in another dimension.

Cognitive EffectsEmotional EffectsMystical EffectsAfter Effects
A prolonged state of wakefulnessEuphoria, ecstasy, and blissA sense of timelessness or eternityIn the days, weeks, or even months following an iboga or ibogaine session, you may experience:
An increase in creativity: making new connections between different ideas and eventsFeelings of loveA feeling of being outside space or existing in infinite spaceAn enduring feeling of happiness and joyfulness
Enhanced memory recallContentmentThe experience of “ultimate reality”Mental clarity
An increase in conceptual thinkingCalm and peacefulnessThe experience of existing as “pure awareness”Increased care for yourself
Increases in introspection and mindfulnessGratitudeEgo loss (also known as ego dissolution or ego death): the loss of your sense of personal identityMotivation to make changes to your life, work, and relationships
DelusionsEmpathyA feeling of unity or interconnectedness
Thought loopsFearA sense of the holy, sacred, or divine
Time distortionAnxietyFeelings of awe and reverence
ParanoiaIneffable (indescribable) experiences
DreadParadoxical experiences (e.g. the sense of being everything and nothing at the same time)

Ibogaine As A Treatment For Addiction

As we have already mentioned, many people use ibogaine as a way to beat an addiction. To better understand this form of addiction treatment, we need to examine this history of usage, what the scientific literature on this treatment reveals, and what ibogaine therapy involves.

The Discovery Of Ibogaine’s Anti-Addictive Properties

Lotsof was an American scientific researcher who discovered and then promoted the use of ibogaine for the treatment of drug addiction.

In 1962, at the age of 19, Lotsof was addicted to heroin and accidentally discovered the anti-addictive properties of ibogaine.

He ordered the bitter rootbark powder from a chemist, only wanting to try it for extra kicks. He experienced visions of his early memories. 36 hours after consuming iboga, when the effects had worn off, he found he lost all his cravings for heroin, without any withdrawal symptoms.

This kind of effect was, of course, unexpected. Trying to beat heroin addiction can be challenging precisely because of the strong cravings and withdrawal symptoms that occur when you stop using. These uncomfortable psychological and physical effects encourage addicted individuals to use again. Withdrawal symptoms can take 7-10 days to pass, while cravings can last longer.

It can be challenging to avoid using one’s substance of choice during this period of detox and withdrawal, as an individual knows that using will cause the unpleasant physical and psychological effects to dissipate.

However, Lotsof found that a single ibogaine experience allowed him to avoid this issue entirely. He said he gave iboga to seven other addicts and five stopped using drugs immediately afterward.

Increased Interest In Using Ibogaine To Treat Addiction

Lotsof authored and co-authored research papers on ibogaine and was awarded patents for the treatment of various substance addictions using the drug.

In 1985, Lotsof patented the ibogaine molecule for the purpose of treating addiction, but he couldn’t get his treatment approved in the U.S. At this time, as already highlighted, ibogaine was (and still is) classed as a Schedule I substance, meaning the U.S. federal government views it as having a high potential for abuse and no medical value.

Lotsof’s first patent (issued in 1985) was Rapid Method for Interrupting the Narcotic Addiction Syndrome. The last patent in the series of using ibogaine to treat drug addiction, awarded in 1992, was Rapid Method for Interrupting or Attenuating Poly-Drug Dependency Syndromes.

In the 1980s, Lotsof convinced a Belgian company to manufacture ibogaine in capsule form and successful trials with the drug were then carried out in the Netherlands. The use of ibogaine for addiction spread across Europe.

Eric Taub heard about ibogaine in 1989 from a friend who was considering using it to treat his alcoholism. After carrying out research into ibogaine at the University of Florida Library, Taub immediately contacted Lotsof. Then, on March 8, 1992, Taub left Cameroon with 13 grams of ibogaine HCl and settled in an offshore location close to the US. Here he spent 15 years as an ibogaine treatment provider.

Ibogaine therapy practitioner Lex Kogan joined Taub and systematized ibogaine treatment with centers across the world. Deborah Mash, a neuroscientist and expert on ibogaine, was also carrying out academic research and trials on the substance. The use of ibogaine spread, but its administration varied widely, with some groups providing treatment in a systematic and well-developed way, with others using it in a more haphazard and potentially dangerous manner.

Despite the dedicated support of ibogaine therapy from activists, in 1995, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) discontinued research into the compound, with researchers renewing their investigation into the treatment in the late 1990s.

