Ibogaine (sometimes referred to as ibo, iboga, or iboga root) is the major active alkaloid that comes from the bark of a shrub found in Central West Africa (Tabernanthe iboga). The substance has psychoactive properties that have resulted in its use in a number of local religious rituals in areas where it is indigenous. It may be used illicitly in the United States as a hallucinogen.
A number of sources report that the drug is effective in controlling withdrawal symptoms for a number of different drugs of abuse, including opiates. Despite these anecdotal reports, the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) lists ibogaine as a Schedule I controlled substance, indicating that it has no medicinal uses and is a drug that has a high potential for abuse and the development of physical and/or psychological dependence.
Psychoactive Effects of Ibogaine
The mode of action of ibogaine is still relatively unknown. At this time, the speculation is that the drug has effects on a number of neurotransmitter systems, including glutamate receptors, serotonin receptors, endogenous opioid receptors, and a number of others.
At very low doses, the drug appears to have stimulant effects, and at higher doses, it is reputed to have hallucinogenic and dissociative effects. The effects appear to induce a dreamlike state within 1-3 hours after ingestion, and the state can last for as long as eight hours. Users report becoming very reflective following the dissociative state, and this has resulted in its use in a number of religious rituals in Africa and as a mind-altering or spiritual-awakening type of substance.
Some of the possible side effects include:
- Ataxia, which is a loss of muscular coordination
- Photosensitivity (sensitivity to light)
- Muscle pain
- Nausea and vomiting
- Jitteriness and even mild tremors in the extremities
- Changes in blood pressure
- Lethargy and fatigue
Toxic Effects of Ibogaine
There are a number of reports in the literature of potential dangerous effects associated with use of ibogaine. The research suggests that a number of potential serious issues may occur with unsupervised use of the drug. According to a 2016 review in the journal Clinical Toxicology, some of these conditions include:
- Respiratory failure that can be fatal
- Severe cardiac issues that can be fatal
In addition, animal studies have shown that large doses of the drug are associated with brain damage. The development of brain damage appears to be dose-dependent with no evidence of damage at smaller doses but evidence of damage occurring with larger doses of the drug.
A number of deaths are attributed to the use of ibogaine in both individuals using it recreationally and as a form of self-medication. Most professional sources caution against using it unless one is under the supervision of a physician.
Potential in Treating Substance Use Disorders
There are a number of anecdotal reports online and a number of case studies that suggest that ibogaine might have utility in the treatment of withdrawal symptoms from opiate drugs and alcohol. In addition, there been a number of books, films, and stories in the print media touting its use as a potential drug for the treatment of withdrawal symptoms. However, the research on the drug’s efficiency in this capacity is mixed.
A review of recent research published in the journal Translational Psychiatry reported a meta-analytic study of animal models of addiction and the use of ibogaine in treatment. The results were mixed regarding the drug’s ability to control withdrawal symptoms in rodents, and the researchers suggested that more targeted controlled studies need to be done to determine the drug’s utility as a potential medication used in physician-assisted withdrawal management programs. Animal studies represent the first phase of research in deciding whether or not a particular substance has medicinal uses for humans. At this point, it appears that there are a number of questions regarding the safety of the drug due to its toxic effects and its ability to actually be useful in the treatment of withdrawal symptoms.
Despite a number of similar research studies making these same cautions, there remain a number of anecdotal reports online claiming that the drug is highly efficient in reducing withdrawal symptoms for opioids and some other drugs. Because the research has not yet indicated that the drug is efficient in this capacity and because the drug has a potential for a number of serious toxic effects, individuals are not encouraged to attempt to procure the substance on their own and use it for any reason, including as a method of withdrawal management. A number of online sources report that treatment clinics using ibogaine as a withdrawal management medication exist in Mexico, New Zealand, Canada, and Costa Rica. As the drug is illegal in the United States, there are no legal withdrawal management programs that use the drug.
Other potential medicinal effects that have been suggested for advocating ibogaine’s use as a medicinal product include treatment of chronic pain and as an aid to psychotherapy for a number of issues, including trauma- and stressor-related disorders, personality disorders, eating disorders, etc. Some sources ascribe panacea-like properties to the substance, similar to many cure-all substances found on the Internet. Research on its utility for the treatment of these conditions is scarce. Again, because of potential issues with toxicity, it appears that any potential for the drug’s use as a medicinal product in the United States is doubtful at this time, even if it does have the potential to aid in controlling withdrawal symptoms from opiates, alcohol, and other drugs.
The claims for the drug that are not based on the results of controlled research studies should not be considered to be reliable, and as a result, they cannot be valid. This type of phenomenon is often observed with a number of different substances that have been discredited by controlled research, including cocaine, which was believed to be a miraculous cure-all for a number of issues.
While the drug is a dissociative hallucinogenic drug and used for that purpose in other countries, it does not appear that ibogaine is a significant drug of abuse in the United States. A number of online sources report the drug is an effective and relatively safe hallucinogen; however, there are number of potential toxic issues associated with its use, and individuals would be cautioned not to use the drug for recreational purposes. There are no reports that use the drug results in the development of physical dependence and that the drug is a significant drug of abuse in the US.