Dimitri Mugianis

Find your healing path with the safe use of plant medicine.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, news feeds were filled with stories of overdose, skyrocketing death rates, pill mills, and fentanyl. The headlines reflected the loss of lives even among the well-manicured cul de sacs of suburbia; read: White. Less reported, but just as deadly, were other familiar tragedies that were not at all that new. The nomenclature was very different where the poor, Black, and brown lived. They were junkies, and crack and meth heads; but, with the rise of addiction amongst White suburban soccer moms, or their offspring, strung out on “Chinese” fentanyl, came a more caring look at so-called addiction, and a demand for an answer. Treatment instead of incarceration is the rallying call; but, what is treatment?

Patchwork market overviews look at the existing treatment industry, shocking opioid crisis statistics, and the handful of ibogaine observational studies to bring together a very hopeful picture.

Enter the ibogaine advocate, moved by a sincere and urgent desire to help. With the rebranding of the addict from “criminal” to “sick,” ibogaine sheds some of its association with the underground dope scene. From its origins among drug user self-help organizations, it now found a way into the more clinical atmosphere of the psychedelic renaissance. Also moved are venture capitalists, now flocking to psychedelic therapies, some of whom have even started to place their bets on ibogaine. Patchwork market overviews look at the existing treatment industry, shocking opioid crisis statistics, and the handful of ibogaine observational studies to bring together a very hopeful picture. Thriving off of the excitement and energy of advocates, moneyed interests offer the promise of further legitimization.

We have worked with ibogaine and iboga professionally for a combined total of nearly 30 years. It has changed our lives dramatically for the better, perhaps more than anything else has. We have also each witnessed thousands of others who have benefited from ibogaine as well, regardless of how “successful” their outcome would look as a treatment metric. The changes are real, but this does not make it the missing piece in solving the opioid crisis, and it definitely does not make it the missing piece to pull together the addiction treatment industry. Ibogaine is not an addiction treatment.


Back in 1939, when the first edition of the Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book was published, page one was a letter titled “The Doctor’s Opinion.” The physician who authored it described his sense of powerlessness at not being able to help the alcoholics who came to him, and the fascination he developed witnessing the results some people had through AA. It’s a story not dissimilar to the first doctors who witnessed people taking ibogaine for opioid detox back in the early 1980s. It’s also not dissimilar to the doctors today who have to admit that their patients’ health has improved immediately after returning from an ibogaine treatment.

There are more similarities between the ibogaine movement and the 12-Step movement. For one, both of them were developed outside of professional frameworks. In AA, this is baked into the 12 Traditions, a document that defines the group’s structure. Tradition eight states: “AA will remain forever nonprofessional.” With ibogaine, it was simply a response to the disinterest on the part of the FDA and NIDA in pursuing further clinical research. This resulted in the organic growth of a community of practitioners outside of any legal framework, most of them current or former users.

We believe that other similarities will emerge as well. No 12-Step fellowship refers to itself as a treatment, but it has become the standard in addiction treatment centers. While AA’s 11th Tradition states, “Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion,” many of the people who have negative experiences with 12-Step programs were forced into them by court order or through some other hierarchical system of diagnosis by which the steps were prescribed. What was, at first, a voluntary network of self-diagnosis, self-help, and self-empowering mutual aid, morphed into what it was never intended to be, a system that now stands in stark contrast to its own founding documents, no longer a fellowship of the willing.

By the time that folks come to ibogaine, most have already been through the treatment circuit many times over. The rote, cookie-cutter approach is often exhausting and punitive, its level of care drastically hit-or-miss, depending on which doctor or counselor walks into the room. Drug treatment should be about how we treat people who use drugs. Instead, it is a clear extension of drug prohibition, its objectives directed by the very same metric that we have used to police the broader war on drugs: to end illicit drug use.

Ibogaine advocates are calling for the inclusion of ibogaine into this same existing system, citing safety, accessibility, and professional accountability. However, within the existing regulatory framework, there are numerous financial and sexual scandals. Even when treatment is not overtly coerced, there are high-pressure sales techniques and inadequate facilities. Its design is dictated by insurance companies’ willingness to pay, which is how we arrived at the 28-day rehab model to begin with. It becomes a never ending, and hugely profitable, revolving door, with the vast majority of people ultimately labeled as failures when they don’t stop their drug use.

12-Step fellowships have succeeded in providing space for community, connection, exploration, and healing, with or without the cessation of drugs, but they have failed to deliver within the treatment system and according to its metrics. Advocates seem to argue that injecting ibogaine into this same system is the way forward, but this would be just as ineffective. We would have to ignore a large part of the therapeutic benefits that have come from a similar culture of self-empowering mutual aid. Once approved as a prescription, coerced ibogaine treatment is not far behind.

Just like 12 Steps, ibogaine is an opportunity, allowing space for exploration, and perhaps some sort of healing.

Not an Addiction Treatment

Ibogaine is not an addiction treatment, nor should it be. Care providers make their way around this fact by describing it as an “addiction interrupter,” calling it “just a tool,” or “just a detox.” However, it’s not that it is just one part of a treatment plan. It’s something else altogether. Just like 12 Steps, ibogaine is an opportunity, allowing space for exploration, and perhaps some sort of healing. The result of placing it into a linear trajectory towards sobriety, or “getting clean,” is a possibility, but it’s limiting to its potential. If the matrix of its evaluation is the same one by which we have evaluated the “failure” of 12-Step programs—a high long-term abstinence rate—then ibogaine will also fail.

Of the few observational studies that have followed people after opioid detox with ibogaine, only one provides a long-term abstinence rate. Thirty percent of the participants at one Mexican clinic self-reported that they never used opioids again (Davis, 2017). The problem with these kinds of numbers is understanding exactly what they measure. Of this 30%, only half were interviewed after a period of one year, some of them over much shorter timeframes. Also, self-reported data can be unreliable because people are more likely to report what they think people want to hear. Even after considering all of that, it’s important to take into consideration that this was a retrospective study in which the clinic called previous clients. That means the number does not represent the clinic’s entire patient population, and we can assume those with better results were more likely to respond and opt-in to the research.

In another study, 23% of participants self-reported abstinence “within the previous 30 days” at the 12-month mark (Brown, 2017). They showed that participants’ cessation of opioid use peaked at 30 days, and then decreased over time. While these numbers are significant in the context of other detox and treatments, they are also not hard and fast results, and require a high degree of interpretation. Aside from the unreliability of self-reports, these only measure a population of people who have self-selected themselves for treatment, and who had to cross a fairly high threshold to get there, traveling out of the country and paying out of pocket.

