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Learn / Ibogaine Treatment for Substance Use Disorders

Ibogaine Treatment for Substance Use Disorders

By 
Hannah FriedmanHannah Friedman

Writer

Hannah is a writer with a focus on holistic wellness. Her work explores post-traumatic growth and the connection between physical and mental health. In addition to blogging for LuxuryRehabs.com, she has written meditations for NatureSpace, a free meditation app, essays on the connection between physical and mental health, and blog posts for Cardea, an app for exercise enthusiasts. She is also a licensed massage therapist. You can view more of her work in her portfolio.
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 Published April 26th, 2019|  Professionally Reviewed By 
Rajnandini Rathod
 

 Reviewed by Rajnandini Rathod on November 30, 2021

Rajnandini is a psychologist, keen on bringing awareness and uplifting the stigma attached to mental health in India. She completed her Master’s in Psychology with considerable experience with people with addiction problems.

When you first enter recovery, it can be daunting to consider the road ahead. Especially after substance misuse, which sometimes offers instant gratification, you may be concerned about the slow rhythm of sustainable change. Some clients find it helpful to kickstart this process using ibogaine-assisted therapy.

Ibogaine is an alternative medicine, often administered in a short-term retreat setting. While it’s not readily available in the U.S., clients can travel to treatment centers around the world to seek it out. If ibogaine is right for you, it could certainly worth the trip. This experience is extremely different from most other forms of treatment.

What Is Ibogaine?

Ibogaine is a naturally occurring psychoactive alkaloid, found in the West African iboga shrub. In small doses, it’s a mild stimulant. In large doses, it can produce a dreamlike psychoactive state. This medicine has a long history, and has historically been used in healing and initiation ceremonies by members of the Bwiti religion.

The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) is exploring ibogaine as a potential treatment for substance use disorders, especially opiate addiction. According to their experts, “People with problematic substance use have found that larger doses of ibogaine can significantly reduce withdrawal from opiates1 and temporarily eliminate substance-related cravings.”

Experts found that ibogaine can have both psychological and physiological benefits. It’s sometimes administered at the beginning of a client’s detox process, because it “diminishes opioid withdrawal symptoms and reduces drug cravings.2 Research suggests that ibogaine and its analogs “potently promote neuronal growth,” and produce “antidepressant-like behavioural responses.” Because of this, its effects may be beneficial for clients with a variety of mental health diagnoses.

The Uses of Ibogaine

This versatile treatment is especially useful for clients at the beginning of their recovery process. According to Álvaro de Ferranti, Founder of Tabula Rasa Retreat,

“It is not necessary to detox off drugs before an ibogaine treatment, particularly heroin…Ibogaine does take away heroin withdrawals instantly.”

It’s important to note, however, that clients detoxing from alcohol or benzodiazepines should taper off before beginning this treatment. Make sure to talk to your team of providers about your medical history, in order to avoid any serious side effects.

In addition to opiates, ibogaine is “also known to arrest cravings and addictions to stimulants such as crack cocaine and meth,” Ferranti continues. “It can also help people with dual disorders, mental disorders, and people who simply want to enhance their life spiritually and find answers and come back to self-love.” In particular, research supports the use of ibogaine for certain mental health concerns.

Opioid Addiction

In the Western world, this treatment is best known for its effect on recovery from opiate misuse. It alleviates most withdrawal symptoms, making detox faster and less uncomfortable. Clients also experience long-term benefits.

In one study, conducted by MAPS, “Results showed the most improvement in drug use at one month with 50% of participants reporting no opioid use during the previous 30 days. Ibogaine was associated with substantial reductions in opioid withdrawal symptoms3 and drug use in participants and may provide a useful prototype for development of innovative pharmacotherapy of addiction.”

Cocaine and Stimulant Addiction

According to the team of providers at Iboga Quest in Mexico, “cocaine addiction appears to respond very well to ibogaine treatment4 when coupled with proper preparation and after-care.” This finding is aligned with preliminary data from formal research.

In one retrospective study, subjects who had been treated for “cocaine dependence,5 almost none of whom used opioids, reported a median relapse-free interval of 5.5 months following single doses of ibogaine.” Ibogaine’s influence on the risk of relapse may be caused by its other psychological benefits.

Another study, which specifically focused on people in recovery from cocaine misuse, found that clients “patients benefited from the treatment in all the secondary outcomes, reporting decreases in craving and improvements in personal relationships, quality of life, and self-efficacy, thus supporting existing notions that treatments combining ibogaine and psychotherapy do have a therapeutic potential in the treatment of substance use disorders.6

PTSD

Many people in recovery present with co-occurring disorders, meaning that they have both substance use disorders and additional mental health diagnoses. In particular, it’s quite common for clients to have PTSD. This condition has a complex relationship with substance misuse. Some clients turn to substances in order to self-medicate its symptoms, and others develop PTSD due to experiences they have while using substances.

Ibogaine is shown to have a positive impact on PTSD patients.7 One study, conducted with military veterans, found that treatment “may offer a rapid and robust, and well-tolerated, treatment option for those suffering from a variety of psychiatric and cognitive symptoms,” and specifically for symptoms related to trauma.