Promising Research On Ibogaine Therapy

Most Western clinical use of ibogaine is focused on its ability to treat addiction. Research has backed up Lotsof’s experience of ibogaine being able to eliminate or drastically reduce drug cravings and withdrawal symptoms.

Some research suggests that ibogaine may change addiction-related pathways between nerve cells in the brain. Researchers in the field believe it achieves this by acting as an NMDA receptor antagonist. NMDA has been implicated in the physiological basis of drug addiction.

One study concluded that the “long lasting and complex pattern of modulation of NMDA receptors prompted by a single dose of ibogaine may be associated to its anti-addictive properties.”

In a 2014 study, researchers in Brazil recruited 75 participants who previously used cannabis, cocaine, crack cocaine, or alcohol. The participants who had one ibogaine session reported abstaining from drug use for a median of 5.5 months.

Meanwhile, those who had multiple ibogaine sessions abstained for a median of 8.4 months. Other studies indicate that ibogaine can help opioid addicts stay abstinent for months following treatment.

The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies helped to fund two observational studies in 2017 looking into the use of ibogaine as a treatment for drug addiction.

In the first such study, which took place in Mexico, ibogaine led to improved symptoms of opioid withdrawal and reduced subsequent drug use in people who did not find other treatments effective.

In the second study, researchers in New Zealand found that a single ibogaine session reduced symptoms of opioid withdrawal in people dependent on opioids for a period of more than 12 months. It also helped people stop using opioids or maintain a reduction in use. However, it should be noted that one person in this study died during treatment.

A 2018 study, featuring Mash as one of the authors, concluded that ibogaine can significantly reduce withdrawal symptoms and drug cravings, as well as decrease relapses, in individuals dependent on either opioids or cocaine.

Research Limitations

Since ibogaine is a Schedule I drug, serious approvals, reasoning, and funding are necessary for research to even get started in the first place. The result is that there are limited studies on ibogaine therapy and so long as the number of studies remains low, it will be difficult to make ibogaine a widespread treatment for addiction.

Moreover, the number of participants in ibogaine studies tends to be quite low.

According to a 2020 article published in Nature, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trials on ibogaine had not been carried out. Although that isn’t true.

In 2015 and 2016, two such trials — which were also randomized, increasing the reliability of evidence even further — were carried out.

The 2016 study, for instance, found noribogaine was well-tolerated, although it showed decreases in opioid withdrawal symptoms were not statistically significant. The authors did, however, note possible issues with the design of the study.

What we can say is that there aren’t many placebo-controlled, double-blind clinical trials on ibogaine. What we have instead is many more open-label studies on ibogaine, in which all participants are aware of which form of treatment they are taking. This can reduce the reliability of the evidence.

Anecdotal reports, like the open-label studies, also suggest that ibogaine can reduce withdrawal symptoms and drug cravings, and prevent relapse, but these reports can be based on hearsay, observations, or historical accounts, as opposed to scientific research and trials.

One major obstacle that makes research into ibogaine difficult is the fact that it’s hard to gather large quantities of ibogaine. Humans have overexploited Tabernanthe iboga. There are currently only three ways to make synthetic ibogaine, all of which involve numerous steps and produce extremely low yields.

MINDCURE is one company that has successfully manufactured synthetic ibogaine at a commercial scale for research purposes.

This will ensure that researchers have access to a sustainable and high-quality supply of the substance.

Another issue facing ibogaine research is the safety profile of the drug. Ibogaine can cause heart problems and many people have died from ibogaine toxicity (we will explore these health risks in more depth later on in the article).

Nonetheless, UC Davis researchers have developed a synthetic, non-hallucinogenic analog of ibogaine (tabernanthalog) that they claim has the same anti-addiction properties but without the same heart risks. This substance is also easier to manufacture than ibogaine.

What Is Ibogaine Treatment Like?

Ibogaine treatment involves several stages. The first involves making contact with an ibogaine treatment center, with many operating in Mexico (where the plant is unregulated and legal).

Other countries where the substance is legal or unregulated include Canada, Costa Rica, Brazil, Gabon, the Netherlands, and New Zealand. Since ibogaine is illegal in the U.S., many people struggling with addiction in the country will travel to Canada, Mexico, or Costa Rica to seek ibogaine treatment. In Gabon, travelers will take iboga in a more ceremonial, traditional context compared to what treatment centers in other countries offer.