Based on our experience, we believe that the rate of sustained long-term abstinence is much lower. However, each of these observational studies also looked at things like partial reduction of withdrawals, partial reduction of cravings, and improvements in other areas of life, such as family relationships or legal status. “Favorable outcome” in one was defined as continued participation in the study for 9–12 months, and at least a 75% reduction in drug use scores. Forty percent of the 30 subjects enrolled met that criteria, a very significant result (Brown, 2017). What this begins to show is also what we’ve observed: that there are other positive benefits besides abstinence.

We have to look at ibogaine without such a fixation on finality, which is a hard pill to swallow when individuals, families, and communities are feeling the effects of chaotic drug use and some are at great risk of death. We must be cautious that the tool we’re advocating for isn’t simply an excuse to extend the lifespan and profitability of a broken system, and deployed as a more effective weapon in the War on Drugs. What is important is whether ibogaine can provide what the late harm reduction pioneer Dan Bigg called for: “any positive change” in the life of a drug user.

Increasingly, over the last five years, detoxes have faded out and been replaced almost universally by long-term opioid maintenance programs like methadone and buprenorphine.

No Demand for a Detox

There is a distinction to be made between detox and treatment. Detox, particularly from opioids, is a short-term process that focuses on the physiological aspects of withdrawal. It is the most medically-intensive and risky part of the recovery process. Treatment is focused on long-term behavioral change. Increasingly, over the last five years, detoxes have faded out and been replaced almost universally by long-term opioid maintenance programs like methadone and buprenorphine. The basic function of these medications is to stabilize people’s use with these long-acting opioids.

Buprenorphine, the active opioid component of Suboxone and Subutex, was first brought to the FDA as a medication to assist short-term detox. People can switch onto it from heroin or other short-acting opioids, then quickly taper their dose down to zero. Used in this way, it provides a relatively effective and painless detox. When used in the longer-term as a maintenance drug, it is a different story altogether. It’s long-acting effects help many people to stabilize their lives, taking people out of the cycle of having to use every few hours. Naloxone, the other component of Suboxone, also blocks the effects of other short-acting opioids, reducing the incentive to use them. However, after stabilizing, many find some of its side effects undesirable. People report things like weight gain, lethargy, depression, and sexual dysfunction. It’s long-acting effects also greatly extend the withdrawal process, and many people find it difficult and painful to get off of.

There need to be options to support people who want to detox. However, the plain fact is that detox increases the biggest risk for drug users, overdose death. This is the reality that dictates the market, and it’s why buprenorphine is now rarely used this way. Regardless of the treatment, including ibogaine, the majority of people go back to some level of drug use. Some studies have demonstrated that patients who complete inpatient detox are at increased risk for mortality within the first year, compared with people who don’t complete the same programs (Strang, 2003; Evans, 2015; Walley, 2020). Insurers, the treatment providers, the public health structures, and harm reductionists all look at this and see danger.

Reducing opioid tolerance is something that ibogaine is quite effective at, and therefore the risk of overdose greatly increases afterwards.

“Any person who is addicted to drugs who wishes to be free of that addiction shall be able to have that choice.”

– Howard Lotsof, who discovered ibogaine’s effects on opioid withdrawal

Reducing opioid tolerance is something that ibogaine is quite effective at, and therefore the risk of overdose greatly increases afterwards. Ibogaine also requires intensive screening and medical supervision to mitigate cardiac risks, and this has become a huge component of treatment design. In 2012, the first study on ibogaine fatalities reported a risk window of 72 hours for adverse cardiac events (Alper, 2012). This requires intensive and highly specialized staffing; but, while fatal overdoses during that window were included because they were still under medical supervision, the later overdose rates, where most people die, have rarely been discussed.

One answer to ibogaine’s risk profile has been the development of 18-methoxycoronaridine, or 18-mc, and other newer derivatives. A synthetic analog of ibogaine, 18-mc was originally developed with the hopes of removing both the cardiac risks and the psychedelic effects. It is curious why folks would work day and night to remove the psychedelic aspect of ibogaine—to take the psychedelic away from people who use stigmatized drugs—in an era where there is blind promotion of the therapeutic value of psychedelics. One of the benefits of such a medication over ibogaine would be to prescribe it in outpatient settings, without such intensive medical oversight. However, if it has the same function of removing tolerance to opioids, it doesn’t differ greatly from other existing detox options.

Other low-cost options include high dose Vitamin C or NAD infusions, and a plethora of other unstudied methods for autodidacts who are familiar with Reddit forums, such as switching onto kratom.

There are many other effective, low-threshold and inexpensive detox options that already exist, but are not the standard of care for the reasons listed above. Other low-cost options include high dose Vitamin C or NAD infusions, and a plethora of other unstudied methods for autodidacts who are familiar with Reddit forums, such as switching onto kratom. Finally, there are other options, like rapid detox, that haven’t taken off specifically because they have similar intensive requirements for medical supervision and similar mortality risks to ibogaine treatment. So far, no other detox has come close to solving the opioid crisis. It is hard to imagine why ibogaine would.

While many drug users want access to detox options, including ibogaine, they are not the ones who dictate the market. The ones who do include the pharmaceutical companies, insurers, and the government public health institutions. The public health logic of reducing overdose risk is why increasing doses of maintenance medications are prescribed, so that tolerance remains high and overdose risk is lower. This is an obvious case where mortality metrics simply do not capture the totality of human experience.

Is Ibogaine Efficacious?

All of these forms of risk are important to consider when measuring ibogaine’s potential public health impact, but another is cost-effectiveness. Ibogaine detox is, at minimum, a three- to five-day process, with a base cost of $5,000 when it’s done in places like Mexico, where the cost for medical staff is dramatically lower than in the US, Canada, or Europe. It’s often much longer and more costly and, if it were conducted elsewhere, these costs would multiply.

While the clamber for aftercare is universal around psychedelics, and particularly ibogaine, evidence from drug treatment points to little in terms of reduction in relapse. Recommendations for longer stays at treatment centers, other measures, like longer stabilization, or in-patient aftercare, all add significant additional costs. These are attempts to make up for the lack of inherent “efficacy.”

We understand the need for a rest and reboot for drug users and their family, but they decrease cost-effectiveness. Talk therapy, cognitive, trauma-informed, somatic, and equestrian therapy, body work, 12 steps, SMART Recovery, yoga, tai chi, etc., are all therapeutic modalities that have been touted as aftercare in support of long-term cessation of drug use. We believe people should have access to all of these; but, again, in our opinion, the focus should be on “any positive change.”

If the idea is that we simply place ibogaine into the nightmare of the American treatment industry and its predatory capitalism, it would be an attempt to try to resuscitate an industry that is proven to be ineffective, cruel, and capricious.

The Addicts’ Opinion

Ibogaine clearly illustrates the error behind the implicit goal of the so-called psychedelic renaissance, which is to mainstream these therapies. If the idea is that we simply place ibogaine into the nightmare of the American treatment industry and its predatory capitalism, it would be an attempt to try to resuscitate an industry that is proven to be ineffective, cruel, and capricious.

