Ibogaine: A Psychedelic Alternative to Traditional Drug Treatment

Art by Chor Boogie

As overdose rates rise, concern over the opioid crisis in the U.S. continues to escalate at a dramatic rate. Heroin overdose deaths have jumped from under 5,000 in 2010 to over 15,000 in 2016. Similarly, deaths associated with synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl, have also skyrocketed from 5,000 in 2013 to 20,000 in 2016—a fourfold increase—according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

The expanding rehab industry simply cannot keep up with the high demand for treatment by individuals seeking help for an opioid addiction. Which begs the question, exactly how successful is our current drug rehabilitation system?

The answer is, unfortunately, not so great. Relapse rates hover around 40%-60%, with 90% relapse rates among opiate addicts, according to one study published by NCBI.

With the population of addicts growing, and only a small amount finding success through rehab, it’s time we start considering alternative approaches for treating addiction.

What is Ibogaine?

Ibogaine is an alkaloid found in the root bark of the Tabernanthe iboga plant, which is indigenous to West Africa. This substance contains powerful psychedelic properties. Natives of the region have been using the shrub’s root extract for millennia in various ceremonial rituals and as an effective tool for healing.

In recent years, it was discovered that Ibogaine disrupts addiction by renewing the brain’s reward pathways that drive addictive behavior.

The Discovery of Ibogaine

This powerful plant extract was discovered to help with treating heroin addiction quite by accident. In 1962, a heroin addict named Howard Lostof was offered the psychedelic Ibogaine by a friend, a chemist, who knew Lotsof was searching for new psychedelic drugs.

After the intense psychedelic journey, Lostof noticed that he wasn’t experiencing any withdrawal symptoms, after nearly two days without heroin. He felt changed.

Soon he was offering the Ibogaine to his heroin-addicted friends, who found the same results—they no longer suffered from heroin withdrawal.

How Does Ibogaine Treat Physical Dependence?

One of the major causes for relapse is failure to endure the highly unpleasant withdrawal symptoms that begin when heroin is no longer taken. Intense drug cravings and extremely uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms leave many addicts in so much mental and physical pain that they turn back almost immediately.

Ibogaine works by resetting the brain back to normal functionality—the way it was before the addiction set in—before the heroin began impacting the dopamine neuropathways. Ibogaine effectively refreshes the opiate receptors and rebalances the levels of dopamine, serotonin, adrenaline, and endorphins.

After ingesting the Ibogaine, the addict’s liver will convert it into the metabolite noribogaine that begins working in the brain. Within 12 hours, the addict will have a reduction of most, if not all, of the withdrawal symptoms caused by the drug addiction.

While Ibogaine has this effect for several addictive drugs, Ibogaine is most effective for heroin and opioid addictions.

How Does Ibogaine Treat Addiction on a Psychological Level?

A successful drug treatment must impact both the physical dependency and the psychological addiction to a drug. Any treatment program that does not address both components will almost always have a lower success rate.

Ibogaine’s psychedelic properties enable most addicts to experience a roughly 8 to 12-hour “trip.” Like other psychedelics, this experience helps the addict to deal with past emotional trauma and other underlying factors of their addiction.

The addict is able to gain new insight into how traumatic events of their past might have contributed to their addiction. Paving a new way forward for the addict by offering them freedom from much of the trauma that often led them to substance abuse.

Is Ibogaine Safe?

Ibogaine is not a perfect treatment. In the early days, Lotsof and others learned that Ibogaine could be dangerous, even fatal, in those with preexisting heart or liver conditions, those who used certain drugs before taking Ibogaine, and generally those in poor health.

Since then, extensive pre-screening—including EKG, liver function tests, heart screening, and drug testing—has significantly reduced serious negative reactions to Ibogaine treatment. But this does not guarantee that Ibogaine will be safe for everyone.

Ibogaine should only be taken in a supervised treatment facility with modern medical equipment. Because of the intense nature of the Ibogaine therapy process, addicts must be supervised for the duration of treatment. Vital signs are closely monitored as well.

Educate Yourself on Rehab Options and What Works for You

Not every treatment method works for everyone, and Ibogaine is no different. Always consult a professional before making any decisions about drug or alcohol treatment.

Ibogaine treatment is an alternative method that can offer an effective detox in very little time. A complete treatment program usually involves aftercare or some form of long-term rehab coupled with a detox.

Freedom from addiction is completely possible if the individual finds the right treatment that works for them. Everyone deserves to have a happy, successful life.


Aeden Smith-Ahearn is an Ibogaine treatment specialist and treatment coordinator for Experience Ibogaine treatment centers. After 7 years of heroin addiction, he put his last hope into Ibogaine. He has now been sober for over 5 years and helped thousands of individuals find freedom from addiction through Ibogaine.

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