Ibogaine: The Addiction “Cure-All” That Can Also Kill You

Ibogaine: The Addiction “Cure-All” That Can Also Kill You

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There have been quite a few studies throughout the years as well as plenty of anecdotal stories about psychedelics being used as doorway to a spiritual experience that can help alcoholics stop drinking. Bill Wilson himself experimented with LSD! Of course, sometimes those things that sound too good to be true are.

Drawing a conclusion about any of this, however, isn’t so simple and the recent death of 33-year-old Brodie Smith sheds new light on the controversial treatment. Smith, who was undergoing Ibogaine treatment to free him from a methamphetamine addiction, had shelled out $5,300 for a four-day regimen on the Thai island of Koh Phangan. He died on the first day after having first written his mother that Ibogaine (a naturally occurring psychoactive compound which comes from a West African shrub which is used in religious “rebirthing” ceremonies) had a “92 percent” success rate.

The Smith Story 

The details surrounding Smith’s death are pretty sketchy. There are conflicting reports as to whether his death was a result of ingesting the Ibogaine (what his girlfriend attests) or from a narcotic-induced heart attack (as his death certificate states).

Smith was not the first person linked to the controversial treatment; a 45 year-old woman died while undergoing Ibogaine treatment for morphine addiction in New Zealand in July of 2013, although the coroner’s report had not been issued as of November of this year.

How Ibogaine Works 

Ibogaine is a hallucinogen that has been studied as a treatment for opiate, methamphetamine and other drug addictions for decades. Taken in pill form, it puts users in a “dream-like state” (that lasts for up to a full day) and produces visions that both allow them to gain insight into their addiction and to overcome fears. It also helps with withdrawal symptoms and is said to reduce cravings for up to six months, according to its proponents. Also, let’s be real: it certainly sounds like a lot more fun than kicking dope on a couch or in a hospital detox.

Because of severe side effects—including hallucinations, seizures, fatal heart arrhythmia and brain damage in patients with “other” health problems—Ibogaine has been illegal in the US since the 1960s, and has been classified as a Schedule I substance. As a result, there haven’t been a lot of clinical studies until lately, and those have been peer-reviewed and performed on relatively small populations. Still, the early reports are fairly positive.

The Studies

The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), a US non-profit research organization that sounds like a spoof from a 60’s movie, has conducted trials in Mexico and is currently doing another set of them in New Zealand. If the results are to be believed, the drug has the potential to be valuable tool for helping addicts recover.

In the first study, they took 30 opiate addicts and gave them a single treatment; without any aftercare program, four of the subjects were clean after a year while a third of the subjects relapsed within the first month and 60 percent relapsed by the second month. Still, a half dozen subjects (20 percent) made it six months without a relapse and five of those six didn’t utilize any aftercare program. Eleven of the 14 subjects involved in the New Zealand studies have completed the treatment and of those, five have remained opioid free a full year after treatment. Overall, half the participants in the study were expected to remain opioid free at 12 months, according to researchers.

The Drawbacks to the Study, and Oh Yeah, the Deaths

Something to take into consideration, however, is that the relapses are self-reported, which is to say that the addicts are the ones presenting the evidence of their clean time. And as anyone who spends any time around opiate addicts will tell you, truth telling is not their strong suit.

The other problem is that people die from the treatment in much higher proportion than other treatments. According to the MAPS website, “Ibogaine use has a mortality rate of about 1 in 300. Deaths from ibogaine have been attributed to bradycardia (slowing of the heart), lethal combinations with other substances, liver problems and other conditions.” So maybe that stay in the cushy rehab center for your dope problem isn’t such a bad idea after all?

In the End

As I said, it’s difficult to come to any conclusions here. The people at MAPS recognize that Ibogaine is “not a cure, not a ‘magic bullet’ and refer to the treatment as an “addiction interrupter.”

I say that if they can augment the initial bang the treatment gives you with some aftercare program, the addicts can get the best of both worlds and have higher chances of staying clean. If you’re someone who believes (as I do) that some sort of psychic change is helpful in changing addictive behaviors in hard case addiction, why not take a look at every possible angle?

Also, as Smith’s family can surely attest, proceed with Ibogaine at your own risk.

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6 Comments

  1. Great article, I enjoyed reading your post on ibogaine. As a recovering addict, I know how helpful the drug can be, however, I do know that there are some people who are against it as it can be dangerous. I’ve been doing research on ibogaine addiction treatments and the pros and cons of this type of treatment.

    Should anyone else be interested to see how this would help others here’s the page I looked at https://www.pbinstitute.com/ibogaine-treatment/

    Hopefully, this information can assist someone (friends and families) in choosing the best recovery treatments.

  2. I am a medical doctor who has experienced ibogaine and treated few addicts with ibogaine. I came to a conclusion that it is a wonderful drug but the client need aftercare for a sustainable result. If proper screening is done , there is a very low risk of mortality. People die due to ibogaine because of poor knowledge about the drug and not prepared for emergency. Ibogaine should be done in a medical setting that is prepared for emergencies and screening must be done.

  3. Ibogaine worked really well for me. I was addicted to heroin for 10 years and after just one treatment with ibogaine I had to withdrawals at all or cravings. But after sometime its up to you to do the rest and stay off drugs. My tip is to try to change your life in some way after ibogaine. Move to a different place change your phone number change your hair style, anything. if you cant move try rearranging the furniture in your home. I really works well if you are ready to quit and take that step into a new life, especially if you been using for half your life or more.

  4. I’ll voulenteer knowing I could die since the ptsd and or substances will get me sooner than later and 1st least I can ask for forgiveness before treatment than battle today’s issues and forget to pray every moment as WE aresuppose to but theres so much stress we all forget and can’t follow even 10 commandments as we were told, and neither can any church SO IM WILLING AND WHEN I SURVIVE ILL DONATE MY LIFE TO DOING THE LORDS WORK. AMEN

  5. Your thinking is wrong headed and kneejerk. How many people die in 12-step based rehabs annually in the U.S.? If your’e balking at the fees, again, how muych is a 12-step “resort” for a week? MAPS is doing crucial work doing the studies that will bring effective treatment using currently schedule I substances to reality. Very soon- MDMA is about to go into phase III trials for PTSD, a condition that kills thousands in the US alone yearly and for which there is no other pharma Tx besides the high side effect profile drugs zoloft and paxil. Open your mind you may be surprised at what you see if you stop using the drug war blinders.

  6. There is also a synthetic derivative of ibogaine, 18-MC, that has been developed and is said to show promise. It resulted in “a long-lasting decrease in ethanol, morphine, cocaine, methamphetamine and nicotine self-administration [in rats], and attenuation [decrease] of opioid withdrawal symptoms.” Significantly, it is not expected to have hallucinogenic effects and does not have the negative side effects with ibogaine.

    More on hallucinogenics like ibogaine to treat addiction here on my blog: http://faith-seeking-understanding.org/2014/12/22/back-to-the-future-with-psychedelics/

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Johnny Plankton is the pseudonym for a freelance business and comedy writer/editor (and recovering alcoholic) who lives in Boston. He is also a grateful member of America’s largest alcohol recovery “cult” as well as Al-Anon.