What makes ibogaine a bad fit in the treatment industry is also its biggest advantage: the expansiveness of time. The experience just takes so long. In Gabon, the centuries-old consumption of iboga (the plant source of ibogaine) has given rise to the elaborate, rich, and varied spiritual practice known as Bwiti. In both of our travels and participation in this tradition, we have experienced a deep honoring of the individual, intensive care, and extensive time given by the entire community.

This is not a call to use Bwiti as drug treatment or for any other purpose removed from its traditional intent in Gabon, but simply points to its artistic and vigorous celebration of that expansiveness of time. It is just an example of what emerges when released from the constraints of efficacy in terms of time, expense, and result. This type of co-created celebration, play, spiritual technology, and performance art as healing art, could be one of those expressions that replaces treatment. It should be treated with that kind of reverence because ibogaine is a big deal, and so are human beings.

There is a long, racist history of psychedelic drugs being used to repress — and oppress

In August, 2019, Michael Pollan spoke about the promise of psychedelic therapy to a receptive audience at the American Psychological Association Convention. Pollan was coming off of a very successful year: The New York Timescalled his book one of the best of 2018, and his lecture marked the culmination of a public discussion that has helped to bring psychedelic therapy to mainstream consciousness.

Then, just a few weeks later, Elijah McLain, a young black man, was killed by police after being involuntarily administered ketamine. A psychedelic substance with powerful dissociative effects, ketamine has been promoted as a template for psychedelic therapy and is also increasingly used as a tranquilizer by police departments that are attempting to avoid the liability of firearms and tasers.

McLain's case marks but one example in a long and significant history of psychedelics and cannabis being used as tools of state violence, a racist history that has been glossed over by Pollan and many others promoting the psychedelic research renaissance.

The strategic architecture behind this renaissance has been, in large part, built on alliances with military and law enforcement at various levels. Behind the optic appeals to national pride and the realities of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) experienced by veterans and first responders, organizations like the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) and their supporters have expressed the hope that these kinds of treatments will ultimately lead to solutions for structural problems within society, leading us out of the darkness of everything from religious conflict to climate change.

For a movement grounded in science this is a highly suspect leap of faith with no historical or scientific basis, and Elijah McLain's case is just one horrific example of the opposite. By branding the psychedelic renaissance as a kind of archaic revival of the ancient uses of plant medicine sacraments into modern society, advocates have been able to kaleidoscope over the history of psychedelic drugs as tools of state violence, which is well documented and historically continuous.

The Vikings, whose homeland was depleted of natural resources, used psychedelics to inspire a colonial war of aggression to solidify and feed the state back home. The Viking Berserker warriors, known for their veracity and viciousness, and from which the word berserk is derived, would appear en masse, naked for battle except for the carcass of an animal, covered in blood and in a murderous trance. That trance, most historians agree, was psychedelic-induced. They would thrust themselves after the enemy and kill using whatever method or tool was available to spare, the rock in their hands or their teeth, literally gnawing on their opponent's body. Scholars debate about whether it was Amanita muscaria or Amanita pantherina mushrooms that were a key component of inducing that trance, but regardless, using the psychedelic state was a way to comport the mind and body of the warrior into a war like frenzy. The intention was not only to kill, but to dominate as viciously as possible and to tower over the psyche so as to leave the subjected incapacitated by fear.

 Similar stories of the use of Amanita muscaria and other mushrooms in wartime exist across time and across culture, including amongst the Tartars, who created a mixture of cannabis and the mushroom. In 1814, during the war between Sweden and Norway, the Varmland regimen used Amanita muscaria and was described as rabid, foaming, and vicious. In 1945, Soviet soldiers supposedly used them during one particularly brutal battle in Hungary. Although there are other examples of wartime uses of psychedelics, including in indigenous cultures, we're focusing here on examples of state violence.

The English word "assassin" comes down to us from the highly mythologized Nizari Isma'ili State, a religious order in the 11th century Islamic world. The meaning of the word comes from the group's nickname, the Assassins, and the reputation of the order's small inner circle that was employed to carry out espionage and assassinations of key political figures. They were famous for their fanatical bravery, never attempting to escape once they committed to a mission, a cultish determination that is thought to have been bred in part by Nazari chiefs' administration of hashish both as a tool for mental control and motivation.

While the Pentagon was spending billion on the drug war in Central and South America, Rick Doblin, the founder and executive director of MAPS, went to meet officials with the Department of Defense to discuss his interest in developing MDMA and cannabis to treat PTSD. It was reported that these "unlikely partners" were a sign that attitudes on drugs were "changing, and quick."

Yet this seemingly unlikely alliance was neither extraordinary or revolutionary. Although MDMA, a psychostimulant, has distinct effects, it is structurally very similar to other amphetamines. They also have overlapping physiological and psychological effects. In one study, some subjects had a difficult time distinguishing between MDMA and methamphetamine, and the researchers found that some of the differences in phenomenology could be a result of the strong social bias around each substance.

The use of various amphetamines within military operations has a history that extends as far back as their medical use. They found applications by both sides in World War II, a use that was threefold. Firstly, they helped to reduce fatigue and appetite, a use that was continued in the US Air Force until 2017. Secondly, it was used to relieve the crippling psychic and emotional pain of depersonalization caused by killing, something that directly reflects current interest in treating conflict-related trauma. And thirdly, in Germany, amphetamines were used by the general population, saturating the lives of everyone from factory workers to housewives. It is understated to what extent substance use has historically defined both active conflicts and wartime culture, on and off the battlefield.

The encouragement of microdosing amphetamine to increase stamina and kill efficiency is one of the first known and reported benefits of microdosing. Now a fad that the popular media reports amongst everyone from Silicon Valley executives to soccer moms, many suggest that microdosing psychedelics can help to produce a state of flow, increasing cognitive and emotional efficiency. Unsurprisingly, the military is showing enthusiastic interest, with recent publications such as in the Marine Corp Gazette celebrating FDA trials and the potential for microdosing to increase soldiers' efficiency in battle. This and the therapeutic potential of PTSD treatment have a better chance of keeping a shell-shocked soldier in active duty, a soldier who, depending on job and rank, represents tens of thousands or even millions of dollars in investment.

The use of drugs by the state is not limited to increasing effectiveness. The Nazis were early proponents and practitioners of experimentation for their potential as weapons of social control. Most notably and darkly, mescaline was administered to Jewish and Romani prisoners at Dachau. The CIA was so interested that after the war they recruited the same doctors as advisors, shielding them from war crime prosecution. The current psychedelic renaissance is historically embedded within this continuum. In cooperation with local police, psychologists, psychiatrists, and other representatives of state order, the CIA used the lessons that were learned in Dachau and applied them to torturing US citizens, most notably African-Americans, prisoners, and poor people. The use of not only psychedelic drugs, but psychedelic therapy as an implement to consolidate state power was established in these early years.