Once you find a treatment center, you can discuss your situation with a case manager by phone and he or she will answer any questions you have. This will be followed up by making an appointment for a longer telephone interview (or in-person assessment if one can travel to the center).

During the assessment, you will be provided with a detailed explanation of what the ibogaine treatment program can do for you or for loved ones (if you are calling on behalf of somebody else).

At this stage, you will be sharing your general medical history, including your mental health history, as well as detailed information regarding the current drug-related issues that you are seeking treatment for. The attending physician will also want to know the complete list of medications you may presently be taking. The medical and psychiatric assessment is to ensure that there are no contraindications (any symptoms, conditions, or medications that could make ibogaine particularly risky for you).

Once you have made payment arrangements, you can continue to the next step, which is setting a date for the treatment to begin.

Once a date is set, you may need to discontinue the use of certain medications prior to treatment. The program can last for a week, with longer stays an option as well. When you have set aside the necessary time for the treatment program, you can then make travel arrangements.

So what happens when you arrive at the center to begin treatment? Here is a typical therapy program that shows what the experience is like day by day:

Day 1

You arrive at the treatment facility, sign an initial consent for treatment and medical testing, along with a privacy and confidentiality agreement. If you are physically dependent on heroin, morphine, hydrocodone, oxycodone, methadone, or any other opioids, you will receive regular doses of morphine so you can avoid withdrawal symptoms during treatment.

Day 2

You will undergo necessary blood work and cardiological testing, and obtain a pre-treatment medical clearance. Your physical safety will be ensured to confirm that you are a good candidate for treatment. Alongside medical testing, the on-site therapist and support staff will work with you to help set your intentions, expectations, and goals, as well as provide an overview of the treatment.

Day 3

On-site psychotherapists and staff will continue working with you to create a foundation for your upcoming treatment and post-treatment goals. This day is dedicated to helping prepare you mentally for the experience.

Day 4

On the day your ibogaine session takes place, you won’t have any breakfast (this can help with nausea). The day will begin in the morning. You will be given Dramamine orally (in case of any potential nausea). Then a full (flood) dose of ibogaine HCl will be administered via IV injection. The exact dose will depend on your body mass.

After taking the ibogaine, within 45 minutes you will experience a tingling sensation of warmth spreading throughout your body. You may hear humming or buzzing sounds. After the first hour, roughly, you will begin experiencing visions. Keep in mind that ibogaine is not a classic psychedelic; it has oneiric properties too, so these visions can be very dream-like in nature. Intense visions can last 4-6 hours.

After 4-6 hours have passed, you will enter what may be referred to as the ‘processing stage’. This can involve a highly introspective state where you are faced with the core issues surrounding your drug dependence. This stage can produce a lot of material that is useful from a psychotherapeutic standpoint. Expect this stage to last 12-36 hours.

Day 5

The day after your ibogaine experience, you may feel fatigued and find it difficult to sleep. However, most patients will experience no drug cravings or withdrawal symptoms, so the day after is still felt to be positive. You will be encouraged to eat, drink, rest, and relax. An on-site therapist will also be available for one-on-one sessions that will help you process your experience (known as integration).

Day 6

You may receive a further ibogaine dose on this day (but not as high as before): this can help to alleviate any residual withdrawal symptoms for those who have very heavy habits. The ibogaine booster will be a sub-threshold dose, so it can provide anti-addiction benefits and some mild physical and psychological changes but not full-blown visions. This day will also be focused on your aftercare plans and how you want to move forward following treatment.

Day 7

You may receive another dose of ibogaine, followed by additional therapy for integrating your experience. Aftercare planning may involve recommendations from staff for therapy and nutrition, as well as a plan to maintain a life free from drug dependence.

Day 8

On the last day, you can head home clean, returning with improved mental health and without a desire to use again.

Ibogaine As A Mental Health Treatment

Ibogaine, for many people, helps to alleviate the symptoms of a mental health condition. This also seems to play a role in its anti-addictive effects, alongside the fact that it induces neurobiological changes associated with recovery from addiction. After all, emotional distress often underlies drug addiction.

By improving your mental health through ibogaine, which can occur through mystical experiences, insights, and emotional effects, you may no longer have strong emotional pain that you feel inclined to medicate with opioids or other substances.

