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Ibogaine Hits Mainstream TV

In a recent episode of the CIA drama Homeland, a character withdrew from heroin addiction with the use of ibogaine, and the depiction was surprisingly accurate. The Fix digs a little deeper.

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The Saul Withdrawal Photo: Homeland

By Brent McCluskey

12/12/13

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On a recent episode of Showtime’s Emmy Award Winning series, Homeland, a powerful yet obscure psychedelic called ibogaine was used to quickly detox a CIA operative from heroin. While the side effects were pretty nasty, it did work. But how accurately did the CIA drama actually portray the purported miracle drug and what does real research have to say about it?

In a scene reminiscent of a detox nightmare, the camera turns to Sgt. Nicholas Brody, who is in a very bad state. Brody—a Marine turned terrorist who now works for the CIA—was shaking, sweating, and completely oblivious to his surroundings. Homeland’s CIA director Saul Berenson only had six days before his window of opportunity for an upcoming mission closed, and he needed Brody to be ready. Berenson turned for help to a trusted contemporary and fellow CIA operative, Dar Adal, who had a handy alternative that could allegedly kick Brody’s heroin detox and get him up to speed in the allotted time.

“Ibogaine,” Dar suggested in the episode. “A drug based on a Nigerian plant. It dramatically accelerates the withdrawal process, and kills the addiction.”

“The side effects are brutal, which is why it’s outlawed here,” said Yousef Turani, the Navy SEAL medic responsible for Brody’s wellbeing.

According to the show, the side effects of the drug are nausea, vomiting and “violent, mind-bending hallucinations.” But allegedly, it works. And to them, that was all that mattered.

All drugs have side effects, but ibogaine is unique for the severity of its side effects

Once the drug was administered, it was a special form of hell for Brody as the side effects quickly set in. After hallucinating that he was chatting with a fellow Marine, Brody went berserk and destroyed a wooden chair that was in his room. Using a shard of the splintered wood, he vigorously stabbed his arm multiple times. Ouch.

Saul and others quickly rushed in to save Brody from himself and after subduing the ibogaine fueled maniac, they injected him with an undisclosed sedative and he fell fast asleep. Upon awakening, Brody was groggy. Drained. But, as promised, he was clean with no trace of heroin. So how does this fictitious scene line up with reality?

According to nearly a decade of research from the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, aside from a few details, the sequence from Homeland was surprisingly authentic.

Ibogaine, found in the root of the West African shrub Tabermanthe Iboga, is a Schedule I restricted drug with very low potential for abuse that has been used by members of the Bwiti religion for ritualistic purposes for hundreds, possibly thousands of years. In Africa, Ibogaine is viewed as a reorienting spiritual experience in which many of the negative habits, coding and programs of behavior and thought housed in a person's brain and overall neural net are wiped clean by the power of the medicine. In their place, the journeyer is given a vision of the divine underpinning of life and the universe so powerful as to eradicate one's fear of ego or physical obliteration and one's sense of separation from others and from the creative love source of all existence. Having had this experience, and with the body now capable again of producing normal positive neurotransmitters such as dopamine, the need for pain release and mitigating pleasure that drives addiction is no longer a factor.

Ibogaine started gaining traction as an anti-addiction drug in the U.S. back in 1962 when rumors of its power quickly began to spread. Howard S. Lotsof, a 19 year old New York based heroin addict, discovered that 30 hours after ingesting the substance he had no signs of withdrawal and no desire for another fix. Lotsof was sold on ibogaine’s effectiveness at interrupting addiction and started promoting it by authoring various research papers. Over 20 years later, in 1985, he was awarded several patents and got to work on clinical tests.

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