Between 1935 and 1975 the NIMH Addiction Research Center (ARC) in Lexington, Kentucky conducted numerous studies involving very high and prolonged doses of LSD, as well as experimentation with ibogaine on formerly opioid-addicted black inmates. One such study looked at LSD effects on black inmates who were offered heroin as a coercive incentive for their participation, compared to the effects on unincarcerated white people who were treated at the lead researcher's home in an environment designed to reduce anxiety. In the 1970s, the ARC program moved to Baltimore where it became the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Although this longstanding research program obviously violated research ethics laws, it has never been renounced by NIDA or any other major psychedelic research institution.

These illegal and immoral research methods were common practice within MKULTRA, the CIA's infamous "mind control" research program, which provided funding for ARC between 1957 and 1962. ARC was one of 80 institutions involved in the program, the intention of which was to learn how to break the psyche. Although much is made about the therapeutic benefits of ego death, this mental state was weaponized by the CIA, measured for its capacity to force compliance, crush dissent, and extract information. That experience of oneness and openness can bring about an apolitical view of history, where there are no good guys or bad guys.

Throughout their research, torturing unknowing civilians by high doses of LSD and by many other means, MKULTRA focused heavily on highly policed environments. Another famous example is the story of Whitey Bulger, a Boston-area crime boss who spent years as a federal fugitive. Years before that he was incarcerated in the Atlanta Penitentiary, where he and 18 other inmates were given high doses of LSD every day for over a year. He described feeling like he was going crazy, and in correspondence where he expanded on those experiences later in his life, he said, "I was in prison for committing a crime, but they committed a greater crime on me." After his release, he cooperated for more than a decade as an FBI informant, and was allowed to continue his black market activities — including selling drugs, extortion, racketeering and murder.

Between 2002 and 2010, MAPS conducted the first study on "war and terrorism-related PTSD" in Israel, a study that recruited participants in direct partnership with the Israeli Defence Force (IDF). An organization that Amnesty International describes with "widespread constitutional violations, discriminatory enforcement and culture of retaliation" for their treatment of Palestinians, this "chronic human rights violator" also provides the 'gold standard' of surveillance and crowd suppression training for thousands of American law enforcement officers every year, including the police force in Minneapolis where George Floyd was brutally murdered. This training was on display throughout the suppression of the recent Black Lives Matter protests.

MAPS has consistently prioritized the trauma suffered by purveyors of state violence in their research. Continuing this drug development agenda, from 2010 to 2016, MAPS conducted a Phase II pilot study treating the service-related trauma suffered by first responders, including police. During the same period, while the drug war raged and millions of Black and brown people languished in the penal colony of the USA, being killed by police became the leading cause of death for young Black men.

The state's interest in psychedelics has obviously grown out of its potential to extend the interests of both the military and prison industrial complex. Given this history, it is not surprising at all that MAPS and other organizations would seek to collaborate with the Pentagon or the IDF. Now, this history provides a very shadowy backdrop for MAPS' recent announcements of solidarity with Black Lives Matter. The obligatory statements of allegiance reflect the same hollow efforts put forth by brands such as Sprite and Nike. Yet it fails to acknowledge the deep-seated relationships that researchers have forged with purveyors of state violence and racism at home and abroad.

It is also no surprise that paralleling the rise of ketamine clinics across the United States, involuntary state-administered ketamine has been weaponized by police, in particular against Black people. Elijah McLain is just one example. His crime was, first, being a young Black man, but also being different. He was a sensitive young man who would volunteer to play violin for animals in the shelter. Had he born into, say, British aristocracy, we would describe him as eccentric. However, his body was Black, his behavior was different, and he was a threat. He was snuffed out with the help of one of the medicines that the psychedelic community has been advocating for and using as a model for future medicalization.

We are not so cynical that we do not endorse the use of psychedelics, or any other modality to relieve human suffering, including that of veterans or anyone who has been placed on the front lines of state violence. However, cynicism can certainly be justified while we watch psychedelic researchers distance themselves from the revolutionary progress of the 1960s, without distancing themselves from overtly racist and violent history of state-sponsored psychedelic research.

Where is the public outcry on the part of researchers regarding Elijah's murder, or the acknowledgement of other past, present crimes? What will be done about the certainty of future crimes as the legitimate uses of psychedelics are monopolized by state and corporate power?

What is Ibogaine?

Ibogaine is a psychoactive compound that has been used since the early 1980s as a way of managing withdrawal from opioid addiction. It also helps to reduce cravings for many other drugs and addictive behaviors. 

This use originally grew out of communities and organizations of people who used drugs. Since then it has been promoted by the stories of the tens of thousands of people who have experienced it. 

Today, it is attracting more interest from researchers all over the world. And even though it is prohibited in the United States as well as many other countries, ibogaine treatment is becoming more accepted among care providers and clinics.

Where Does Ibogaine Come From?

Ibogaine is found in a few different plant sources, but it is known because it is the primary active alkaloid in Tabernanthe iboga. Iboga is a shrub native to the rainforests of Central Africa where it has been used since well before written historical records.

Left to mature, iboga can grow to tree-like stature well over 2 meters tall. Ibogaine is concentrated in the inner layer of iboga’s root bark. Fresh or dried bark is often used in traditional rituals of healing and initiation. 

It is also sought out locally for everything from grief or psychological distress, to major health issues. But sometimes it is used to mark a major turning point in a person’s spiritual growth.

In the region of present-day Gabon, Bwiti and other traditional practices that use iboga are widespread, deeply shaping Gabonese worldview and cultural identity. 

In the year 2000, the late President Omar Bongo declared iboga to be a “strategic heritage cultural reserve,” moving to have iboga and its conservation protected. Today there are a number of not-for-profit groups that are working to prevent overharvesting from the wild and to encourage the development of sustainable plantations.

Howard Lotsof

The traditional use of iboga would have included treatments for experiences like addiction, but ibogaine’s ability to relieve opioid withdrawals and drug cravings specifically wasn’t discovered until more recently.

In 1962 Howard Lotsof was 19 years old and living in Staten Island when he first tried ibogaine. At the time he was physically dependent on heroin, and had an interest in experimenting with other drugs.

At the end of a long and difficult trip he discovered that he was not experiencing heroin withdrawal. He said “I realized I no longer had any fear of death.” 

Lotsof went on to give ibogaine to a small group of friends who all had a similar experience.

Lotsof went on to generate interest from a number of researchers and helped to get funding for early clinical research from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). 

Although the NIDA trials were discontinued, he went on to collaborate with other researchers, authoring and co-authoring many peer reviewed papers. 

Lotsof passed away in 2010 but new generations of care providers continue the work he started.

Ibogaine treatment

What is a Treatment Like?

