Many drugs that are currently classified as controlled or illegal have long histories of medicinal use. Marijuana is the one most people are aware of, because of its use to treat glaucoma and reduce pain. More recently, a hallucinogenic drug called ibogaine, which has historically been used in healing ceremonies in West Africa, has been investigated for its potential to treat opioid addiction. It hasn’t been approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat any addiction disorders, and in fact it is classified as a Schedule I drug in the United States, which are defined as having a high potential for abuse and no medical uses.

Ibogaine is a naturally occurring alkaloid, which means it belongs to a class of chemical compounds that mostly contain basic nitrogen atoms and react with acids to form salts. There are thousands of alkaloids, including cocaine, nicotine, strychnine, caffeine, morphine, atropine, methamphetamine, mescaline, and ephedrine.

In small doses, ibogaine acts as a mild stimulant. In larger doses, it can cause a severe psychedelic state. Some people have found that large doses can also reduce the symptoms of withdrawal from opiates as well as getting rid of cravings. One study, which took place in Mexico in 2009, followed 30 people receiving ibogaine treatment for addiction and determined that the potential for abuse was actually quite low. It’s termed a oneirophrenic, meaning that it elicits what they called a “dream phenomenon” but did not cause users to lose consciousness or cause any changes in perception or self-awareness like most psychedelics. Ibogaine side effects include ataxia (loss of muscle coordination), tremors, sensitivity to light, nausea, vomiting, slight changes in blood pressure or pulse, dehydration due to vomiting, and heart arrhythmias.

The results of the Mexican study showed that one third of the participants relapsed within the first month, 60 percent relapsed within the first two months, 80 percent relapsed within the first six months, 20 percent made it more than six months, and four out of the 30 participants did not relapse for more than a year following a single treatment. Their conclusion was that ibogaine was not a cure for addiction, but rather interrupted it.

Another study from 2014 in Brazil treated 75 drug users with ibogaine found that participants who had ibogaine only once reported abstinence for a median of 5.5 months, and those who were treated multiple times remained abstinent for a median of 8.4 months.

Both of these studies were relatively small, and more would need to be done in order to determine whether the benefits to addiction treatment outweigh the side effects of ibogaine. Unfortunately, as long as it remains categorized as a Schedule I drug in the United States – or the equivalent in other countries – widespread clinical studies seem unlikely.

If you or a loved one need help with quitting drugs or alcohol, consider Asana Recovery. We offer medical detox, along with both residential and outpatient programs, and you’ll be supervised by a highly trained staff of medical professionals, counselors, and therapists. Call us any time at (949) 438-4504 to get started.


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