Ibogaine: a brief history
23rd April 2019
23rd April 2019
Ibogaine has probably come to your attention for the immense promise it has shown in treating addiction. But this fascinating substance has been impacting human societies for thousands of years. As the opioid epidemic grabs international headlines and alternative addiction treatment options move to the forefront of the conversation, let’s take a look at the amazing history of Ibogaine.
Who discovered iboga?
It is widely believed that pygmies from Central Africa first encountered the tabernathe iboga shrub in Gabon and Cameroon. The common-seeming plant yields simple yellow flowers and an almost tasteless sticky orange citrus fruit. But the pygmies came to realize that when the root bark was scraped off, ground into powder and ingested, it had powerful psychedelic properties. The pygmies passed this knowledge along to others, and thus planted the seeds of the Bwiti spiritual discipline.
Who are the Bwiti?
Bwiti is a Spiritual discipline practiced among the Babongo and Mitsogo people of Gabon, and the Fang people of Gabon and Cameroon. Contemporary adherents believe in a mixture of animism, ancestor worship and Christianity, but Ibogaine is at the core of their rituals and beliefs. According to Wikipedia, the substance is used to “promote radical spiritual growth, to stabilize community and family structure, to meet religious requirements, and to resolve pathological problems.”
When Bwiti shamans consume Ibogaine, they believe that they gain the ability to heal the sick, communicate with the dead, and experience visions of the future. Perhaps most significantly, Iboga is crucial to the initiation rites and coming of age rituals of the Bwiti. According to Daniel Lieberman, an expert on Bwiti culture, “they believe that before initiation the neophyte is nothing. Through the ceremony you become something…a baanzi, one who knows the other world because you have seen it with your own eyes.” According to Lieberman, the Bwiti believe that ibogaine is a “superconscious spiritual entity that guides mankind.” The majority of the Bwiti people consume Iboga as part of their coming of age ritual, and it is a fundamental building block of their culture and community.
How did ibogaine make its way to Europe?
French explorers to Gabon were the first Europeans to encounter Ibogaine, around the year 1900. Ibogaine hydrochloride was first extracted from the shrub in 1901 by a pair of French scientists, and research into the substance’s interactions with the nervous system first began appearing in scientific literature soon thereafter. As the century wore on, more and more research was conducted, before Ibogaine was finally introduced to the French public in 1930. Marketed under the name Lambarene (the name of the town where explorers first discovered it, and also the location of humanitarian Dr. Albert Schweitzer’s famous hospital), Ibogaine was used as a treatment for depression, and a mental and physical stimulant for healthy people at times of great exertion. Lambarene contained 5-8 milligrams of Ibogaine per tablet and was generally prescribed to treat depression, asthenia, convalescence, and some infectious diseases. It was available legally until 1967 when its sale was prohibited.
Studies, Studies and More Studies
Harris Isbell, the pioneering drug researcher and director of research for the National Institute of Mental Health’s Addiction Research Center performed some of the first American studies on Ibogaine in conjunction with the pharmaceutical firm CIBA. They were looking to create an anti-hypertension drug, and through their research became aware of the substance’s anti-addictive properties. However, all records of their research were declared lost, and the drug was determined to lack commercial viability.
American Howard Lotsof was the first to take Ibogaine seriously as a treatment for addiction. At the age of 19 Mr. Lotsof was a heroin addict experimenting with psychedelic substances as a way to treat his addiction. He found that a single dose of Ibogaine had seemingly ended his physical dependence on opiates. After attending college and marrying, he began researching, authoring scholarly papers, and advocating for the use of Ibogaine in addiction treatment. He acquired numerous American patents on “utilizing the ibogaine molecule as an ultra-rapid method for interrupting or attenuating a large spectrum of poly-drug dependency syndromes” between 1985 and 1992. In the late 1980s Lotsof persuaded a Belgian company to manufacture the drug in capsule form, and began a series of clinical trials in the Netherlands. The success of these trials inspired a growth in Ibogaine based treatment throughout Europe and the Americas.
The US government undertook a series of tests on Ibogaine between 1991 and 1995, before funding of the Ibogaine Research Project was abruptly cut. But recent studies conducted in Brazil, New Zealand, and Mexico have shown “that ibogaine may have a significant pharmacological effect on opiate withdrawal” and all participants in the New Zealand study described their Ibogaine experience positively. While most of the Ibogaine studies thus far have been fairly small, they have uniformly found that the substance seems to reduce cravings and physical withdrawal symptoms for individuals dealing with a variety of addictions.
With America and many other parts of the world in the midst of an epidemic of opioid use and fentanyl-related overdoses (the US Center for Disease Control reports that 91 deaths per day were caused by opioid abuse in 2016), it seems likely that more and more research will be conducted. At Iboga Tree Healing House we are thoroughly convinced that this remarkable natural substance can be used to treat addiction effectively, and we feel confident that research will bear this out. Ibogaine has had a remarkable history, and we feel that it can make all of our futures brighter!