Ibogaine treatments vary from center to center, but most places offer stays anywhere from 5 to 10 days, sometimes longer. Usually you will arrive, settle in, and go through a medical intake that should involve medical exams and a drug test. If you are detoxing from opiates you will be stabilized on morphine during that time, enough to stay well until just before the treatment starts.

For people who are using stimulants it is important that these are out of your system prior to treatment. Some people need to wait for drug tests to clear before taking ibogaine. Stimulants and other substances like alcohol and psychiatric prescriptions should be discussed and stopped prior to arrival to avoid complications.

Once you are cleared for treatment most detoxes are done with a single flood dose of ibogaine. Prior to dosing, providers will wait to see that you are going into the first phase of withdrawal to make sure that opioids are leaving your system. 

A flood dose is usually separated into a series of capsules that are taken over the course of a few hours, so that the effects come on more gradually. Generally, people start to feel relief from withdrawal even after the first dose. However, in order to build up and extend the long-term effects that help with cravings sometimes treatment is followed by booster doses in the days or weeks that follow.

How Ibogaine works

There are some mechanisms of how ibogaine works that are not well understood, but enough is known about the withdrawal process to at least partly describe the effect.

When the body becomes habituated to opioids it stops producing its own endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers. It also desensitizes the receptors so that when the body does produce endorphins it doesn’t have the same effect as it normally would. This is what produces a tolerance to opioids and the extreme discomfort associated with withdrawal. While the acute withdrawal period can be a week or more, afterwards many people experience post-acute withdrawals and depression that can last for months or even years.

In the short term, ibogaine’s effects include re-sensitizing the body’s dopamine receptors to such an extent that even long-time opioid users have a dramatic reduction in tolerance. This same effect reduces both the withdrawal symptoms and the continuing discomfort, allowing the body to more easily self-regulate.

Along with this reduced tolerance, ibogaine stimulates a repair of some types of dopaminergic neurons. This is dramatic enough that it is visible in people with Parkinson’s disease, a condition that involves degeneration of dopamine neurons. 

There are also reports that people have seen a slowed onset of Parkinson’s symptoms after just a few weeks of microdosing ibogaine, something that isn’t possible with any other known medication.

For most people this desensitization and the repair that follows helps make overcoming opioid withdrawal feel like something manageable.

Psychological Effects

Along with these physiological effects and the relief from withdrawal ibogaine also has psychoactive effects that a lot of people describe as deeply meaningful. Sometimes people have intense visual experiences. It is common to hear about people who feel like the content of this experience is very personal or familiar, like dreams. These can be images, either faint or clear, sometimes of memories or stories.

Not everyone has these kinds of visual experiences and sometimes they can be difficult to recall later, very much like a dream. Everyone will experience ibogaine differently, and even the same personal will have different experiences from one time to the next. 

In place of visions, or alongside them, some people will have an introspective flow of thoughts or insights, sometimes like a conversation or like a personal inventory. Other people talk about powerful physical shifts and new ways of connecting with and relating to their body.

Whatever does come up, it’s not necessary to have an intense psychedelic experience to find relief or to learn. And the experience continues. Sometimes these insights and shifts of perspective can be felt not only in those first intense hours, but also in the days, weeks and months that follow.

Other Uses of Ibogaine

Ibogaine is also used by people struggling with other kinds of addictive behaviors, eating disorders. and other types of mental distress like depression and anxiety for similar insights and reductions in cravings.

In Gabon, for example, iboga is used for a variety of treatments because disease is seen to have a spiritual origin. Given the effectiveness of placebo responses in many treatments, this is perfectly rational. 

However, ibogaine has also shown very real neuronal repair and neuroprotective effects. It is sometimes sought out by people who are looking for alternative treatments for Parkinson’s and other neurodegenerative disorders such as Multiple Sclerosis and Fibromyalgia, with some reports of success.

Very few places offer treatments that are specifically tailored towards people with other kinds of problems, mostly because they lack the experience and people are not seeking out treatment as often. However, a lot of providers offer ‘psychospiritual’ treatments for people with other personal intentions who are not ending a chemical dependency.

Planning for Aftercare

After the Detox

Fairly soon after the onset of the effects, ibogaine starts to be converted into its primarily metabolite noribogaine. Noribogaine has a lot of the same qualities as ibogaine, including helping to reduce withdrawal and cravings, and changes in visual and sensual perceptions. Some people believe that noribogaine, which can stay in the body for days, weeks, or months after ibogaine, is at least partly responsible for the long-term reduction in cravings.

It’s also important to realize that even though ibogaine makes things much easier and relieves a significant part of the discomfort, it can be a challenging experience in other ways. When taking a flood dose, the most common dose range used by providers, the effects can last anywhere from 12 to 24 hours or longer. These effects usually peak a few hours after they begin, and taper off gradually. 

These extended effects mean that many people end up missing a night of sleep. The day after treatment is often called a “gray day.” Physical and mental exhaustion is common during that period, but people start to recover with rest.

Some people continue to say they get less sleep than normal after the experience. This is the discomfort for a break from habit, because ibogaine actually makes the body require less sleep for a while. Another factor is that people sometimes manage their sleep schedule with substances, and so taking this away just means sleep isn’t as readily and immediately accessible as before. The discomfort caused by and around sleeplessness tend to pass gradually.

Although there is a huge reduction, people often do experience some amount of discomfort and post-acute withdrawals after the treatment. It is almost always significantly less than it would have been, but it helps to be prepared for this.

Booster Doses

Booster doses of ibogaine usually refer to smaller doses that are taken after treatment to extend and prolong the post-treatment effects. Sometimes boosters are given in the days right after treatment to deal with any lingering or post-acute withdrawal symptoms. Other times people like to take a booster as the effects of noribogaine start to wear off.

It’s inevitable that at some point the effects of ibogaine are going to wear off. Life is going to feel less comfortable without the same ways of coping with pain or stress. Booster doses aren’t an alternative way to solve those problems, but they can help support other efforts to strengthen your recovery.

Ongoing Recovery

Ending an addiction is more than just ending a chemical dependency. For many it means learning how to cope with things that have been unfelt and un-acknowledged. Learning new ways of facing problems and moving through discomforts rather than avoiding them is an ongoing process. 

In a lot of ways, doing ibogaine is just the beginning of the journey. If you look at addiction as part of your spiritual learning, then it can be part of a process that will continue for the rest of your life.

It’s helpful to think about ibogaine as just part of the process. It’s important to think about what steps to take after treatment. Your path will be different than anyone else’s, but there are resources available to draw support and guidance. There are a number of different aftercare treatments, including residential centers that focus on continuing to work with medicine and other recovery tools. 

Group therapy and meetings can be even more useful for recovery after ibogaine than they are before it. There are even some group meetings that are starting to focus on working with people who are using psychedelics.

Working with a coach or a counselor is helpful for a lot of people. It helps to find someone you connect well with, and someone who understands the changes and process you’re going through. All of these things can be sound investments in the process. Taking Ibogaine is just the beginning. 

