The author in bed at the ibogaine clinic; the iboga plant. Photo courtesy of the author and Chor Boogie
A needle connected to an IV punctures one of my veins, a band tied around my left bicep monitors my heart rate, and a clip on my right index finger also tracks my pulse as I lie in a hospital bed in a sterile clinic at 9 am . 🇧🇷 It looks like I’m about to undergo surgery. In fact, I swallowed nine capsules containing ibogaine, a psychedelic compound extracted from the bark of a Gabonese root used in coming-of-age rituals that often feature intense visions as part of vivid, sometimes autobiographical night visions.
Soon the journey begins: images of the solar system punctuated by clips of my younger self laughing, then a bizarre inner reel made up of Jesus Christ, an alien, and the image of a bush – apparently the one from which the remedy was derived. This eventually gives way to an intense narrative of negative thoughts known as “mind purging”.
After more than 12 hours in bed at the clinic – of which six fly by – I disconnect from the machinery and headphones that have been broadcasting an obscure mix of African music, Pink Floyd and European techno. I lie awake all night in a state of bliss and gratitude as the tears flow.
Most people come to Beond, an ibogaine clinic based in a mansion in Cancun, Mexico, to wean themselves off drugs, including prescription opioid pain relievers, heroin, fentanyl and methamphetamine. I was invited here by the owner after expressing disbelief that ibogaine could immediately eliminate drug withdrawal symptoms.
“I have treated over 2,000 patients with ibogaine over 17 years and the relapse rate is around 50% in the long term, yet around 85% of people leave the clinic without withdrawals and cravings,” Dr. director says.
In my eight days in Cancun, I witnessed people who claim to have been formerly addicted to drugs enjoy surprisingly rapid improvements in their fortunes. Michael, from the United States, made his trip at the same time as I did. By the time he arrived at the clinic, the 33-year-old man, who did not want his last name used, told me that he had been regularly injecting large amounts of fentanyl, in addition to taking methamphetamine and benzos. Previously I had only exchanged a few words with him – this was the extent of his anxiety and withdrawal symptoms despite receiving substantial doses of morphine.
But the day after our treatments, Michael is doing yoga, smiling and talking with no visible withdrawal symptoms. He had been through rehab at dozens of other facilities before, without losing his craving for drugs. “The light returned to my eyes,” he says. “I arrived completely closed off and isolated.”
Ibogaine appears to rapidly reset neural pathways in the brain like no other psychedelic through the process of (sometimes harrowing) trips that can last up to 36 hours. This can play a role in eliminating the drug cravings that develop in people over time. This same “redefinition” has also led many US veterans to claim that they have successfully treated their PTSD with the drug. Others, like myself, work with him for psycho-spiritual purposes.
Another American patient I met, Richard, told me that he had taken high doses of opioids every day for 10 years after becoming dependent in a hospital following surgery. “It caused me to lose jobs and some of my closest friends, and I almost lost my wife,” he says.
He also soon got rid of debilitating cravings – only with strangely incessant yawns and mild anxiety lingering for a few days after his trip. “A small price to pay for ending a decade of opiate addiction,” he says. The 60-year-old joked and laughed as he received a pedicure days after his ibogaine trip. The next day he enjoyed a happy aguahara session, where participants are rocked into a pool. It seemed unimaginable to me that Michael or Richard would have been involved in such activities prior to their treatment.
The idea of effectively doing ten years of therapy in one night, promulgated by writer Daniel Pinchbeck – author of Breaking the head — sounds almost too good to be true, but positive reports are mounting.
“Ibogaine is not a magic bullet, but it can signal the start of a healing process,” says Malacara. “But then it’s up to the patients, they have to be willing to change their environment and lifestyle at home.”
It was in 1962 that ibogaine’s unique anti-addiction effects were discovered, by 19-year-old Howard Lotsof, who at the time was addicted to heroin and experimenting with other drugs. At the suggestion of a well-known chemist, he took ibogaine. “I suddenly realized that I wasn’t in heroin withdrawal,” he later said. “Where once I saw heroin as a drug that gave me comfort, I now saw heroin as a drug that emulated death. The next thought in my mind was, ‘I’d rather live than die.’
Despite compelling stories of addiction recovery, films detailing rapid recovery from severe addiction (including a BBC broadcast), scientific studies and observational trials, the pharmaceutical industry has shown little interest in supporting the high-quality research that could bring the drug to the forefront. main. Notably, however, the drug has been legal in New Zealand since 2009, after authorities acknowledged that it is “reported to alleviate symptoms of opioid withdrawal”.
As I sit in the clinic recovering from the trip, I start to read one of the books on the coffee table, Heart Medicine: A True Love Story – A couple’s quest for the sacred medicine Iboga and the cure for addiction. Is writing by Elizabeth Bast, whose artist husband Chor Boogie relapsed into heroin and alcohol use after a period of sobriety following long-term addiction.
