Ibogaine treatment may be the next big break in addiction recovery medicine, but research has been halted because of a potentially deadly side effect. It is a psychoactive substance that can be found naturally in plants in the Apocynaceae family that grows in the Amazon and Central Africa.
The world is in the middle of an intense battle with opioids. In the U.S. alone, the overdose death toll is over 10,000 each year with 33,000 overdoses in 2015. Many are looking for new ways to combat opioid addiction to help the thousands of people who are at risk. Still, addiction is a treatable disease, even when opioids are involved.
Through 12-step programs, cognitive behavioral therapy, medical treatments, and many other techniques, rehab and addiction treatment centers can help opioid addicts get the help they need. However, the detoxification process for certain drugs is uncomfortable and can be dangerous depending on the circumstance. Addiction specialists, hospitals, and addicts themselves are always looking for cutting-edge treatment options.
Ibogaine treatment is said to be an effective help during uncomfortable opiate detox. The psychoactive effects may be able to help those who struggle with addiction but it is currently not approved for medical use in the U.S. Plus, there is a lack of research in humans. But what is Ibogaine and why has it been put on the sidelines in the U.S. in the fight against opioids?
What Is Ibogaine?
Ibogaine is a naturally occurring indole alkaloid which often has powerful psychoactive effects. Plants containing ibogaine, like Voacanga Africana, are often used as a ceremonial psychedelic, specifically in Bwiti, a religion practiced by forest-dwelling tribes in Gabon, Africa. The bark of the root of such plants is pulverized and ingested for psychedelic effects.
Ibogaine is sometimes used abroad as a holistic medicine, which has attracted proponents of holistic practices to the substance for addiction recovery. Some have even used it as alternative psychiatric treatment or for spiritually introspective purposes. Because Ibogaine’s effects don’t lead to unconsciousness or drowsiness, users often remember the experience more clearly than with other drugs.
The substance’s effects come in two phases. The first produces a waking dream-like state. Users may see hallucinations or visions while remaining conscious. The second phase is often referred to as the introspective phase. In experimental psychiatry, users take advantage of this state to work through negative emotions or trauma presented in the visions. However, there is an inherent risk for other negative psychological effects when using psychedelic substances.
Fighting Fire with Fire
Using a drug to treat drug addiction may sound counterintuitive but it is a commonly used technique to ease especially intense withdrawal symptoms. For instance, benzodiazepines like Xanax are addictive drugs that cause many people to seek addiction treatment. However, there are some cases when benzodiazepines can be helpful in fighting other addictions if properly managed.
In medical subcultures, or global cultures in which theoretical medical techniques are pursued without sufficient clinical standards, Ibogaine is used in a variety of settings for medical purposes. A study of these cultures showed that 68% of users underwent Ibogaine treatment for substance abuse disorders. 58% were specifically seeking treatment for opioid addiction.
This sets Ibogaine apart from other psychedelic drugs in that a large portion of users are seeking holistic treatment rather than recreational use. However, official clinical human research into the viability of Ibogaine treatment is all but abandoned.
Ibogaine Treatment Toxicity
When medical researchers and scientists are considering new drugs for treatment and medicinal purposes, one of the most important factors is toxicity. Toxicity is the degree that a substance can harm a person. Toxicity is often measured by its effects on specific organs. For instance, neurotoxicity is the level a substance can damage the brain, and hepatotoxicity is the level of damage a substance does to the liver.
Toxicity can be dependent on dosage when the body has the ability to fight off a limited amount of toxins introduced by a chemical. For instance, alcohol has a dose-dependent hepatotoxicity. Your liver can probably handle one glass, but heavy drinking can likely lead to liver failure. If a potential new clinical medicine is being tested, high toxicity risk is often a disqualifier.
When considering Ibogaine treatment, toxicity became a big concern and a few studies showed its inherent risk. As recorded in the New England Journal of Medicine, a human trial study was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 1993, but the National Institute on Drug abuse decided not to fund it. Why? Because they found that there may be a high potential for cardiotoxicity.
In 2009, the University Medical Center Utrecht reported that an otherwise healthy woman who had taken an average dose of ibogaine for addiction treatment suffered a seizure and was admitted to the hospital. Her heart showed an abnormally long QT interval, which means that after a heartbeat there was an abnormal amount of time before the next beat—can potentially lead to sudden death.
In another study, researchers looked at 14 people in West Central Africa that died after taking ibogaine for religious ceremonial purposes. A total of 12 of the 14 showed signs of pre-existing conditions (some relating to their hearts) that may have been affected by the drug.
Other Ibogaine Treatment Concerns
Some studies have raised concerns about potential neurotoxicity associated with Ibogaine. While some studies on rats show that the drug damaged the brains of rodents, the same effects have not been found in primates or in human cases of sudden death after taking Ibogaine.
There are also some immediate side effects that occur after taking the drug that includes:
- Ataxia or difficulty controlling muscle movements.
- Dry mouth
These effects are known to last between four and 24 hours. With these effects and the risk of cardiotoxicity, the drug remains illegal in the U.S. It’s classified as a Schedule 1 substance, which means that is considered to have a high potential for abuse, has no accepted medical use, and there is a lack of accepted safety for use.
Ibogaine Treatment Mania Risk
Ibogaine doesn’t just raise questions about toxicity risk. As with any psychedelic substance, there are psychological risks as well. Powerful psychedelics have been known to cause post-traumatic stress and exacerbate feelings of depression and other psychological disorders.
One study of three cases of patients who underwent Ibogaine treatment showed that the drug may have played a role in the development of manic symptoms. In a drug that is thought to be an option for psychological treatment, it’s significant that the drug might also pose some psychological threat.
Viable Drug Addiction Treatment Options
There is still a lot to learn about Ibogaine and its potential clinical use. However, the risks currently outweigh its potential good, especially when viable drug addiction treatment is available all across the country. If you or a loved one is looking for a way out of the cycle of addiction, The Palm Beach Institute has the treatments and therapies needed to combat this epidemic. Call anytime at 1-855-960-5456 for a free consultation and to speak with a counselor that can walk you through your options.