Choosing An Ibogaine Treatment Center

Types of Treatments

Ibogaine treatment carries certain medical risks. Having an experienced and equipped provider is an important part of managing those risks and making sure that the treatment is as safe and as smooth as possible.

When planning for treatment, it can be helpful to ask about the medical support, psychological support, and what the treatment environment will be like. Some ibogaine centers are more or less medical clinics that are focused on medical safety, providing treatments in hospitals or similar settings. For some people this might provide a sense of security especially if there are specific risk factors, but most of the time it helps to be comfortable.

Outside of these focused medical clinics other providers focus on creating a comfortable environment, providing therapeutic and even a ceremonial context around the treatment. These providers are almost always medically supported to some extent, but it is important to understand what people are prepared for.

Why you shouldn’t do Ibogaine without an experienced guide

Proper screening, informed management of medications during detox, and proper dosing are major reasons why there are increased risks associated with doing a treatment without an experienced guide. 

But some vendors will provide online dosing protocols for people to self administer Ibogaine at home. This is dangerous. 

Without prior screening and checking how you respond to a test dose, there is no way their recommendations can be well informed or trusted. Self administering Ibogaine is not a good idea and can be fatal.

Risks of Ibogaine Treatment

Serious side effects with ibogaine are rare. A knowledgeable treatment provider or clinic will do what they can to inform you about those risks, and, more importantly, how they are able to manage them. 

The most significant risks are associated with the following:

Cardiac Side Effects

Cardiac side effects are usually managed through screening. Any reasonably informed provider will request for an electrocardiogram and for a full blood panel. 

It is also important to ask what kind of cardiac monitoring people do during the treatment. Questions you need to ask include:


One of the reasons for obtaining a blood panel is to look at levels of magnesium and potassium, two electrolytes that play an important role in heart conduction. Some of the reported adverse events were a result of people doing heavy cleanses or purges prior to ibogaine and lowering levels of electrolytes. Many providers will do electrolyte replacements or IV vitamins prior to treatment.


It’s important to also understand that ibogaine interacts with many drugs and medications, but not with others. Although it works on multiple types of receptors, ibogaine does not affect the gabanergic system which mediates the effects of benzos. That means ibogaine does not help with Benzodiazepine withdrawal. 

Ibogaine can make people slightly more susceptible to seizures in general, and so it increases the risk of these emerging as a side effect of Benzodiazepine withdrawal. For anyone who is habituated to Benzodiazepine use it is important to make sure that their use remains stable during the entire course of ibogaine treatment. It is very important to discuss the details of any Benzodiazepine use with your provider.

Detoxing from benzos is something that is best done with a long-term taper, usually after an ibogaine treatment. A helpful resource for this is the Ashton Manual (https://benzo.org.uk/manual/).

Psychiatric Medications

Psychiatric medications generally act on the central nervous system and many have interactions with ibogaine. Generally, providers will ask that you stop taking any psychiatric medications prior to treatment, usually at least 5-7 days before arriving.

The Icarus project has a useful harm reduction guide for withdrawing from psychiatric medications: https://theicarusproject.net/resources/publications/harm-reduction-guide-to-coming-off-psychiatric-drugs-and-withdrawal/


Because ibogaine sensitizes the body’s response to opioids it can be dangerous to have opioids in your system during treatment. Generally, clinics will want to see you starting to show signs of withdrawal to be sure the opioids are leaving your system before administering ibogaine. 

Some of the tragic adverse events with ibogaine have been with people who used just before or during treatment, or who overdosed afterwards because they didn’t account for the reduction of tolerance.

Reducing Treatment Risks

It’s important to remember that all of these risks are manageable. With the right preparation and experienced support, Ibogaine treatment can be a safe way to detox. Making sure that the clinic that you’re attending is experienced and medically supervised is the best way to manage those risks.

You can expect a clinic to ask you for medical tests in advance or to conduct them immediately after arriving. Those tests include a 12-lead electrocardiogram and a full blood panel including potassium, magnesium, and liver enzymes. 

Sometimes it is necessary to do an echocardiogram or cardiac stress test if more information is needed. An important question to ask is how clinics do this kind of screening, and under what conditions have they refused treatment in the past?

How much does ibogaine treatment cost?

A reasonable, medically supervised ibogaine treatment can cost $5,000 and $7,000 dollars over the course of a week. This takes into account all medical staff, resort-style accommodations, private room and board, and all medication costs (including the cost of ibogaine).

When you are planning your treatment it is helpful to understand that ibogaine is just a part of the process. Thinking about how to continue recovery after treatment will make a big difference. 

It is recommended to look at paying for a long-term treatment if you are able. Many people also benefit from attending a residential aftercare center while they recuperate physically and to take the time to plan for the many changes you will experience. 

Whether or not that is an option, it can be helpful to work with a coach or a counselor and to reach out to other resources for support. Taking all of these things into consideration as part of the cost is important if it is an option for you.

Ibogaine and the law

Currently, ibogaine is listed as a Schedule 1 substance in the United States. That means that according to the federal government it has no redeeming medical value whatsoever. 

In some parts of the US there are state-level initiatives to try to make ibogaine available, but none of them have made significant progress. The City of Oakland, California has decriminalized plant and fungus-derived psychedelics including ibogaine, but it doesn’t mean that treatments will be openly available there in the near future.

Most ibogaine treatment centers are located in other countries. Ibogaine, unlike ayahuasca and other psychedelics, is not listed on the United Nations Green list, which means that unless it is specifically mentioned in a country’s drug policy it is unregulated. 

Mexico, Costa Rica, Brazil, and parts of Europe, have become destinations for people looking for treatment where medical providers don’t face legal threats for their involvement.

For a more complete list of ibogaine policies in different countries click on the following link: 



Ibogaine may not be the right choice for everyone. In order to know for sure it is important you take the time to talk with an experienced counselor to guide you in your decision.

If you still have a question that was not addressed in this post you can book a 15 minute consultation with me for free. Just follow this link to pick a time that is convenient for you: 


Self-administering medication is risky

I’m feeling incredibly frustrated because I just got off the phone with a woman who’s looking to self-treat with Ibogaine to help her with her drinking problem.

Ibogaine treatment to overcome alcohol dependency

A woman in her late 50s reported drinking a liter of vodka every three days, as well as other drinks. She usually drinks alone and after a brief conversation she informed me that she had purchased HTl and TA online online.

She purchased 2 grams of HClL and 1 gram of TA for $500 and now she was looking for advice on self-dosing.

I explained to her that I could not legally, and more importantly, given the complexity of an Ibogaine treatment for alcohol, that I could not morally or ethically advise her to go ahead with her plan to self-treat with Ibogaine.

Bad advice that could have had catastrophic consequences

She was disappointed but informed me that she was given the following protocol for a “microdose.”