Their story culminates in a ceremony in Costa Rica where the couple consumed iboga – the powerful plant from which ibogaine is derived, and which is generally considered stronger. I run through it like no other book in years.
I text Bast a week later to thank her and express how the book helped me process my psychedelic experience. She says that since she went to Gabon more than a decade ago to train in the indigenous tradition of the Babongo people, the discoverers and main guardians of medicine, she and Boogie now hold retreats. She invites me to experience the effects of the raw, unprocessed plant, and I accept.
Soon, I’m at the SoulCentro retreat center in Costa Rica eating a horrible-tasting concoction of iboga root bark and honey. As incessantly fast-paced tribal music blares from the loudspeaker – the Gabonese say the bongo beat helps to rewire the brain – Boogie takes me on a so-called soul journey that results in a conversation and a hug with my late aunt, but then degenerates into a severe state of frustration and paranoia. It seems these ingrained feelings are what I need to purge in order to be happier.
“Iboga can connect people with their souls and dead relatives,” says the renowned spray paint artist. “It gets you to the point where you are literally getting answers for your life. Iboga awakens people from the Matrix, it’s like taking the red pill. I’ve never looked back after my first time and I haven’t consumed alcohol, taken drugs or even had coffee since.”
The long-term success of ibogaine and iboga therapy in overcoming drug addiction ranges from around 50 to 75% and depends on the quality of aftercare and integration, as well as the number of trips undertaken. That compares to about 10 percent through traditional pathways to addiction.
Fletcher Burdick visited SoulCentro a year ago to take iboga in an effort to overcome his heroin addiction, which developed from his use of prescription opioids at the age of 17. Over a period of 15 years, he – like Boogie – tried everything from a range of psychedelic drugs like DMT and mescaline, various types of rehab and different types of detox to overcome his debilitating addiction.
He tells me that he has always tried to stifle something inside himself – to avoid facing reality – ever since his parents’ bitter divorce when he was a child. “I was deteriorating from the inside out,” says Burdick. “I feared death. I had become so out of touch with myself that I was no longer manageable. I weighed 120 pounds, my skin was gray, my eyes were cloudy, and it was just a miserable, lonely place to be.
Burdick, from California, remembers that iboga induced a vision that allowed him to look inside himself and witness “the pure chaos, anxiety and darkness” that lived tightly coiled within him. “So the medicine did a total mental detox of my brain and sorted everything out,” he says. For the first time, I felt at peace and calm.” A year later, after rigorous onboarding work and structured support, he remains sober and happier than ever.
He is just one of a growing number of Americans turning to this lesser-known psychedelic in a bid to wean themselves off opiates as the country’s deadly overdose crisis worsens. More than 100,000 Americans died of overdoses last year, most using synthetic opioids. However, both iboga and ibogaine remain classified as Schedule I controlled substances in the US, alongside heroin and ecstasy.
Both iboga and ibogaine pose significant clinical risks and some have died after their use, mostly due to cardiac arrhythmia – although this is usually due to poor facilitation, failure to carry out preventive health screenings or ensure adequate drug detoxification. This makes comprehensive pre-trip screening crucial, and people must be monitored at all times.
“Ibogaine, in its pure chemical form or as a constituent of iboga, has clinically significant effects on physical opioid dependence and substance abuse cravings,” says Kenneth Alper MD, associate professor of psychiatry and neurology at the NYU School of Medicine and the author of widely cited articles on ibogaine for leading scientific journals.
“But it doesn’t act like basic conventional treatments like methadone or buprenorphine, which work by replacing opioids – ibogaine’s mechanism of action is unknown, which is so interesting. In my opinion, it is the most convincing pharmacological paradigm of my generation.” People who have experienced psychedelic trips often see recovery in spiritual terms, he adds: “They call on God or a higher power.”
Ibogaine and iboga have yet to undergo rigorous scientific testing, in part because both are still illegal in the United States. As Alper points out, how they work to break addiction also remains unknown, although an fMRI study of ibogaine at Stanford University is currently in its final stages after imaging the brain under the influence of the drug for the first time in a trial.
“It may take some time to fully understand what ibogaine can offer for the investigation of the neurobiology of addiction and the development of a new treatment,” acknowledges Alper.
He remains skeptical about whether such treatments could be properly implemented on a large scale, in part because of the nature of the healthcare system. “I would be concerned about using it on a large scale, simply because doing ibogaine treatments well and safely requires a lot of screening, monitoring and knowledge,” says Alper. “I’m not so sure it can be done widely without compromising.”
Interestingly, I actually had a vision of Christ’s crucifixion, complete with a crown of thorns. Perhaps it was just a memory from a movie – but nearly five months after the final ceremony, I am more grateful than ever to be alive.