According to Dimitri Urukah, Facilitator at Rooted Waters in British Columbia, addiction and other mental health issues are “are messages from deep within. A calling which emerges from a deep internal wound as a song of despair sang by our soul. This can be said about all modern issues such as anxiety, depression, addiction and so on. Iboga brings us through the gates of our primal wound helping us clean it, tend to it and bandage it while changing our perspective and appreciation of our inner selves. It is through this self compassion and love that iboga offers the opportunity to heal addiction and mental health issues. Most of our modern issues emerge from a spiritual sickness and this is what Iboga helps us heal.”

Ibogaine For Depression

One mental health condition that ibogaine appears effective in treating is major depression. Research has shown that after undergoing ibogaine treatment for addiction, patients experience a substantial reduction in depressive symptoms.

In rats, research has found that the administration of a single dose of ibogaine and noribogaine leads to an antidepressant-like effect.

In addition, tabernanthalogy, which you will recall is the non-hallucinogenic version of ibogaine, is still able to have antidepressant properties.

Therefore, it may be possible at some point in the future to take this safer version of ibogaine for depression and addiction and not have to experience hours of visions or hallucinations, effects which may be off-putting to many seeking treatment.

Ibogaine For PTSD

Many anecdotal reports from war veterans indicate that ibogaine can be helpful in rapidly alleviating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms, although clinical trials on ibogaine for PTSD are lacking.

Despite the lack of clinical trial data, many ibogaine treatment clinics offer the treatment for PTSD, and war vets continue to travel to facilities in countries like Mexico to have experiences with ibogaine.

In a 2020 paper, the authors state:

During treatment, ibogaine allows the evocation and reprocessing of traumatic memories and occasions therapeutic and meaningful visions of spiritual and autobiographical content, which are of central relevance in addressing PTSD-related psychological content.

Ibogaine Success Rate

The success rate for ibogaine treatment is one of the key concerns that anyone interested in the treatment will have.

The ibogaine experience is long, it can be challenging, and it involves greater physical risks compared to other psychedelics.

With these factors in mind, as well as the cost of treatment, it is understandable that anyone would want to be assured that the treatment will work.

Ibogaine treatment has become an increasingly popular option for addicts precisely because it offers successful recovery where other options have failed. Ibogaine success rates can be high; impressively high, even. There is no standard ibogaine success rate, as studies on the compound reveal differing rates.

However, by looking at the results from multiple studies, we can get a sense of the general success rates for ibogaine therapy.

Research On Ibogaine Success Rates

A 2014 study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology conducted a retrospective analysis of data from previous alcohol, cannabis, cocaine, and crack cocaine users (72 percent were poly-drug users). The researchers found that 61 percent remained abstinent after using ibogaine. Those who used ibogaine only once reported abstinence for a median of 5.5 months while those who had multiple experiences were abstinent for a median of 8.4 months.

A 2017 study published in the Journal of Psychedelic Studies collected data from 88 patients who received ibogaine treatment in Mexico between 2012 and 2015. Although 70 percent of the sample reported a relapse following treatment, 48 percent reported decreased use compared to pre-treatment levels, and an additional 11% eventually achieved abstinence.

Those who responded to treatment also had the lowest rates of depression and anxiety and the highest levels of subjective well-being. In addition, most participants (80 percent) said ibogaine eliminated or drastically reduced withdrawal symptoms.

In another 2017 study, published in The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, 30 subjects with diagnosed opioid dependence (addicted to heroin and/or oxycodone) were given doses of ibogaine HCl. Opioid withdrawal symptoms decreased following treatment. At one-month post-treatment, 15 subjects (50 percent) reported no opioid use in the previous 30 days. Reductions in drug use were sustained for up to 12 months.

Additionally, in the second observational study from MAPS, 12 months after ibogaine treatment, 75 percent of patients surveyed hadn’t used opioids in the last 30 days.

Ibogaine success rates is limited and that the studies are not large-scale.

Ibogaine Success Rate According To Treatment Centers

Based on the available evidence and experience in treating addicts, ibogaine treatment centers claim that ibogaine success rates can be 50-75 percent, 60-80 percent, or 70 percent.

While these figures differ, we can see that ibogaine treatment centers are letting patients know that there is a good chance of success. “Success” here can mean sustained abstinence and the elimination or reduction of withdrawal symptoms and cravings.

Ibogaine Success Rates Compared To Traditional Treatments

Ibogaine appears to have a higher success rate compared to traditional treatments for opioid use disorder, such as buprenorphine (itself an opioid). While research has shown that after ibogaine therapy, 50 percent of patients display no opioid use, the figure is only 18 percent when buprenorphine is used. Ibogaine is also associated with a higher reduction in opioid use.