First, stop drinking for two days, then begin by taking 200 mg per day of total extract and 200 mg per day of HDL thereafter for 11 days. This could be a recipe for disaster.

It’s my opinion, and that of others, that someone drinking that amount of alcohol should stop drinking for at least 10 days prior to any treatment.

The risks of self-treating with Ibogaine

The risks of delirium tremor convulsions from abruptly stopping alcohol are high and once someone goes into those convulsions the chance of death is one in 10. It is widely believed that Ibogaine can exacerbate this condition.

Also, the dosage seemed very high and nothing close to what I consider to be a microdose. The resulting trip and lack of sleep, which would last for 11 days, and which she would undertake alone while detoxing from alcohol, is beyond dangerous.

A better course of action

My advice to her was not to do it, to seek professional help, and reach out to online and social media Ibogaine communities to get peer support.

I’m angry that the people at iboga World would be giving out such bad information out of ignorance and desire for profit.

I’m also disappointed in myself and others in this community for falling this woman and others like her for not giving folks an alternative, That is to say, we need to be providing information on self-dosing.

I’ve said before, and I have not changed my opinion, that I believe that Ibogaine should be readily available to anyone who wants it. But, like any drug, there are pluses and minuses, benefits and dangers, even deadly consequences.

I was interviewed for a few years back where I voiced this opinion. I was startled to hear from allies, including people who called themselves Harm Reductionist, that this was the exception and that Ibogaine should be tightly regulated.

These anti-prohibitionist Harm Reductionists were making some of the most hawkish drug war arguments against Harm Reduction in regards to Ibogaine.

“If we give them the information, then they’ll do it.“ We heard this in the early days of syringe exchange, that somehow providing somebody with a syringe and education would encourage drug use.

The argument of these Ibogaine advocates boils down to “just say no.” I believe that way of thinking is too dangerous.

Ibogaine exceptionalism.

It is true Ibogaine can be dangerous and people have died. This is also true with many drugs. The way that we, as Harm Reductionists, combat this is through information, education and empowering drug users to care for themselves and each other.

It should be noted that many people who argue against access to information are so-called “Ibogaine professionals.” Many of them come from the same population of drug users that have been so stigmatized but now with the mantles of “gatekeeper“ and expert and the warning that without their guidance and presence there could only be disaster.

There are many online sources offering iboga and Ibogaine, stating that self-administration is wanted, if not needed. There have been deaths, to be sure, but not the flood that the drug hysteria voices inside the community have warned.

Harm Reduction methods work

Regardless of the numbers, with the right information we could cut those deaths by using tried and proven harm-reduction methods, as has been proven with other drugs.

That the prohibitionist position has been taken up so readily shows the seductive power of such a position.

But that power is not self-justifying.

I believe that the most compelling and interesting aspects of the Ibogaine scene is not the expansion of boutique clinics or medical centers offering treatment. It is the burgeoning of the so-called “underground“ scene of folks self-treating or treating families and friends.

As the overdose crisis continues and the hype around the so-called “Opioid crisis“ gets louder, more and more people will be seeking alternative treatment modalities, such as Ibogaine clinics, which the majority of users cannot afford. As a result, desperate people go to whatever measures they feel they must, and I believe it is their right to do so. It is time that we as a community create online sites, videos, and printed information informing drug users about the dangers and risk and offering information towards safer self-treating.

Holistic health and pursuit of happiness should be available to all, especially those in poverty and struggling.

If ever there was an age of anxiety, it is now. We all seem pushed to the limits at work, personal debt is rising, and the housing market is shrinking, while the world around us seems to be going politically and ecologically out of control. This anxiety is a stress factory that spawns mental, physical and behavioral diseases that, as we know, cost a fortune to contain, let alone fix. On its own, work-related stress accounts for $300 billion dollars a year.

Many of us are taking an alternative route to deal with this toxic stress. We run to Whole Foods to get the organic kale, we take a yoga or meditation class, get on a massage table, or receive acupuncture or reiki. We can relieve stress by going to a tai chi or a qi gong class, or we do the latest thing and take a “forest bath” by going for a walk in the woods. We see how these things change not only the quality of our lives, but also our health, as measured by blood pressure, stress hormones, immune response and number of doctor visits.

Preventative healthcare services should be for everyone regardless of inocme

So, are these things luxuries only for the middle class? Or are they life-changing and money-saving medical interventions? It may sound comical in an age where the battle lines are being drawn around whether low income people should receive healthcare at all, or to suggest that they should be getting acupuncture and a free massage. But why not? Since these interventions are proven to work, they could be used on a routine basis to reduce hospital visits, relapse into drug use, and maybe even recidivism to incarceration.

Gandhi once said that poverty is violence, and today 20% of New Yorkers live below the poverty line. This violence is generated by homelessness, by the criminalization of poverty, and the soul-crushing trauma of racism.

Can holistic interventions be a significant help in stemming this tidal wave of misery?

We work together at New York Harm Reduction Educators, a social welfare program in East Harlem that does just this. Do tough guys enjoy yoga and acupuncture? Yes they do. Are they interested in following a guided meditation, actively participating in a drum circle, an art group or a walk in the woods? Yes again.  

We have seen people locked into a cycle of drugs and incarceration start to turn a corner in their lives. We see those at the margins of our society actually finding room to breathe, room to move, cry, laugh, and be human. We see destructive behaviors change – this with a very limited budget and space.

Mindfulness, meditation, and yoga reduces stress

The challenge is to make the things that we know work for us and the ones we love available to our neighbors. Mindfulness, meditation, and yoga have already been used in prisons and jails and rehabs to great effect and at little cost – but what about when people hit the streets? There is absolutely no reason to withdraw the stress-reduction just at the moment that stress increases exponentially.

At NYHRE we have found a template for continued de-stressing that can be duplicated and improved upon throughout the city and in fact the country. This is a case where doing the right thing is doing the practical thing – by opening the space that we have found effective in our own lives and making it available to our less fortunate neighbors we can practice compassion and practicality. In an era when poverty is punishment, the pursuit of happiness should be open to everyone.

Supportive counseling in the ethos of radical acceptance for anyone who has a substance abuse disorder or wants to concentrate on their spiritual life instead of  "the problem". Non-judgmental coaching helps build a spiritual practice wherever you are with your use, focusing on "where you're at" and not "where you should be". Helps you to moderate behaviors through the use of spiritual practices to help accept you who are and not what you do.  

