By Sandra Nomoto
Tabernanthe iboga, commonly known as iboga, is a shrub native to western Central Africa that can grow up to 10 metres in ideal conditions. Though documentation exists from the 19th century by the Bwiti tribe of Gabon, it may have been used for thousands of years. Meaning “to care for” or “to heal,” iboga is commonly ingested during rituals and tribal dances.
Seven varieties of iboga have been found in the region, though data suggests there could be up to 650 recorded variations of the plant.
The alkaloid ibogaine is found in the highest concentration in the root bark of iboga. It can also be found in other Apocynaceae plants. When the bark is chewed, the ibogaine causes an anesthetic sensation in the mouth and numbing of the skin.
In small doses, iboga produces a stimulating effect and sense of alertness, useful in fighting muscle exhaustion during long hunting or canoeing trips. In larger doses, it induces visual hallucinations and altered states of consciousness similar to dreaming.
It may also produce more harmful effects such as nausea, vomiting, sharp stabbing pains, irregular or slow heart rate, low blood pressure, seizures, paralysis, difficulty breathing, anxiety, heart attack, or death.
Effects can be felt from four to 24 hours after ingestion.
After overcoming an addiction to heroin using iboga, advocate Howard Lotsof first championed ibogaine in 1962 as a potential treatment for opiate abuse. He founded the Global Ibogaine Therapy Alliance.
Users have taken iboga to treat fever, influenza (flu), swine flu, high blood pressure, HIV/AIDS, and nerve disorders. It’s also been used as a general tonic, to increase libido, prevent fatigue & drowsiness, and to treat addiction.
The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) conducted two multi-year studies to explore ibogaine as a potential treatment for opioid dependence.
In the Mexico study, 12 out of 30 participants reported a 75% reduction in their drug use 30 days following treatment. 33% reported no opioid use three months later.
In the New Zealand study of 15 participants, results showed that a single ibogaine treatment could reduce opioid withdrawal symptoms. Participants achieved either cessation from opioids or reduced use for up to one-year following treatment.
18-MC (18-Methoxycoronaridine) is a synthetic derivative of ibogaine that was developed in 1996 by academic researchers. It has little effect on serotonin levels, so the user is less likely to experience hallucinations. Advocates argue that ibogaine in 18-MC will be more effective in the treatment of substance use disorders.
In 2018, a phase II trial involving 12 patients using ibogaine to treat alcoholism began in Brazil. The estimated completion date is 2022.
More research is required to determine an appropriate range of doses for iboga and other ibogaine-derived synthetics.
Iboga is currently illegal in the USA and certain European countries. Though ibogaine treatment clinics exist in places such as Canada, Mexico, and New Zealand, they operate in a legal grey area due to the risks involved in the lack of supervision or proper care in non-medical settings.
In 2000, iboga was declared a national treasure by the Council of Ministers of the Republic of Gabon.