Buprenorphine also seems to have more adverse effects, leading to the discontinuation of treatment.

However, it’s important to understand that there is a lack of research comparing ibogaine to buprenorphine, studies on ibogaine success rates are often uncontrolled and observational, and data on ibogaine safety is limited.

According to Lance Dodes in The Sober Truth, the success rates of traditional rehab and the Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) approach are only 5-10 percent. However, figures on the success rate for AA actually vary widely, depending on the source, although they are typically below those related to ibogaine therapy.

Successful Ibogaine Treatment Depends On More Than Just The Drug

What appears to be true is that the ibogaine success rate depends more on just the biological action of the drug and its subjective effects. There are several factors that can enhance the chance of recovery.

Dimitri Urukah, Facilitator at Rooted Waters, had this to say about the success of Ibogaine treatment for addiction:

The success rate for Ibogaine treatments is high yet it is important to approach the question from a holistic point of view. To access deep and long lasting healing from any plant medicine we must create a web of supportive practices and connections. In traditional villages, there is a profound unity within the community which provides continuous support to all of its members within the context of the natural environment – this is maybe one of the most important aspects to success; Nature and human connection. Without true nature and human connection, intimacy, care and support, the wound of addiction will fester again. Iboga/Ibogaine offers an opportunity filled with beauty and allows us to hear the song of our heart; A song we may not have heard for decades. Yet the responsibility of success sits within the center of the supportive web we have created for ourselves.

— Dimitri Urukah

Aftercare is crucial, including time spent away from the addict’s previous environment.

Ibogaine expert Jeffrey Kamlet, MD notes that about 50 percent of people struggling with methamphetamine addiction and abuse can achieve long-term abstinence with effective aftercare. He believes long-term abstinence without aftercare is unlikely. Following ibogaine treatment, if an addict returns to the same environment and social group in which they were using, then the risk of relapse is higher.

Ibogaine therapy aftercare can include:

  • Improved nutrition
  • Taking supplements and medication
  • Exercising regularly
  • Attending therapy
  • Entering rehab
  • Using meditation to handle stress and negative feelings
  • Finding a peer-support network, made up of other individuals trying to stay abstinent
  • Making new connections with people
  • Adopting new hobbies

Beyond aftercare, other factors that can support the effectiveness of ibogaine therapy include:

  • The determination of the patient to change his or her life for the better.
  • Being ready for change: you want to make the changes yourself; if loved ones pressure you to take ibogaine, then the chances of success could be lower.
  • Following all the guidelines and recommendations provided by the ibogaine treatment facility.
  • Having a less severe addiction. When it comes to a long-term addiction to opioids or methamphetamine, especially when childhood trauma is implicated, ibogaine treatment can deal with withdrawals and cravings but additional strategies will be needed to achieve lifetime abstinence.

Ibogaine Treatment Cost

Now we come to another key concern people have before signing up for an ibogaine experience: How much treatment will cost.

The Cost Of Ibogaine Therapy Can Vary Widely

As with any other psychedelic therapy, or a psychedelic retreat, costs can vary depending on the provider. Prices will vary depending on factors such as:

  • Location: Treatment costs may be lower in Mexico than in Canada and New Zealand, for instance, since in the former case, the country is generally more affordable.
  • The Length of Treatment: Ibogaine therapy plans that involve stays for more than a week will, of course, cost more than those involving stays of a week.
  • The Quality of the Facility: Ibogaine treatment centers that have a strong reputation, staff with many years of relevant experience, beautiful surroundings, resort-style accommodation, and many amenities will tend to offer plans with higher price tags.
  • The level of pre-care, aftercare, and additional treatments can increase the costs.

Medically supervised treatment with ibogaine can cost between $5,000 and $10,000.

The cost takes into account all medical staff, accommodation, medication costs (including the ibogaine), food, amenities, and additional treatments. What the costs won’t include, however, is all transport. Someone may pick you up from the airport, but you still need to pay for the plane ticket yourself (assuming you’re traveling from another country).

If you find a reputable facility that offers a treatment plan lasting five, seven, or 10 days, paying between $5,000 and $7,000 will be good value. Paying $10,000 or more, on the other hand, would be considered quite expensive.

Ibogaine Treatment Cost Compared To Rehab

The cost of ibogaine treatment may seem expensive; however, it seems less so when compared to the cost of rehab programs. Inpatient rehab facilities may cost between $10,000 and $30,000 on average for a 30-day program.