Dimitri's journey to finding "No Solution Recovery"

"In my journey, I have been through many 'trips'":  12 steps, diets, harm reduction, shamanism, smart recovery, empowerment programs, transformation work, plant medicines, self-help, fitness, non-dualism, holistic health, religion, etc. I was in search of 'a fix', much like my search for a fix in my active drug addiction. In my quest for freedom I had become a solution addict. As one destructive habit or pattern diminished or disappeared another would emerge.  I was told I would need to 'go deeper' that I just had to 'let go' and 'trust the process', 'listen to the Medicine'. I was told I was on a spiritual path, but I wasn’t feeling very spiritual; at times I am still a nervous, angry, resentful person. I came to feel that I was not curable, not fixable and that I had failed. Failed at being present, failed at counting my breaths, failed at letting go, failed at trusting God... failed at being human. No matter how accepting and harm reduction-based my approach was these feelings were echoed back in the work I did with clients in harm reduction and psychedelics. At their core there was a base perception of failing. Me failing the process, thus failing the medicine.  I realized I had been recreating in my work, and in my own healing, the same destructive patterns of the greater society: a linear, hierarchical success - or failure - based approach that presents in failure. This result-oriented approach was doing more damage than good.

I began to see that my 'addictions'  were not only the results of only deep-seated wounds or trauma. My actions and problematic patterns were not just a public  health problem, but at the core of what it means to be human. This often dangerous impulse to pathologize and seek to cure was deepening the wound.  And yes, I am grateful for this insatiable hunger, this yearning born of pain. It has taken me on many adventures and taught me much. I no longer think or feel that the yearning is separate from God. It is not that the drugs, the booze, the food, the sex, are a replacement for God. They are God.  I am still a solution addict, still searching for ways to be fixed, to be cured, but with this ethos I found space to breath.

So, with this I offer "No Solution Recovery”, a non-linear non- hierarchical invitation to connection with one’s  humanity, divinity, and power within.  

We don't encourage or discourage any other practice or program.

We make no guarantees; this is not a breakthrough.

No Solutions.

The only absolute is that you are a divine human regardless of what you shoot, sniff,  or drink, what or how much you eat, or don't eat, and you don't need to stop, slow down, or change the way you do something to connect to spirit, to what some call God. The drugs, the booze, the food, the sex are not a replacement for God, but they are a valuable part of that search that longing.  

You don't need to stop to start living your life, to accomplish the things you want-- the things you deserve. You don't have to wait until you are "okay" before you can love yourself.  You can still grow and accomplish the goals that you set for yourself.

What is "No Solution Recovery"

Supportive counseling in the ethos of radical acceptance

Who is it for?

Anyone who has a substance abuse disorder  and wants to concentrate on their spirit and their life instead of “the problem”.  You don’t have to stop using to connect to God. You are a child of God.

What is it?

Supportive counseling in the ethos of radical acceptance

Helping to build a spiritual practice where you are with your use

Non-judgmental coaching that focuses on where you're at, not "where you should be"

Moderating behaviors through the use of spiritual practices

Acceptance of who you are and not what you do

In recent years, you may have noticed that the public and the media have shown an increasing awareness of the potential of plant medicines — and particularly psychedelics, or entheogens — to treat otherwise intractable psychological conditions, such as PTSD and addiction.

20 year heroin addiction

I know this as well as anyone — I struggled with heroin addiction for 20 years and tried everything I could to kick the habit. Finally, 11 years ago — convinced I would soon die — I took part in a three-day ceremonial treatment in Holland that involves the ingestion of ibogaine.


Ibogaine is a psychoactive alkaloid naturally occurring in the West African shrub iboga. While it is a mild stimulant in small doses, in larger doses it induces a profound psychedelic state. Historically, it has been used in healing ceremonies and initiations by members of the Bwiti religion in various parts of West Africa. People with problematic substance use have found that larger doses of ibogaine can significantly reduce withdrawal from opiates and temporarily eliminate substance-related cravings.

Although first-hand accounts indicate that ibogaine is unlikely to be popular as a recreational drug, ibogaine is classified as a Schedule I drug in the United States — even though most other countries have not criminalized it. This has led Americans who struggle with addiction to seek out international clinics or underground providers to receive treatment.

Iboga can eliminate the withdrawal symptoms from heroin

If iboga is virtually the only substance known to alleviate or eliminate withdrawal symptoms associated with opiate detox, why isn’t it used as a drug treatment more commonly? Here are some of the reasons why you may have never heard of iboga:

Opiate free and happy fro the first time in a long time

For me, ibogaine was my saving grace. After I returned from Holland 11 years ago, I was opiate-free, happier than I’d been in years, and had no desire to go back to using heroin or other drugs.

I felt so blessed to have cheated death that I decided to become an ibogaine provider myself. I learned how to administer it safely and developed a technique that adapts basic Western medical models.

Gabon, Africa and the Bwiti religion

In 2007, I traveled to Gabon, where I was initiated into the Bwiti religion in a three-day ceremony. I also learned ancient techniques and ceremonies to work with iboga. Bwiti had developed around iboga, so its ceremonies support the experience and emphasize the healing capacity of iboga.

In Gabon, I observed that iboga is best administered in a village or community environment. So I began to develop a new hybrid modality that took the ceremonial and musical elements of Bwiti and combined them with the best safety protocols of Western medicine. (This story is the focus of the documentary I’m Dangerous With Love, which follows me on subsequent trips to Gabon.)

Ibogaine is still illegal in the United States

On March 8, 2011, a task force of 15 armed Seattle Police and DEA officers stormed into a hotel room with guns drawn — and no sense of irony — to arrest me as I was about to help a desperate person through her detox. It turned out that the person seeking treatment was a paid informant. I was incarcerated and charged with a felony — the first time an arrest had ever been made at an ibogaine detox session in the U.S.

Unable to continue ibogaine treatments, I formed a group called We Are The Medicine (the subject of a recent New York Times article) that uses spiritual technologies that integrate elements of the Bwiti religion and other traditions.

When I was approached in 2012 by VICE on HBO about filming ibogaine treatments, I was apprehensive, given their reputation, and initially declined their request. Yet after I allowed them to film a meeting of We Are The Medicine, and found their crew to be thoughtful and respectful, I agreed to let the crew film a detox ceremony at a treatment center in Mexico.

The result [were broadcasted] on HBO. You can check out a preview here. I wanted it to show the success we had, guiding an opiate-dependent young man on a ceremonial detox that combined shamanistic ritual with the safety afforded by a Western medical staff.

The future of plant medicines in the United States

Hopefully, my prosecution and the VICE show will propel our society’s rapidly-evolving dialogue about healing plants. I also intend to follow the precedent set by other religious groups who have obtained the legal right to work with otherwise-illegal substances such as peyote and ayahuasca. I have registered the Universalist Bwiti Society and filed a certificate of incorporation with the Secretary of State of New York to further my intention to legally practice my religion within the U.S. In the meantime, I continue to practice the Bwiti religion every day.

This is a great and powerful epoch when each of us — and humanity — has the ability to create or destroy ourselves. The cultures and traditions that have used plant medicines like iboga for thousands of years have a lot to teach us about how to live in harmony with ourselves, other cultures, and the natural world.