Ibogaine: A Call to Action and a Demand for Integrity

By Arnold Hesnod 10/05/17

An inside look at the history, myths and reality of ibogaine.

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If you want to trace the more recent history of ibogaine, look at its evolution from relative obscurity to a source of popular discussion.

We are in fact witnesses to a worldwide revolution in the use of ibogaine, a shift from 1,000 treatment episodes to over 100 self-styled “ibogaine clinics” that treat 1,000 drug-dependent individuals each year. 

Aside from its use in Gabon and Cameroon, aside from its consumption among the indigenous people of West Africa to reduce fatigue, hunger and thirst, the exoticism of ibogaine – including its use in spiritual initiation ceremonies – is a thing of the past.

Ibogaine is now a substance at the forefront of medical treatment and media coverage, as well as a source of study and serious scholarship.

The Origins of Ibogaine: Knowing the Facts

The pharmacology of ibogaine is extensive, the subject of medical research in 1901 and a topic for publication in scientific literature amid the early part of the 20th century. 

From its introduction in France during the 1930s, where it would become a commercial drug (with 5-8 mg of ibogaine per tablet), to its removal from the marketplace in 1968, ibogaine is not some mysterious substance for which there is scant information and even less laboratory testing.

Indeed, the use of ibogaine to treat heroin addiction is the product of science: Its validation by Howard S. Lotsof, by way of his own attempt to treat his addiction to heroin, is a seminal moment in the history of ibogaine; a milestone in which a single dose of ibogaine would end this man's craving, both physical and psychological, for heroin; an occasion for inspiration – a catalyst for further experimentation – where Lotsof would earn a series of patents relating to the use of ibogaine, thereby impressing the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) to investigate ibogaine as a potential treatment for drug dependence among humans.

This backstory is important because, despite attempts to delegitimize ibogaine and/or depict it as too dangerous to use, there is a lot of credible science – and plenty of support from mainstream scientific institutions – involving ibogaine.

For example: The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) would later permit Dr. Deborah C. Mash, Professor of Neurology and Molecular and Cellular Pharmacology at the Miller School of Medicine at the University of Miami, to conduct pharmacokinetic and safety trials using ibogaine on human subjects within the United States. 

While a professional triumph, and a testament to Dr. Mash's tenacity in the face of several bureaucratic hurdles, clinical trials of ibogaine would nonetheless stop in 1995 because of NIDA's refusal to provide additional funding.

The First Medically-Based Ibogaine Clinic: Formalizing the Process

Despite the conflict between the go-ahead from the FDA and the withdrawal of financial assistance from NIDA, Dr. Mash would prove to be true to her mission; which is to say, she would continue her research of ibogaine through an offshore, patient-funded, experimental medical facility on the island of Saint Kitts.

This fact is no mere footnote to history because, in contrast to the prior administration of ibogaine among a small group of friends and paid “sitters,” Dr. Mash would launch her Healing Visions program and collect data concerning over 300 treatment episodes.

The clinic would later move to Cancún, Mexico, to decrease costs and increase availability to patients worldwide. 

Instead of running an expensive series of treatment “rounds,” where researchers, clinicians and support personnel would have to fly to the Caribbean to attend to patients, there would be a safe, affordable and medically based facility to deliver treatment year-round.

The Ibogaine Treatment Scene Today: A Study in Contrasts

Despite the achievements of the past, and with all due praise and credit to the scientists responsible for championing ibogaine, misinformation continues to be a plague unto itself: It distorts what ibogaine can do, while at the same time leaving an enormous void involving safety protocols and treatment methods.

Again, despite the efforts of a valiant community of amateur enthusiasts, the current situation is cause for anxiety, not acclaim or adulation, because of the challenges that confront a prospective patient.

A simple online search for Ibogaine Treatment Options yields results more in keeping with a theater of the absurd than a forum of medical legitimacy and patient safety.

Please recognize, too, that ibogaine is an unlicensed and unregulated experimental medication: There is little or no oversight of this substance. 

Nor is there a regulatory body with the resources necessary to act as a watchdog to ensure safety among a multitude of clinics worldwide, where national boundaries conflict with the notion of a universal agency – an international organization – with the ability to enforce common standards of care.

To make matters worse, there are so-called “ibogaine experts,” who claim that ibogaine can cure cancer and diabetes, reverse aging, act as a “smart drug” (with no side effects, of course) and solve any other condition.

By resorting to the tactics of a purveyor of snake oil, by emulating the ethics (or lack thereof) of a used car salesman, by operating without fear of consequences, by putting up a website and outsourcing the writing of copy for that site to some content mill, by posting plagiarized material and enveloping everything in the language of pseudoscience –– by doing all of these things, and by preying upon the sick and the innocent, these unsavory individuals undermine the very real advantages of ibogaine.

A Way Forward: Safety and Transparency

Without a set of fundamental safety protocols, and without a demonstrable record of experience, expertise and compassion, prospective patients should avoid those places that lack these features; they should not contact the owners or operators of those “clinics,” where the emphasis is on money, not medicine or morals.

To be clear: Ibogaine can be dangerous and even fatal, when administered by an untrained provider. (Dosing patients, many of whom are not in good health to begin with, is an invitation for disaster. Giving them ibogaine, Ayahuasca, ketamine and 5-MeO-DMT – bombarding them with chemicals – is reprehensible.)

What potential patients should demand, and what I seek to emphasize, is trust through verification.

In other words, there must be total transparency about a center's treatment methodologies, in-house staff and medical personnel, physical accommodations and irrefutable evidence of that facility's integrity, from the academic credentials of its physicians to the diligence of its nurses and assistants.

That clarity will benefit patients and professionals alike.

It represents the professionalism we should highlight, the accountability we must possess and the integrity we must protect.

Now is the time to make true the promise of safety and transparency.

Arnold Hesnod has a background in cellular biology, molecular pharmacology and #1ESS. When he's not busy writing about addiction, the internet, nutraceuticals and machine intelligence, he still tries to maintain the MindVox servers. 

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Arnold Hesnod has a background in cellular biology, molecular pharmacology and #1ESS. When he's not busy writing about addiction, the internet, nutraceuticals and machine intelligence, he still tries to maintain the MindVox servers.