Meanwhile, a month’s stay at a luxury rehab center can average between $30,000 and $100,000. The length of these programs, of course, contributes to their high cost relative to ibogaine treatment programs.

When you consider that ibogaine therapy can be more effective than a rehab program but remains generally cheaper, then the former seems like a more cost-effective solution. Besides financial cost, the other advantage of an ibogaine treatment plan is that you don’t have to invest as much time as you would if staying at a rehab center.

Iboga Retreat Cost

You can use ibogaine to recover from addiction in a much more affordable way outside of a clinical context. If you travel to Gabon to participate in iboga ceremonies, you can expect to pay around €300 to €3,000 EUR (equivalent to $320 to $3,200 USD) for a five-day to four-week initiation ceremony.

According to other estimates, a Bwiti initiation ceremony using iboga can cost $3,000 per head.

Bwiti Life, which organizes iboga retreats in Cancun, Mexico, states that the average market price of a retreat with two iboga ceremonies is between $3,000 and $5,000, with its own standard retreat program ranging from $2,000 to $3,500.

Whether you travel to Gabon or elsewhere for iboga ceremonies, the costs don’t include flights, but even with those included, the total cost will be less than that of ibogaine treatment.

Ibogaine Side Effects And Risks

Like all psychedelics, using ibogaine involves some side effects and risks. However, as we will see, the kinds of side effects and risks can be distinct in many ways from other compounds like psilocybin, LSD, or DMT.

No one has died from psilocybin itself (the compound is non-toxic and it’s essentially impossible to overdose on magic mushrooms), but people have died after using iboga/ibogain

The Side Effects Of Ibogaine

  • Low blood pressure
  • Slow heart rate
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Dizziness
  • Seizures
  • Paralysis
  • Lack of coordination
  • Vomiting
  • Changes in body temperature

Ibogaine Risks

You should not use iboga if you have a pre-existing heart condition, as such conditions have been implicated in fatalities following the ingestion of ibogaine. This is because ibogaine both lowers the heart rate and interacts with the heart’s electrical signals.

Case reports indicate that ibogaine can increase the risk of heart arrhythmias and seizures. In cases of fatal reactions, researchers point out that pre-existing medical conditions and interactions with other drugs in the body can explain these fatalities.

It’s important to also be careful about seeking iboga treatment if using other drugs, prescribed or otherwise. You should also be wary about using iboga if undergoing acute withdrawals from alcohol or other drugs, as this can increase the risk of a potentially fatal seizure.

Even after a medical screening, intended to rule out underlying health conditions, iboga can result in a fatal reaction. Iboga results in a fatal reaction in about 1 in 400 people. Due to these risks, always take iboga or ibogaine in the context of supervised ibogaine therapy. A medical screening is necessary and should be thorough.

The careful administration of iboga can make the treatment safer, making it a better addiction treatment option. But, of course, since ibogaine therapy isn’t regulated, it’s hard to know how well the staff has been trained and what their credentials are.

This is why it’s important to do thorough research into any ibogaine treatment center you are thinking of using, checking the background of the physicians, psychotherapists, psychiatrists, and other medical staff on site.

It’s part of the reason why Healing Maps was established — to provide accurate and transparent information about ibogaine therapy and providers.

Sam Woolfe

Sam Woolfe

View all posts by Sam Woolfe

Sam Woolfe is a freelance writer based in London. His main areas of interest include mental health, mystical experiences, the history of psychedelics, and the philosophy of psychedelics. He first became fascinated by psychedelics after reading Aldous Huxley's description of the mescaline experience in The Doors of Perception. Since then, he has researched and written about psychedelics for various publications, covering the legality of psychedelics, drug policy reform, and psychedelic science.

Abid Nazeer

This post was medically approved by Abid Nazeer

Dr. Nazeer is the Founder and President of APS Ketamine/Advanced Psychiatric Solutions, which he established in 2016 as the first psychiatric outpatient ketamine clinic in Illinois. He is board certified in Psychiatry as well as Addiction Medicine. He completed his psychiatry residency at Louisiana State University Health Sciences in Shreveport where he held the role of Chief Resident. Dr. Nazeer is providing medical oversight to the growth plan of Wesana Clinics, with the model of comprehensive psychiatry clinics specialized ketamine and psychedelic therapies, integrated brain health and wellness centers, and technology utilization of Wesana Solutions remote patient monitoring product.

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