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Long used as a part of Bwiti rituals, the Iboga tree from West-Central Africa has a powerful psychedelic alkaloid compounds, called ibogaine, that develops in its roots. In Bwiti, the roots of this special shrub are consumed during rituals for a variety of reasons. There is also anecdote of hunters using the substance in lower doses as a stimulant to improve their skill and attention levels during a hunt. Western culture has long attempted to denigrate and stamp out the use of this psychedelic plant, but it is gaining clinical interest for its ability to help those who struggle with addiction.
Ibogaine, like many psychedelics, can help people process trauma and other underlying issues that contribute to their personal cycle of addiction. It has disassociative qualities which could also be useful in a therapeutic setting. It can help users find a sense of connection to the universe, other their community, or to their higher selves. However, it also has certain unique properties that make it potentially beneficial to those struggling with opiate, opioid, or heroin addiction.
Ibogaine binds to the kappa opioid receptors, which are one of the four identified receptors actual opioid compounds interact with in the human body. That means that it can offer pain relief. It also means that it can stave off some of the worst consequences of heroin or opioid withdrawal. That’s why people still seek this plant out, despite it’s prohibited legal status.
In the United States, ibogaine remains a Schedule I substance, meaning that the government believes there is no medical use for the substance and that it poses a strong risk of both abuse and addiction. This is just another misguided side effect of the War on Drugs, which has also banned many substances that can help people deal with addiction to more dangerous drugs.
Thankfully, research is starting to put pressure on that classification. Specifically, MAPS (the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies) has already conducted two observational studies about the use and long-term effects of ibogaine. These studies, which took place in Mexico and New Zealand, showed that in a clinical setting, ibogaine has the potential to to help people manage withdrawal symptoms and reduce the overwhelming urge to consume their drug of choice. Administration varies, with some professionals preferring to administer one higher dose and others preferring a number of smaller doses. Both methods show potential for long-term reduction in addictive behaviors
Some research indicates that ibogaine can be fatal. Potential medical issues related to use include slowing heart rate, interactions with other drugs and liver issues. Most deaths associated with the plant, however, resulted from preexisting medical conditions, intense withdrawal from other drugs, or an interaction with another substance. Proper clinical administration and medical oversight could likely reduce the potential for negative outcomes and fatalities.
For now, people seeking ibogaine must travel abroad. Perhaps, as concern about heroin and opioid addiction increases, government officials will reconsider their stance on this potentially beneficial compound.
For previous Ladybud articles that reference ibogaine, click here.
Photo Credit: Image by Hiobson via Wikimedia Commons under CC BY-SA 4.0