In recent years, many Americans have begun praising ibogaine as an effective treatment for opioid use disorder. Unfortunately, this hallucinogen isn’t a miracle cure for addiction. Studies have shown that ibogaine affects the heart, resulting in cardiac arrest, stroke, and even death. Today, we’ll discuss the origins, effects, and risks of ibogaine.
The History of Ibogaine
Ibogaine is a naturally occurring psychoactive drug found in a plant from the rainforests of Gabon. This leafy shrub has fruits that look like peppers, but the psychoactive compounds themselves are stored in the root bark of each plant. For centuries, the tribes of West Africa have used ibogaine to induce visions and spiritual experiences for coming-of-age ceremonies.
In the mid-1800s, researchers brought specimens back to France, where the drug was marketed as a stimulant. In 1985, a man named Howard Lotsof received a US patent for treating opioid addiction with ibogaine. The drug remained banned in America even into the 1990s, when its use began to surge in popularity among those trying to curb their opioid cravings. Today, it is still illegal and famously dangerous, but many Americans have begun to travel abroad to ibogaine clinics for addiction treatment.
Does Ibogaine Work?
After a person takes ibogaine, usually by mouth, the drug is converted into a compound known as noribogaine. While proponents of ibogaine claim that it is a miracle cure for addictions of all types, those studied suffered a 90 percent relapse rate.
Ultimately, taking ibogaine to fight addiction does not address other factors vital to recovery. For example, researchers found that for those who used this approach, visual triggers and behavioral cues were still incredibly salient and likely to lead to relapse, even if ibogaine did alleviate withdrawal symptoms. Other factors like mental illness and previous trauma are also left out of ibogaine-centered treatment methods, meaning that triggers and coping mechanisms may still affect an individual in the future. Ultimately, the low success rate of ibogaine is not worth the risk; this substance can be highly dangerous to its users.
Controversy and Dangers
While many opioid addicts and their families wish that ibogaine was a risk-free miracle cure, this is unfortunately not the case. Even the Global Ibogaine Therapy Alliance has admitted that individuals who pursue this treatment have a 1 in 400 chance of death as a result of ibogaine use, primarily due to its effects on the heart. This number is an estimate; due to the unregulated nature of the drug, the true death toll is probably much higher.
Numerous medical reports have found that this substance interferes heavily with the heart’s electrical signals, dramatically lowering heart rate and causing significant damage to the muscle. It may cause irregular heartbeat, seizures, paralysis, difficulty breathing, hallucinations, anxiety, and cardiac arrest. This puts those with undiagnosed heart conditions at high risk of death from attempted ibogaine therapy.
Proponents of the therapy have been forced to admit that this Schedule I substance carries substantial risk to those seeking recovery. While it may alleviate withdrawal symptoms for those addicted to opioids, it does not remove the danger of certain symptoms associated with the detoxification of benzodiazepines or alcohol. Many of the deaths associated with ibogaine include those who experienced seizures during acute withdrawal from these substances. It is vital for those with addictions to alcohol or benzodiazepines to seek medically supervised detoxification as a first step of their recovery.
Additionally, ibogaine is a substance that interacts with other drugs within a person’s system, including antidepressants, anticholinergic drugs, QT interval-prolonging drugs, cholinergic drugs, and medications that affect the breakdown of other drugs by the liver. It is also able to potentiate the effects of opioids, including their lethality. This means that if an individual still has traces of opioids in their system, they are at risk of overdose or death.
Individuals at risk of death include those with…
- Congenital heart defects
- History of heart failure
- Enlarged heart
- History of blood clots
- History of strokes
- History of pulmonary embolism
- History of ischemic attacks
- Deep vein thrombosis
- Irregular heart rhythms
- Bipolar disorder
- Impaired liver or kidney function
A Proven Approach to Addiction Treatment
Today, the gold standard of treatment for opioid use disorders is effective, long-term addiction treatment. At Lakeside-Milam, we provide residential and outpatient services for those seeking to end their dependence on opioids. Through a blend of evidence-based therapies, we help people to break the cycle of addiction. To learn more about our proven outcomes, contact us today.