Iboga

old morphineIboga is derived from the bark of a Central African shrub’s roots (ibogaine is the purified and measurable form of iboga).

Some Africans in the iboga habitat area chew the root for the psychoactive effects. It’s used in high doses in ritualistic settings and at low doses it can maintain alertness while hunting.

Iboga has gotten traction in the West for supposedly reversing addiction to recreational drugs, especially opiates. It’s illegal in the US because it’s a psychoactive compound and hasn’t been researched enough.

It’s not illegal in Mexico. There’re at least two independent “clinics” in my town of around 2,500. Addicts travel here to be treated. The treatment involves an ibogaine induced nightlong experience of insightful self-reflection and coming out of the experience with no cravings for the addictive substance.

I’ve talked to a few people who’ve been treated.

They all said it worked. But I wouldn’t say the ones I spoke to, or saw hanging around after treatment, were drug-free, because they still drank alcohol, smoked pot, or maybe other more secretive indulgences.

Maybe I’m just more familiar with the abstinence model, so my perspective is off. There still seems to be a hole that these former users were trying to fill with pretty heavy partying.

From what I could tell, there isn’t much follow-up after a couple of weeks. And as far as statistics were concerned it just seemed like word-of-mouth. The big addiction was addressed but the underlying issues that led to the addiction didn’t get much attention.

The whole iboga subculture always seemed incomplete. My ideas are only from talking to a few people. Other clinics may be much more thorough with follow-up and addressing underlying and unresolved psychological needs.

Here’re some ideas that I took away from an article in the Atlantic magazine  that shed a little light on the iboga treatment:

Physical dependence is only part of addiction. Above all, it’s a psychiatric problem. Drug addiction is defined as the compulsive use of drugs despite negative consequences. 

After an ibogaine trip, a user’s insights may figure prominently in the recovery story, but  about 10 percent of addicts are basically ready to quit at any given time and will respond to whatever they try.

Addiction can be framed as a developmental disorder. Fewer than 10 percent of addicts develop their habits after their early 20s, when the cortex finishes developing and introduces an adult aversion to risk.

…addicts are usually dealing with some other mental health problem or trauma that makes them vulnerable. And contrary to popular belief, most opiate addictions are not lifelong. They are resolved within five years, a little longer for heroin. The real task is mostly a matter of keeping addicts alive and otherwise healthy until they can age out of addiction.

The best way to do that is well established. Methadone and other long-term maintenance treatments cut mortality in half. They create physical dependence but not addiction, and they form a foundation for a stable life.

Ibogaine has its appeal among drug users, who often gravitate to underground culture anyway.

There’re other reasons an addict might shy away from mainstream programs, though. Eighty percent of treatment programs, including court-ordered treatments, are based on the 12-step process requiring surrender to a higher power.

The official policy is that addiction is a ‘biopsychosocial-spiritual’ disorder. How are they going to convince people it’s a health problem when you throw ‘spiritual’ into it? They’d never use the word ‘spiritual’ for something like depression.

A disease with prayer as an answer is a contradiction

It’s no wonder addicts are turning to other sorts of unearthly experiences that are less infantilizing.

History shows that for the most part, adults don’t want to be addicted to things. At the turn of the century, heroin was an ingredient in many over-the-counter products. When FDA labeling came into effect, consumption of those products plummeted.  

If ibogaine is the only treatment someone will accept, it may be a useful option to keep on the table, but maintenance treatments are by far the better and safer course.