Depression

Promising research is currently being done into ibogaine as a treatment for depression. Scientists began by creating an analog of ibogaine,8 intended to have similar effects. This medicine, called tabernanthalog (or TBG), “appears to relieve depression and addiction symptoms without producing hallucinations or other dangerous side effects.”

Although much more research is needed into the effects of TBG, some healthcare providers already support success using ibogaine to treat depression. According to the team at Tabula Rasa Retreat, “ibogaine can lead to an increase in serotonin levels in the brain, leading to a sense of wellbeing and possibility after a difficult period.” Their program caters to people with substance use disorders, depression, PTSD, and a wide variety of other mental health concerns.

The Experience of Ibogaine

Ibogaine is available at treatment centers around the world, although not in the U.S. Just like any other type of rehab, each of these facilities has its own distinct philosophy. Choose an environment that suits your specific needs.

Whatever the atmosphere of the facility, it’s important to carefully prepare for this experience. If you’ve been using certain substances—such as alcohol—you may need to detox prior to treatment. For others, this may not be required. Make sure to talk to your medical doctor and to the staff at your treatment center about the safest way to proceed.

Ibogaine induces a psychedelic experience. During the session itself, you may find yourself in a dreamlike state for up to 72 hours. Clients often report revisiting traumatic events from the past, and gaining new insight into their least healthy behavioral patterns.

As you slowly emerge from this state, you will likely experience immediate and significant differences. Rich, a client at Iboga Quest, had previously undergone detox, and later decided to try ibogaine after a relapse. Comparing these 2 experiences, he told interviewers, “With iboga, or ibogaine, it’s like hitting the reset button…I would say I still had symptoms, but they were significantly less—maybe 20-30% of what you’d normally have.”

Ibogaine also transformed his experience of shame. Prior to treatment, he struggled to accept himself, and was haunted by past mistakes. In an ibogaine-induced dream state, he envisioned a human body with empty spaces inside it, which he’d been trying to fill by using substances. As he explored these images, he learned the value of accepting himself just as he is.

“I always thought that acceptance was almost like admitting defeat. And [ibogaine] showed me that I didn’t have to necessarily like these aspects of myself; it wasn’t asking me to do that. But I had to accept them…these are things that happened…and even if they’re aspects of myself that were true at some point, they don’t have to remain true. And accepting them doesn’t mean that they remain true forevermore. In fact, accepting them puts you in a really great position to be able to change those aspects of yourself that you don’t like. And so that was my major teaching, really.”

The Long-Term Effects of Ibogaine

Unlike some other psychedelic medicines, ibogaine can have a lasting effect on mental health.9 In fact, researchers believe that it can “modify addiction-related neural circuitry through the activation of neurotrophic factor signalling.” This has important implications for its use in the long-term recovery process.

Despite its rapidly apparent benefits, however, ibogaine is not a miracle cure for substance use disorders. Experts at Tabula Rasa Retreat have defined 4 distinct phases of ibogaine treatment:10

  • In Phase 1, patients ingest ibogaine and experience a dreamlike state. You’ll likely spend this portion of treatment in bed, and under medical supervision.
  • During Phase 2, you’ll be fully conscious and aware, but may be hypersensitive and overwhelmed by recent epiphanies.
  • Phase 3 “begins abruptly and lasts for around 3 months. This phase is known as Temporary Freedom.” During this time, clients report decreased cravings and a lower sensitivity to triggers. It’s extremely important to remember that this, too, is just one phase of treatment. Clients should have a clear plan for aftercare in order to take advantage of this time.
  • Phase 4 is also known as the “Return to Earth.” At this point, clients often see an increase in their emotional sensitivity, and may be susceptible to relapse.

Researchers have determined that ibogaine “is not a cure for addiction.11 Instead, it merely interrupts addiction.” There is a great vulnerability associated with Phase 4 of treatment. No matter how relieved you may feel in Phase 3, it’s extremely important to prepare for your long-term recovery. If at all possible, it’s best to make plans for aftercare before you begin treatment. This may guard against the impulse to return to your old life too quickly.

Some clients begin recovery with ibogaine, and then go on to attend a more traditional rehab program. You might also consider joining an intensive outpatient program (or IOP), meeting with a support group, or simply seeing a talk therapist who specializes in substance use disorders. However you choose to proceed, make sure you’re prepared for the next phase of the healing process.

Beginning Recovery With Ibogaine

Although more research is needed, ibogaine is a very promising treatment. Whether you’re healing from substance addiction, trauma, or another mental health diagnosis, it may be a good place to start moving forward. However, like any other medication, this medicine is not appropriate for all clients. It has some notable health risks,12 and may cause unwanted physical side effects. Make sure you consult with a medical professional in advance, to ensure it’s a safe method for you.

Remember that while recovery can start with ibogaine, it’s just the first step in a lifelong process. It’s best to combine this medicine with other, evidence-based therapies, which may include rehab, medical care, talk therapy, or other options. Ibogaine can be a powerful element of your healing process, and may make it easier for you to move toward a healthier lifestyle. But this experience is no replacement for the slow, careful cultivation of sustainable behaviors.

If you’d like to learn more about this modality, see our curated list of luxury rehabs offering ibogaine-assisted treatment.


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